While a graduate student, I wrote a paper entitled A Marxist Synthesis to Educational Analysis. In this paper, I addressed a shift promulgated by neo-Marxists vis-à-vis culturalist theory. Aspects of cultural theory shaped my educational and pedagogical premise that students must be free thinkers. Furthermore, if they are to become free thinkers, they must construct their own synthesis toward ideas and ideals… not a mere synthesis of their academic environment. Much of my conclusion is shared by Stanley Fish, a wonderful leftist academic who always looked to empower the well prepared student through Socratic discussions. His post-modern analysis toward radical theory, queer theory, and deconstruction has continued to revolutionize education.
As a student, I recall on a number of occasions challenging the status of my campus. Often frustrated by the same white protestant male espousing the same political, ideological, and religious beliefs. From class to class, I watched my anger grow as I sought to understand my own learning and identity from the likes of Richard Wright and W.E.B. Du Bois. I knew they would not sing the same old company lesson plan articulated by one-dimensional institutions. I asked more than once: Why the preachy lessons on moral abstract construct espoused by ONE ideological thought? or, What does the black teacher think? or Where are the black, Asian, American Indian teachers? How about ONE Jewish teacher? Maybe a pro-Palestinian professor? Creating institutions that inculcate the same values and norms does not allow students to become critical thinkers. It is a lie. We (including myself) recycle the same language but, each time we do, we ask students to think critically. Here is what Fish has to say:
…the Academic Bill of Rights, the Student Bill of Rights and the Princeton Student Bill of Rights all speak of the importance of promoting and protecting the academic freedom of students. What could this possibly mean? The only freedom students rightly have is the freedom to vote with their feet if they do not like the syllabus in a particular course. They are not free to demand on the basis of an intellectual diversity or balance or pluralism or some other specious abstraction that the syllabus be changed to suit their personal or ideological inclinations. Nor are students free to introduce into a classroom issues or perspectives that are judged by an instructor to be beside the point he or she wishes to explore. Instructors are free to say to a student, that may be an interesting question, but it is not one we shall be asking here.
The rhetoric of academic freedom for students is a subset of the rhetoric of student rights. But students have no rights, except the right to competent and responsible instruction. They certainly do not have any right to be instructed by a conservative teacher or a liberal teacher or a religious teacher or a white teacher or a black teacher or a teacher of any color. The idea that students have rights often accompanies the idea that students are customers and teachers, providers. Students are not customers and if we survey their preferences and alter our product accordingly, we will not only have betrayed our professional responsibility; we will have betrayed them
One of the many academic journals I receive is the Intercollegiate Review. It is published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I believe they have been publishing this journal since 1953 — but I could be wrong. The institute is pretty conservative. Case in point: The above issue that just arrived on my campus desk ran a piece on the changing tide of academic studies. The author noted that schools — particularly universities — once served as the model for academic excellence. Students sought to be more well-rounded. They had a greater investment in their education and were intellectually curious. Thus, it was not unheard of for a business major to study the American Revolution; psychology majors took courses in the studies of Shakespeare and Milton; future politicians thumbed through the King James Bible. I will admit, I agree with the author in that a tide has shifted students away from being seekers to just being done. A few years ago, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Houston Christian’s National Honor Society Induction Ceremony. In my speech, I stated that W.E.B. Du Bois used the term “the talented tenth” to describe the likelihood of one in ten blacks becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change. He believed they needed an education to reach their true destiny as what would in the 20th century be called public intellectuals. Du Bois stated:
We shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it — this is the curriculum of that Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life.
I do sense that society has shifted away from training people to be thinkers; in truth, it appears that we are training people to make money. And, I suspect that is the direction of the modern economy. Here is where I disagree with the premise of the article: It blamed the radicalism of the 1960s for destroying the traditional cannon of knowledge taught on campuses across the country. It ridiculed the notion that single-sex schools vanished. Now, in this new age, schools are teaching courses on gender and sexuality. Race and culture courses now dominate history, English, and political science departments. I suspect the author feels that the academy should reflect the white man theory on education. Forget about changing demographics and pluralism. Though the author makes a number of great points…as I noted above, I feel the attack on changing group dynamics as reflected in academic curricula is silly.
Here are a few courses being taught at various universities that the author took aim at:
Yale University — Humanities and Arts Requirement: US Lesbian and Gay History
University of Texas — Science Requirement: Animal Sexuality
College of Holy Cross — Religion Requirement: Gardens and World Religions
I must point out that I do not know if the above courses are really required; I am simply stating what I read in this journal piece. I would not be shocked to learn that this is all for shock value.
I would love to get your thoughts on this.
Only in a Carson run course can this happen: I show up to class two minutes late to discover my advanced students on the table praying in protest that I do not hand them an assignment. Again, I do have a great students. If this is the extent of the crap I get from them, I will take it. I am big on student loyalty — to me and my course; if I get this, I can be pretty democratic in my authoritative approach. Here are my other post under the category of great students.
Above: Section A4 of Advanced Placement United States History (H/T: Jamie Ferguson)
Although my students are great, I am at times concerned about their interpretation of southern culture vis-a’-vis black slavery. On this day, students were asked to construct a map with symbols examining the commercial revolution and regional economies as they relate to the historical modalities circa 1820 – 1848; well in the picture below, students contend that my black-urban up bringing forced me to greatly misinterpret their picture below. I see a depiction of urban youth, bling bling, hip hoppness, and a garden tool used in many urban rap lyrics. Did I get this wrong? I am sure I am a better academic than this. It was fun to laugh at seeing that the students “supposedly” did not see it this way. Sure!
H/T: Jamie Ferguson for the picture above.
I have stated on this blog and to colleagues that I have the best job in the world; I get to teach great students everyday I arrive on campus. I have decided to devote a blog post every Friday to teaching. I hope to address a lesson, a discussion, or introduce my students and their interests — which I am sure is just history. In preparing to converse with my most excellent students, I get to read books, draft notes, and review journal articles that address the most recent trends in the field. I also get to travel to professional meetings and conferences where others much like myself participate and exchange ideas. Furthermore, many of the papers I write derive from a particular question or conclusion from my classes.
This is the advantage of teaching bright students who, for the most part, enjoy participating in a discussion about history. My teaching style is Socratic: I ask questions in hopes that students will seek answers from each other before I inject my thoughts or take on the matter; many students do not mind my historical take…. Though, at times it is different from theirs. Moreover, my students are willing to give me a chance to challenge the works that we read or the historical notions they have about matters of class, race, historical romanticism, and status; I too have worked to allow them the same voice in our conversations. As one student pointed out about my classes, there is only one method of instruction… though I will mix that method up with various activities: Discussions.
Below are pictures taken by Shelby See of the yearbook staff and a great student in my AP European History class; I teach two sections of AP European History, three sections of AP US History, and a section of World History. All of my classes are conducted around a table. After visiting a number of elite private schools that use the Harkness Method, I concluded years ago this is the best way to teach a class. (read about the Harkness Method here and here and here)