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When I transfer my knowledge, I teach. When I transfer my beliefs, I indoctrinate.
December 28, 2005 3:01 PM   Subscribe

The Kids are Alright, Dammit. Reason's Nick Gillespie weighs-in on the 2005 Modern Language Association annual convention. "...faced with a choice between a sort of bitter righteousness and increasing irrelevance on the one hand and engaging students with more fair-minded argumentation and open-ended discussion, some academics are choosing the latter. That's certainly good news for kids stuck in freshman composition classes, those dreary required classes which are often little more than clumsy attempts at political indoctrination."
posted by ZenMasterThis (42 comments total)

 
Politics? Dude, lets play Halo instead.
posted by caddis at 3:13 PM on December 28, 2005


Reinstitute the draft and let's see whether interest in politics revives.
posted by caddis at 3:14 PM on December 28, 2005


"increasingly conservative students"

Don't know, it looks like students are about as conservative as they've ever been on that table, and about as liberal as they've ever been. Come to think of it, they're about as middle of the road as they've ever been, too.

It is, however, encouraging that the number of business students have been decreasing since the 70s. There is hope for us yet.

Also, what is "professional" study?
posted by perianwyr at 3:34 PM on December 28, 2005


perianwyr looks about as likely to double-comment as he/she's ever been.
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on December 28, 2005


Also, is "he/she" sexist for putting men first? Discuss.
posted by delmoi at 3:44 PM on December 28, 2005


Let's solve the problem by using "it" whenever referring to the actions of someone of indeterminate gender.
posted by clevershark at 4:03 PM on December 28, 2005


As the bumper sticker in the TV broadcast of Forrest Gump read: It Happens.
posted by y2karl at 4:12 PM on December 28, 2005


freshman composition classes, those dreary required classes which are often little more than clumsy attempts at political indoctrination

I'll be on the barricades before they'll shove the Chicago Manual of Style down my throat!.
posted by dhartung at 4:15 PM on December 28, 2005


it puts the pronoun in the basket
posted by fleetmouse at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]


well, what do you expect from a right-wing lobbying organization that tries to masquerade as a news source.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:06 PM on December 28, 2005


> what do you expect from a right-wing lobbying organization that tries to
> masquerade as a news source.

Hey now. I don't much care for the MLA either, but them's fightin' words!
posted by jfuller at 5:30 PM on December 28, 2005


My freshman composition course was Honors Comp, and we didn't really get a chance to discuss politics: A minimum 3 page paper was due each class (meeting 3 times a week) with topics that were handed out on paper slips reminiscent of cookie-based fortunes.

I can't imagine what an indocrination into politics would be like in that atmosphere. I suppose if we tackled topics other than "Prove that you exist" and "Tell me something about your childhood".

...and yes, I went to a liberal arts college. *gasp*
posted by thanotopsis at 5:36 PM on December 28, 2005


Sometimes, I wondered if this past semester's freshman comp students would have preferred me to discuss politics instead of coordinate conjunctions.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:39 PM on December 28, 2005


The Modern Language Association ("promotes the study and teaching of language and literature") annual convention has, as Gillespie notes, a panel on "English Studies and Political Literacy" -- I am curious whether equivalent conventions (assuming there are equivalent conventions) in other areas (math, history, science, etc.) have equivalent panels. Anyone know?

Also, just to get a rough sample of political subjects covered at this year's MLA convention, I searched the schedule (PDF) for meetings with "politics" or "political" in the title and got:
Criticism and Crisis: Twenty-First-Century Intellectuals and the Politics of Academic Freedom (643)
Critique and Terror: The New Americanists and Cultural Politics Today (611)
Cultural Poetics and the Politics of Public Feelings (631)
Damaged Debates: Dialogue and Political Conflict in the American Novel (659)
English Studies and Political Literacy (35) [the panel Gillespie mentioned]
Hemingway’s Global and Sexual Politics (713)
John Donne and the Crises of His Times: Intellectual, Political, Religious (53)
Language Policy and the Politics of Language (371)
Lost Innocence: Defining Dutch Liberalism in Times of Political Extremism (227)
Marxism Now: Beyond Cultural Politics and Back to Class (125)
Marxist Theory: Between Aesthetics and Politics (46)
Performing between Gender and Race: The Politics of Cuban and Cuban American Cultural Production (122)
Poets in Debate: Poetry and Politics (331)
Political Allegory in Classical Hollywood Cinema (271)
Political Hawthorne (754)
Politics in the Long Nineteenth Century (37)
Public Opinion and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England (568)
Rethinking Rebecca West’s Politics (633)
Romantic Revolutions in the Twenty-First Century: Politics, Poetics, Markets (605)
Spin and Political Narrative (214A)
The Cultural Politics of British First World War Veteran Identity (137)
The Cultural Politics of Putin’s Russia: New Cynicism, New Censorship, and Beyond (764)
The Political Implications of Representing Multilingualism in Literary Texts and Films (341)
The Politics of Morality (67)
Thinking after Derrida i: Politics (136)
posted by pracowity at 5:42 PM on December 28, 2005


The lack of interest in civil society on the part of students - and related senses of self-entitlement - aren't being bred in universities by lefty liberal academics haranguing conservative students into silence. These deficiencies exist before the (often semi-literate) students get to university, and arise out of the vain, aggressive, venal, and tawdry culture that is being pushed down people's throats 24/7. Watch tv for a while (but not for too long) and you'll get it.

*stomps off in huff*
posted by carter at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2005


Let's solve the problem by using "it" whenever referring to the actions of someone of indeterminate gender.

I prefer using the word "one". As in: One is free to refer to whichever gender one wishes when being indeterminate.
posted by wah at 6:33 PM on December 28, 2005


It is good to get back to conservative values, such as the idea behind the very recent cuts to the student loan programs. That said, MLA is an organization for language studies and not for politics.
posted by Postroad at 6:52 PM on December 28, 2005


Gillespie writes:

Over the past two decades or so, many of the designers of composition curricula have consciously seen those classes as the ideal place for political indoctrination to a sort of standard left-wing agenda.

As one professor friend of mine told me, she's been in department meetings where comp doyennes have declared, "This is our best shot at getting into the minds of students."


As a high-school English teacher, I'm full-bore into teaching writing, and, because I've yet to find one anthology that fits all my needs (recalcitrant freshmen, sophomoric juniors, the occasional senior savant, etc.), I break copyright laws willy-nilly (REMEMBER, KIDS: INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IS THEFT!!!!) by xeroxing essays from as many college-level anthologies as I can find.

I've yet to see a single anthology that pushes any political agendas--left wing or right. (Yes, I'm aware of the Chomsky Reader, but I mean a general collection of nonfiction writing.) I'd love to spark some kind of genuine political debate among my kids, but, truth to tell, it's pretty hard to find progressive or reactionary thought in the average Norton anthology.

This prompts a question: Why does the author (indeed, I'm sorry to say, a lot of right-wingers) equate approaching, discussing, and debating a wide variety of topcs as "political indoctrination to a sort of standard left-wing agenda"? What is it about questioning perceived notions that so scares them?

In trying to answer that, I'm reminded of Karl Rove's statement (paraphrasing, sorry!) that when a man gets a lot of money he votes Republican, but when a man gets a lot of education he votes Democrat.

Anyway, ZenMasterThis, interesting article. Thanks.
posted by John of Michigan at 6:58 PM on December 28, 2005


Let's solve the problem by using "it" whenever referring to the actions of someone of indeterminate gender.

No, use the Singular they.
posted by Tlogmer at 7:03 PM on December 28, 2005


> No, use the Singular they.

Then you're a prescriptivist?
posted by pracowity at 7:24 PM on December 28, 2005


I would imagine that college professors would welcome political debate in a classroom in which politics is an issue. Please show me where that is not happening.

I am tired of the general perception that bearded liberals are telling Republicans to "shut up," in the words of you-know-who.
posted by kozad at 7:35 PM on December 28, 2005


I guess my university was an exception, then, as the required first year writing class used for its readings a multicultural short story anthology of people oppressed by white men. Luckily, my professor was more concerned with making sure we could read, write, and analyze than what we thought about the actual stories, but I'm pretty sure that when the department chose the book, they didn't base their decision on how fucking amazingly great the stories were.
posted by Bugbread at 7:44 PM on December 28, 2005


You know, I've never really been able to muster up sympathy for people who feel discriminated against because their reading assignments include stories written by brown people. Everyone I've ever heard bitching and moaning about that has also thought that Ann Coulter was one of the great intellectual minds of the century -- I'm not going to suggest fast-tracking their suggestions for improving education.
posted by verb at 7:56 PM on December 28, 2005


>> No, use the Singular they.

>Then you're a prescriptivist?


Maybe just a suggestivist.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:12 PM on December 28, 2005


I would imagine that college professors would welcome political debate in a classroom in which politics is an issue. Please show me where that is not happening.

At NYU, from at least one professor (perhaps more depending on your interpretations). I'm not so interested in whining about it -- although if you're interested, feel free to e-mail me -- but it's happened in at least one of my classes. It exists.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2005


While I think that political literacy is important, I think that information literacy is even more important. People need to be able to seperate the bullshit from the real information. With the amount and importance of accessible information in today's society, I'm really surprised there isn't a greater effort to teach this in schools. It should be treated as a life skill.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:50 PM on December 28, 2005


Remember it's only "indoctrination" if libruls are doing it.
posted by clevershark at 8:52 PM on December 28, 2005


Along these lines, PJ O'Rourke's review of "Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, by Marilyn Schwartz and the Task Force on Bias-Free Language of the Association of American University Presses" is a modern classic.

First graph is priceless:

"The principal author of the text, Ms. Schwartz... (I apologize. In the first chapter of Guidelines, titled "Gender," it says, in Section 1.41, lines 4-5: "Scholars normally refer to individuals solely by their full or their last names, omitting courtesy titles.") The principal author of the text, Schwartz ... (No, I'm afraid that won't do. Vid. Section 1.41, lines 23-25: "Because African-American women have had to struggle for the use of traditional courtesy titles, some prefer Mrs. and Miss," and it would be biased to assume that Schwartz is a white name.) Mrs. or Miss Marilyn Schwartz ... (Gee, I'm sorry. Section 1.41, lines 1-2: "Most guidelines for nonsexist usage urge writers to avoid gratuitous references to the marital status of women.") Anyway, as I was saying, Ms. Schwartz... (Excuse me. Lines 7-9: "Ms. may seem anachronistic or ironic if used for a woman who lived prior to the second U.S. feminist movement of the 1960s," and the head of the Task Force on Bias-Free Language may be, for all we know, old as the hills.) So, Marilyn... (Oops. Section 1.42, lines 1-3: "Careful writers normally avoid referring to a woman by her first name alone because of the trivializing or condescending effect.") And that's what's wrong with a project of this ilk.
posted by Heminator at 9:03 PM on December 28, 2005


That would be the same PJ O'Rourke that wrote this little gem, yeah? (it was posted on the front page earlier today)
posted by clevershark at 9:11 PM on December 28, 2005


While I think that political literacy is important, I think that information literacy is even more important. People need to be able to seperate the bullshit from the real information. With the amount and importance of accessible information in today's society, I'm really surprised there isn't a greater effort to teach this in schools. It should be treated as a life skill.

Many teachers of first-year writing spend a lot of time talking about language, authority, power, rhetoric, audience--stuff that all is intimately connected with what you are calling "information literacy."
posted by mecran01 at 9:19 PM on December 28, 2005


Not so fast mecran01, language, authority, power, these are all aspects of the medium. The medium need not, however, not be the message. Critical thinking and analytic sensitivity are what allow us to cut the bullshit and evaluate the premises behind arguments being put forth. Hyperfocus on the mode of delivery misses the more blatent means of information manipulation.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2005


Don't know, it looks like students are about as conservative as they've ever been on that table, and about as liberal as they've ever been. Come to think of it, they're about as middle of the road as they've ever been, too.

Might want to give that table another look, perianwyr. Note the "yes" responses to poll questions below, such as:
- Is it a personal goal to be very well off? 1970: 36.2% vs. 2004: 73.6%
- Should capital punishment be abolished? 1970: 59.4% vs. 2004: 33.2%
- Should abortion be legalized? 1970: 85.7% vs. 2004: 53.9%

Assuming the students were polled in similar fashion over time, those are some eye-opening shifts of opinion.
posted by rob511 at 10:12 PM on December 28, 2005


mecran01 and pieisexactlythree - I think that you are both describing different sides of the same coin. As important as it is to understand the elements of communication that mecran01 is talking about, that won't help you filter out the BS unless you develop your critical thinking and analytic sensitivity. Likewise, all the critical thinking and analytic sensitivity in the world won't help you if you don't understand the elements of communication.

I think a great excercise for an information literacy course would be to assign each student an article written by someone whose point of view they agree with, and then have them pick out all the sloppy thinking and bad logic. I think this would be a big mind-opener for a lot of students.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:29 PM on December 28, 2005


rob511, 1970 is clearly the outlier in that data. On the first question you cite, the data goes:
1970: 36.2%
1980: 62.5%
1990: 72.3%

So there was a huge shift between 1970 and 1980, and almost no change between 1990 and today. Most of the other datapoints follow the same pattern.
posted by bjrubble at 11:12 PM on December 28, 2005


P.J. O'Rourke was much more entertaining back when he was writing Holidays In Hell, and wasn't laying on quite so much dogmatism. That book, in fact, actually carried some pretty scathing indictments of both fundie Christian theme park Heritage U.S.A. and Disney's EPCOT center, critiques that could very well have been written by a liberal.

Heminator's quote from him is not particularly insightful, because it's an academic writing style guide. Of course it's gonna be annoying and prescriptive: that's the entire point! Duh!

To get back to the topic at hand....

When you see someone complaining about something iffy with great fervor, the first place you should look for examples is in the backyard of the people doing the complaining.

The conservatives are doing a whole lot of whining about indoctrination in universities. But I went to a depressingly Christian private school, and I absolutely saw more indoctrination going on there than at the university I attend. It was a Creationism breeding ground. Their "science" workbooks were filled with every possible misrepresentation of Evolution and urban legend about what a nebulous "they" had found that proved the Bible's highly mythological account of Creation.

How should they respond, in designing their alternatives, to an institution that they think is biased? Should they try to come up with an objective version, to do it right? Doesn't that sound reasonable?

But just like with the news media, what they actually do is explictly attempt to create opposite numbers, effectively implying that any bias is horrid and wrong only if they aren't the ones it favors. So what happens if the institution they complained about actually isn't biased? Do they worry about it? Does anyone really think they care?
posted by JHarris at 11:18 PM on December 28, 2005


wow, leave it to reason to totally miss the boat on how modern language studies are *about* locating political agency in culture, not freshman comp. sheesh.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:31 AM on December 29, 2005


P.J. O'Rourke was much more entertaining back when he was writing Holidays In Hell, and wasn't laying on quite so much dogmatism.

I never read the book, but wasn't it a collection of his Rolling Stone "travelling correspondent" pieces? O'Rourke does make me laugh (he's probably the only funny Libertarian), and I thought the criticisms of his portrayal of other countries and their problems --some critics said his pieces were racist: "Look at these crazy clueless foreigners" -- were a bit harsh. After all, he writes the same way when he's covering American politics and issues.

As for Mr. Gillespie (who seems to be sporting his black T-shirt on C-Span every other week), there's something very condescending about him. / "Unreasonable" Lefty
posted by Devils Slide at 1:33 AM on December 29, 2005


Gillespie must be angling for some of that great frontpagemag money that Scaife throws to David whoreawizz.
posted by nofundy at 6:45 AM on December 29, 2005


yeah, i just want to point out that tech central station is a pretty nasty organization with ties to all the right wing heavyweights. therefore a cheerfully "unbiased" report by their court libertarian isn't quite as it seems.

second, his article seems to be chasing strawmen. by noting that many are liberal and/or lefty (different, by the way, which he repeatedly conflates) it does not follow that they reject conservative students, only expose them to *more* information. thus, as was pointed out above, it is people complaining that they have to read texts by brown people, or understand that the US is a colonialist enterprise like any other country, or so on, or so on. the professors aren't rapping students on the knuckles (or torturing them, as the right-wing powers-that-be have been gleefully doing) about their beliefs, just questioning them. to question their beliefs, then, is lefty, and therefore bad. thats fucking stupid.
posted by yonation at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2005


I was about to recommend David Foster Wallace's "Authority and American Usage" on this subject, but while googling for a full-text version of the essay, I came across an exhaustive deconstruction of it by MeFi's own languagehat. Fair enough, I thought, this has been discussed here already. Here's what is kind of interesting though. Languagehat attacks DFW on two fronts. First he argues that the essay is simply overbearing and pretentious, and then he begins picking apart Wallace's usage, finding misplaced hyphens and so on. Now, Wallace obviously can't change the ideological thrust of his essay without facing some pretty heavy questions, but if you take a look at the "revised" version in his latest collection (Consider the Lobster) you'll find that he's corrected pretty much every textual/syntactical error mentioned in languagehat's deconstruction! (For example, Wallace's "NYCish oo-o diphthong" now sports the macron/breve combination prescribed by languagehat.) Anyhow, the essay's still worth a read, if you haven't seen it already, and with regards to the non-participation of American youth in politics, see also Wallace's "Up, Simba" from the same collection, in which he posits that the inertia of political incumbency has intentionally discouraged political involvement by playing to their already cynical mindset.
posted by idontlikewords at 10:07 AM on December 29, 2005


Arguably the most surprising presentation was offered up by Patricia Roberts-Miller, an associate professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of Texas at Austin. Roberts-Miller argued that in the classroom, "everyone's politics" -- including that of the professor's -- "should be open to change"....Most of this is common sense, of course. But what is surprising is that it's coming from a composition theorist. When one digs into press accounts about the most tendentious classes in today's universities and colleges, they are often freshman comp classes. Over the past two decades or so, many of the designers of composition curricula have consciously seen those classes as the ideal place for political indoctrination to a sort of standard left-wing agenda. As one professor friend of mine told me, she's been in department meetings where comp doyennes have declared, "This is our best shot at getting into the minds of students."

Gillespie needs to get out of DC and head for the Conference on College Composition and Communiction, a sub-set of the National Council of Teachers of English. Tendentious freshman comp classes are not often designed or implemented by compositionists, but rather by the English departments in which they are housed, and for which they pay the freight on the Chaucer and Milton specialists.

As a composition theorist in a program intentionally set outside the English department, I can say that our explicit design rejects "political indoctrination to a sort of standard left-wing agenda." Comp doyennes? I challenge thee Nick Gillespie--who are these comp doyennes of whom you write? Wendy Bishop? Louise Wetherbee Phelps? Kathleen Yancey? Janice Lauer? Cindy Selfe? Andrea Lunsford? Erika Lindemann? (By the way, while these women would all endorse "liberal" education, none are as explicitly leftist as Ira Shor or Henry Giroux.) Name names or STFU. And while natterinng over he/she/it/they, can we agree that Gillespie meant doyenne pejoratively?

I am not casting stones at my colleagues in English departments, but rather suggesting that if one (s/he) wants to write on what comp theory is about, one should speak to comp theorists--the MLA is the big cattle call and dog & pony for hiring for many/most of us in this field, but it is not where we go to discuss composition curricula. The 4Cs (at the Palmer House in Chicago this March) is thhe place for where those discussions are more likely to happen, and the journal CCC

Finally, as one who interprets "getting into the minds of students" as--achieving recognition that they are part of a world broader than their high-school clique and that education is a gateway to their future, yes, I try to take my best shot at getting into their minds, but though my sensibilities are left/liberal, I consider it a success if my conservative students can argue effectively without using Hannity or O'Reilly as primary sources.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:27 PM on December 29, 2005


There's no greater engine for the creation of right-wing fervor, or at least life-long immunity to liberal cant, than the magical brew of utter inanity and savage self-righteousness of your typical lefty freshman composition instructor.

While they took many years to germinate, I have absolutely no doubt that the seeds of my present ideological orientation were planted by my Rhetoric 1B instructor in the fall of 1990 ... who talked about meeting Bell Hooks the way a 13-year-old girl would talk about meeting Ashton Kucher, and who nearly cried when it was suggested that his wife had changed her last name to his when they got married. (Turns out that they had created a new, common last name for themselves -- nothing objectionable in that, of course, just in the panic at thinking that he would have dreamed to have taken a more traditional course.)
posted by MattD at 7:48 PM on December 29, 2005


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