Monday, October 15, 2007

Indoctrinate me? Indoctrinate you!

Stanley Fish in the New York Times on Evan Coyne Maloney's Indoctrinate U:

“Indoctrinate U”’s thesis is contained in its title. You may think that universities are places where ideas are explored and evaluated in a spirit of objective inquiry. But in fact, Maloney tells us, they are places of indoctrination where a left-leaning faculty teaches every subject, including chemistry and horticulture, through the prism of race, class and gender; where minorities and women are taught that they are victims of oppression; where admissions policies are racially gerrymandered; where identity-based programs reproduce the patterns of segregation that the left supposedly abhors; where students and faculty who speak against the prevailing orthodoxy are ostracized, disciplined and subjected to sensitivity training; where conservative speakers like Ward Connerly are shouted down; where radical speakers like Ward Churchill are welcomed . . . .
Fish, of course, doesn't buy all of this, but:

Still, when all the red herrings and non-issues have been checked off, there remain some serious questions. Why, Maloney asks, should “schools pay people to operate offices and programs that are blatantly political in nature?” (He has in mind offices and programs like Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies.)

The answer to that question is to pose two others: (1) Are there programs with those names that are more political than academic? (2) Do programs with those names have to be more political than academic?

The answer to the first question is yes, to the second no. It is certainly the case that many of these programs gained a place in the academy through political activism, but that doesn’t mean that once they are in political activism need be, or should be, the content of their activities. Race, gender and class are not myths. They are realities and as such worthy of serious study. There are more than enough legitimate academic topics to keep an ethnic or gender studies department going for decades — the recovery of lost texts, the history of economic struggle and success, the relationship of race, ethnicity and gender to medical research. And there is no reason in principle that such investigations must begin or end in accusations against capitalism, the white male Protestant establishment and the United States government.
But they always do. And it's partially the self-isolation in supposedly victimized little enclaves that leads to it happening every time. While Fish rightly argues that the "studies" programs should be allowed to maunder on about race, class and sex, er, gender, until their heads explode, he makes no case for their continued existence as independent disciplines. They shouldn't be. They should be part of the broader history department (say), where an adult can keep an eye on them.

Update: "Dot, dot, dot": Ward Churchill holds forth on some radio program. Nothing really interesting or new except the incredible lame-osity of the program itself. The spoken word/music intro is actually painful to listen to. Once you get a dose of that just skip in five minutes or so to Ward.

Update II: I wasn't clear that the spoken word/crap music-intro to the show actually lasts at least five minutes. Just skip on by if you must, little missies, but listen if you can, for it is dorky to the max.

Update III: PB notes Susan Shown Harjo's encomium (and it really is one) to Vern Bellecourt. Wart Churchill makes a brief, rude appearance.

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