Saturday, June 25, 2016

New Barnard Curriculum's Lefty Spin

   Spewing out trendy-sounding general education curricula is a cottage industry at universities. How else are all those unnecessary administrators going to fill their time?

   Watch!  The video I guess. If you want to. I dunno.
   Hear! The provost say "Students needn't learn how to know, they need to learn how to think."
   Explain! To me what the hell that means.

   Hints that the curriculum is mixed up with the postpostmodern tangle that has its claws in academia abound. One thing such folk love is so-called "local knowledge." See...local is good! And other cultures are good. What's bad is the West. Especially the U.S. You want to minimize that stuff. 
   And, of course, there's really nothing about locality that's relevant to thinking per se. "Thinking locally" doesn't make any sense except in conjunction with bad, idiosyncratic epistemology that tries to localize reason itself. Of course you might be interested in facts about your locality...or you might be interested in thinking about your locality...but your locality has nothing to do with thinking itself. Principles of reason are universal if they are real. But universality, you see, is oppressive and hegemonic. That's the point of all this really. Deeply (well, not very deeply...) buried in all this is the postmodern/postpostmodern distaste for universality, objectivity, reality. 
   Then, of course, there's "thinking about social difference," another left-spun aspect of the thing. It's not that there's nothing important about "difference" (though it's hard not to be cynical about this damn mantra of the political and intellectual left, originating I guess in Derrida)... It's rather something like this:  Here's a chunk of the curriculum that ought to be about society. Now, among the things that are interesting about societies are their similarities and differences. "Difference," however, has become a kind of quasi-religious obsession of the postpostmodern left. And here's a school that not only follows along with this crackpot trend by overemphasizing "difference" makes it the main theme of the whole damn unit on society. The right-wing analog would be a university calling its social science distribution requirement something like Thinking About Autonomous Individual Children of God And The Free Markets And Other Institutions In Which They Participate.
   Then, of course, there's the fact that these highly-politicized bits of the curriculum are characterized as units about thinking. But I'm done ranting dammit.
   Oh...and then there's the over-engineered bullshitty nature of the whole thing...something only administrators could love...let alone believe in...  And here Anonymous's point about the alliance of the campus left and administrators is relevant... 


Anonymous rotgut said...

So, yeah, there's some bullshit here, and some lefty nonsense. There also seem to me to be a lot of positives in the curriculum changes they made. (1) They reduced the language requirement from 4 semesters to 2. That seems much more reasonable. (2) They are allowing classes to count for multiple aspects of the gen ed curriculum. That frees up more space for students to take what they want and involves them potentially taking fewer of these bs classes. (3) Despite the "thinking locally" crap, a course that involves experiential components in the community seems like a good thing. (4) Requiring a thesis or capstone project seems like a good thing. It gets students working closely with faculty on bigger, longer projects.

On the general leftiness of the whole thing, a lot of that comes down to the "social difference" stuff. I agree that that's problematic, but I'm guessing this curriculum doesn't really do much more to advance that than was already being done. At my thoroughly mediocre regional university, students are required to take 6 hours of social sciences. Looking at the list of courses that satisfy that gen ed requirement, it is impossible to meet it without getting a heavy dose of "social differences." So I'm guessing the old Barnard curriculum already had that covered, though maybe not under the name it now has.

I'm not sure what my point is. Maybe this: the curriculum isn't all bad, and if we can get past the lefty gobbledygook, there are some good things and some aspects that benefit the students. The lefties clearly controlled the language used in describing the curriculum, but it isn't clear how much of the substance of the changes actually furthers some leftist agenda. Also, #NotAllAdministrators.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Well, I don't think this curriculum is equivalent to a Khmer Rouge reeducation camp or anything... But the language and content are spun leftward. It doesn't have to be much of a spin if you get it in at the foundation of the GenEd curriculum... Even a wee bit of systematic bias at that level can have profound effects further down the line...

And that's not even taking into account the leftist bias that'll be in the classes from the other, more common sources.

Anyway, it sounds pretty significant IMO. But you know me...

1:35 PM  
Anonymous rotgut said...

Dude, you didn't have to get all micro-aggressive with your all caps. Or is that a macro-aggression? Or maybe you're philosoraptor-splaining. Or something. Whatever it is, I definitely could feel a little unsafe.

I guess I'm not sure how much the content is actually spun left. The language definitely is, but I'm less worried about that than you seem to be. The content seems like a pretty standard GenEd curriculum to me. They could drop the nonsensical "thinking modes" stuff and nothing substantive in the curriculum would change, and that curriculum doesn't seem particularly leftist (except the social sciences part, but that's a problem with the social sciences as currently practiced, not with the curriculum.)

4:11 PM  

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