Monday, July 24, 2006

Stanley Fish on the Kevin Barrett/UW 9/11 Conpiracy Theory/Academic Freedom Dust-Up

At the NYT.

There are things to disagree with here, but it's interesting to note that Stanley Fish seems to have mostly returned from Po-Mo la-la land. Right or wrong, at least he's making sense these days.

(HT: Statisticasaurus Rex)


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I liked this:

...the question should be: “Do you separate yourself from your partisan identity when you are in the employ of the citizens of Wisconsin and teach subject matter — whatever it is — rather than urge political action?” If the answer is yes, allowing Mr. Barrett to remain in the classroom is warranted. If the answer is no, (or if a yes answer is followed by classroom behavior that contradicts it) he should be shown the door. Not because he would be teaching the “wrong” things, but because he would have abandoned teaching for indoctrination.

There is a question (moral?) over whether the teacher holds some sacred (?!) obligation akin to a therapist-patient relationship, where the influence and power are markedly one-sided.

It's exacerbated in the American academic setting, I think, because from what I gather from Crooked Timber, Eurostudents are already up on the basics of philosophy (for instance, and I suppose history as well). Phil 101 in an American college would be seen as remedial.

So what is the American prof's role? Is he there for his pedagogy or his brilliance? (Surely it would be a waste for both a Chomsky and his class to do the basics.)

I dunno. I went to a crap college and got little of either. ;-}

9:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, I'm with you Tom, Fish seems to be right on the money here.

What's weird is that this is the antithesis of the orthodox PoMo line--that objectivity is impossible, that there is no difference between teaching and indoctrination, that it's all about persuasion.

What's the American prof's role? Christ. If you ever find out, let me know. They're not there for their brilliance at my level, I can tell you that. For one thing, they're mostly not brilliant...or anything close to it. More and more they seem to be paid to make learning as easy and entertaining as possible. Worrisome, IMHO.

My undergrad school was crappy, too, though there were several good teachers there, and they sure did right by me.

Where'd you matriculate?

10:16 PM  
Anonymous abjectfunk said...

This is the money quote, as far as I am concerned:

The true requirement is that no matter how many (or few) views are presented to the students, they should be offered as objects of analysis rather than as candidates for allegiance.

With that in mind, I must say I am a bit skeptical of the notion that college kids are targes of indoctrination, and that offering "objects of analysis" is a whole lot different than "competing points of view." No matter how crazy those points of view might be, mind you

Reason and thought will lose out to marketing and paranoia (or greed, or uncertainty, or inferiority) on a regular basis. Let's face it. Those of us who went to college learned a lot, did a lot of stupid things (and wrote a lot of stupid things) and lived to tell the tale. Academia is very important. Life experience is very important. It seems a bit odd to tell someone in college that they can or cannot take a class, or be indoctrinated, or whatever. If the guy can make a go of cuckoo-ville on an academic campus...that seems fine to me. Kids who take his class (and take him seriously) are, uh, fools. That's fine too. Colleges, like life, are full of fools. They also have a few gems.

In short, while college, academia, and rational thought are all very important...they inform our world a lot less than we think (and, yeah, probably less than they should). So...let the nuts run wild. A particular university should not tolerate a point of view it can't abide by...but just frickin' say it. Academic freedom is a principle, it is not a legal right except in very limited circumstances. So, if you don't agree, and you think the disagreement trumps the idea of academic ballsy and fire the sucker. Take some action, folks.

Likewise, nutcases that are popular will remain. Hello Mr. Dershowitz (not sure that is the right spelling, my apologies). Once you have the "respected" label, it is rather clear that you can trot out all kinds of crap, seemingly endlessly, and not lose your title.

So it goes. In short, po-mo is a fine area of study (just pointing out that WS probably would disagree...but not want to fire said po-mo profs) just as supply-side economics is fine. It is wrong, but it is fine. I'd rather have a bunch of morons running around having been exposed, or supposedly exposed, to a few ideas than true, unadulterated morons espousing what passes as acceptable academic thought. That a few might go off the deep end (shit, I went to Cornell, as did Ann Coulter), well, that is unavoidable.

That's just me.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Where'd you matriculate?

Ace School of Trucking and Philosophy. With honors.

4:04 AM  

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