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Dancing with Chains
Those arguing for the uselessness of a university education should recognize that American literature is quite obviously useful to the Chinese. I am brought back to the foundations of why we study literature and history in the first place: to understand a culture and a country. The Chinese scholars studying ethnic and minority literature specifically are interested in questions of what constitutes or separates a culture and whether courses devoted to specific literatures brings people together or drives them apart. These are questions worth asking and what the Chinese are learning from the American experience is grim.

Chinese scholars are close-reading our cultural texts and our scholarship from a critical distance, and we might feel the sting of being pinned to cardboard as objects of study. And yet the phenomenon of another nation’s interest in our literature might offer the best argument for the relevance of the humanities for those who don’t see why literary studies is vitally important to national well being. We would do well to take notice.
china  academe  literature  history  culture 
18 days ago by isaacsmith
Striking, social media, and building a better university
The other thing we need, if we are successfully to resist the managerialists and avoid a drift back to “normality” is organization. The impressive growth of the union during the strike can be the foundation for that and may be, so long as people don’t drift off, dispirited, afterwards. But we also need to continue to meet at the level of our departments, schools and faculties in order to contest the metric-chasing, the performance targets, the rage-producing diktats and the consequent quotidian degradation of academic life. We need to stick up for one another when managers turn nasty and threaten us, or others, with disciplinary action or carefully crafted redundancy criteria. We need to discuss how we can teach well and what education is for rather than how to boost those “student satisfaction” scores. We need to think, together, and together with our students about the essentials of the university so that they remain communities of education rather than turning into Potemkin villages behind whose shiny facades hourly-paid drones struggle to “deliver learning objectives”.
21 days ago by ayjay
The Intellectual We Deserve | Current Affairs
But here the left and academia actually bear a decent share of blame. Why is Jordan Peterson’s combination of drivel and cliché attracting millions of followers? Some of it is probably because alt-right guys like that he gives a seemingly scientific justification for their dislike of “social justice warriors.” Some of it is just that self-help always sells. Another part of it, though, is that academics have been cloistered and unhelpful, and the left has failed to offer people a coherent political alternative. Jordan Peterson is right that people are adrift and in need of meaning. Many of them lap up his lectures because he offers something resembling insight, and promises the secrets to a good life. It’s not actually insight, of course; it’s stuff everybody already knows, dressed up in gobbledegook. But it feels like something. Tabatha Southey was cruel to call Jordan Peterson “the stupid man’s smart person.” He is the desperate man’s smart person, he feeds on angst and confusion. Who else has a serious alternative? Where are the other professors with accessible and compelling YouTube channels, with books of helpful advice and long Q&A sessions with the public? No wonder Peterson is so popular: he comes along and offers rules and guidance in a world of, well, chaos. Just leave it to Dad, everything will be alright.
culture  philosophy  politics  academe 
25 days ago by isaacsmith
The Modest University
To all this one could legitimately reply that my account is itself a product of a comprehensive moral vision. By arguing that the moral limitations of the university necessarily restrict the kinds of claims and activities that universities can legitimately sustain, I assume but never articulate a moral vision of my own. To such a rebuttal I would simply reply that my account presumes not a comprehensive moral vision but rather a more cultural and sociological account of the conditions in which public universities currently find themselves—those of pluralism. As someone trained in a public university (UC Berkeley) and who now teaches in another (UVA), I have never been able, nor have I wanted, to assume that either my colleagues or my students shared a common moral vision, whether that means a set of particular doctrines or shared practices tied to a faith tradition, a particular philosophical anthropology, or even a vision of what it means to live well. This is the world I have always found myself in, and I remain committed to living in it and learning from it. One benefit of my vision is that it understands the moral limitations of universities not as a failure of conviction or a capitulation to the levelling forces of modernity but rather as a strength to be defended. Universities that reflect on these limitations have real social goods to share.
university  academe  from instapaper
10 weeks ago by ayjay
There Is No Case for the Humanities - American Affairs Journal
Vulgar conservative critiques of the humanities are usually given the greatest exposure, and yet at the same time, it is often political (and religious) conservatives who have labored the most mightily to foster traditional humanistic disciplines in schools. Left defenders of the humanities have defended their value in the face of an increasingly corporate and crudely economic world, and yet they have also worked to gut some of the core areas of humanistic enquiry—“Western civ and all that”—as indelibly tainted by patriarchy, racism, and colonialism. So the humanities have both Left and Right defenders, Left and Right critics. The Left defenders of the humanities are notoriously bad at coming up with a coherent defense which might actually have some effective purchase, but they have been far more consistent in defending the “useless” disciplines against politically (and economically) charged attacks. The Right defenders of the humanities have sometimes put forward a strong and cogent defense of their value, but they have had very little sway when it comes to confronting actual attacks on the humanities by Republican and conservative politicians. The sad truth is that instead of forging some kind of trans-ideological apology for humanistic pursuits, this ambiguity has led to the disciplines being squeezed on both sides.

Indeed, both sides enable the humanities’ adversaries. Conservatives who seek to use the coercive and financial power of the state to correct what they see as ideological abuses within the professoriate are complicit in the destruction of the old-fashioned and timeless scholarship they supposedly are defending. It is self-defeating to make common cause with corporate interests looking to co-opt the university and its public subsidy to outsource their job training and research, just for the sake of punishing the political sins of liberal professors. Progressives who want to turn the humanities into a laboratory for social change, a catalyst for cultural revolution, a training camp for activists, are guilty of the same instrumentalization. When they impose de facto ideological litmus tests for scholars working in every field, they betray their conviction that the humanities exist only to serve a contemporary political and social end.
humanities  academe  education  via:ayjay 
december 2017 by isaacsmith

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