Nightmares and Reality

Last night I had a very strange and stressful dream about the Dean deciding to intervene in debate directly and making all these crazy decisions about it without listening to my opinion on it. I suppose somewhere there is a bit of internal guilt gnawing away at me for the lack of work that I've been doing this week.

However that was just a dream, and not the nightmare reality that it must be to work at UC Boulder. Check out this essay by Stanley Fish in the Times.  Yipes.  Sad to spend that much money on such a project when TA's probably have copy limits, and the library probably had to cut back on acquisitions.

The argument made by Fish, that political perspective doesn't flavor a class, might not be completely correct. Sometimes as a pedagogical device, it's useful, at least in teaching rhetoric, to advocate with the students that there must be a right answer.

Playing on their desire for a "correct answer" is a great way to get the class talking, and must necessarily be politically flavored.

What about the Horowitz line of teaching only controversy? Things like culturally determined gender, and other ideas like that are too controversial for Horowitz to allow in the classroom at all. Is this what Fish is advocating? If so, how would you ever have an upper level course?

The problem is that the complexities of upper division courses and the teaching of difficult ideas - such as Strauss and Marcuse - is based not upon objective factual criteria, like Fish suggests - but instead upon the capacity for judgement.  That is, the best teaching will be infused with judgement calls about "he's right about this, wrong on that."  This sparks discussion and engagement as students attempt to make their own critical judgements of the material passable.

It's also one of the last places to have a politically charged discussion in a permissible environment, with the constant and unstoppable privatization of all public places of discourse, such as the replacing of the town square or city center with the privately owned shopping mall (with dress codes and speech restrictions). The university is one of the last places for free advocacy of ideas in a public setting. I think expression of political leaning is a good thing in the classroom, and should be encouraged.  This expression though should be tempered with pedagogical ends in sight, not just a rant, but carefully rhetorically situated to build classroom community and a culture of critical approach to expression.  I wonder if Fish would agree with that. Seems a bit better than totally dismissing the political as irrelevant to the quality of the teaching.