Notice: Undefined variable: url in /www/pmh3329/public_html/valve/core/core.typography.php on line 819

Notice: Undefined variable: url in /www/pmh3329/public_html/valve/core/core.typography.php on line 819
The Valve - A Literary Organ | Mark Bauerlein on Michael Bérubé - Canon Fodder

Welcome to The Valve

Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Advanced Search

RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom


Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.



About Last Night
Academic Splat
Amardeep Singh
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogging the Renaissance
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Ferule & Fescue
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Planned Obsolescence
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
What Now?
William Gibson

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mark Bauerlein on Michael Bérubé - Canon Fodder

Posted by John Holbo on 11/03/06 at 08:56 PM

Former Valve author Mark Bauerlein has a review of Bérubé’s book at The New Criterion. He has granted permission for us to x-post it, so now it has a comment box. - the management

For many years, Michael Bérubé has been an outspoken and topical voice in the humanities professoriate. His books cover critical theory, academic employment, and the canon, and he weighs in on current events, academic and political, on a personal blog that has a steady and interactive readership. He’s an MLA insider but also a popular writer, contributing to The Nation, The Village Voice, and Dissent. He leapt into the Culture Wars in the early 1990s, and, with regular sallies into campus controversies, his career sets a different example of professorial labor. His writings don’t evince months and years spent poring over archives and assembling primary documents, and the focus on contemporary matters gives them a dated feel a few years after their publication. But, then, Bérubé’s practice exempts him from many of the vices that have bedeviled humanities professors for three decades.

For one thing, he writes well. Bérubé disdains the mushy, cutesy abstractions of critical theory as much as do traditionalists, and his paragraphs move with clarity and dispatch. His interest in public affairs contrasts well with the haughtiness of his colleagues, whose snide stance toward the man in the street corresponds to their degree of felt powerlessness in off-campus matters. Added to that, his experience in large universities sharpens him to the social and economic conditions of faculty life, for instance, the fact that campus egalitarianism coexists with acute status-consciousness.

For these reasons, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? is a smooth and swift read. The opening sections cover the chorus of “conservative complaints” about liberal bias on campus, ranging from the national campaign of David Horowitz to the remarks of John, a “large white student” who interrupts Bérubé’s class discussions with obstreperous outbursts against identity politics. The center of the book details Bérubé’s teaching, with readings of novels (My Antonia, etc.) interspersed with class- room scenes. Finally, Bérubé outlines the principles of a liberal classroom, explaining how a Rorty-derived “solidarity” shields education from the hubris of believing that our beliefs stem from anything except human interests and inventions.

Along the way, Bérubé makes several admissions that please critics of academia. “It is a skewed notion of dissent to think that one’s classroom should be deployed as the counterweight to conservatism in the rest of the culture,” he asserts, dismissing one of the customary apologies for the leftist tilt of the professorate. He calls some versions of “diversity training” exercises in “hamhandedness,” and prefers not to know about the “hooking up” habits of undergrads. He notes how many of his liberal colleagues “have no trouble exploiting their teaching assistants,” and, in the interest of lively debate, he says, “I often wish I had more conservative colleagues in literary study.”

The chapters contain lively characterizations of students, careful expositions of American fiction, and, in contrast to the regret cited above, blithe vilifications of conservatives. Yes, conservatives are, to Bérubé, a more or less deranged and ignoble crew. Some thoughtful “arts-and-humanities” conservatives are out there, he observes, but their kind is fading. In their stead, we have angry, hypocritical figures unhinged by the presence of liberals in classrooms. Their criticisms have reached a “fever pitch,” and are “hysterically overblown.” Their “mind-bending charge[s]” strike the profs as “surreal.”

But these insults appear mainly in the opening chapters of the book and don’t advance the core issue, which is how the tenets of liberalism enhance education. For that, Bérubé relies on lengthy demonstrations of his classroom practice. He counsels students to read closely, gather evidence, consider counter-evidence, address claims that dispute their deepest beliefs, and treat opponents with respect. Open your minds, face verbal challenges, keep complacency at bay, and play fair, he presses. These are the protocols of John Stuart Mill, and one has no difficulty believing that Bérubé runs a stimulating, reasonable classroom.

The strengths of the presentation, however, point to a weakness in Bérubé’s argument and to contemporary liberalism in general (in educational contexts). The procedures he details are evenhanded and rousing, but the ensuing liberal tenets of liberal education are just that: all procedural. They lay out how to argue and how to disagree, how to relate to one’s own beliefs and how to relate to others’. True to Bérubé’s neopragmatist outlook, classroom liberalism bears upon attitude and conduct. It does not endorse a curriculum. The inculcation of tradition is barely hinted at. A student’s educational path may amble promiscuously through a smorgasbord of course offerings.

This is today’s fallback position for liberalism in higher education. It used to push curricular innovations such as “opening the canon,” but those enthusiasms faded years ago. Now, shying away from content, it emphasizes forensic ideals and content-less habits such as critical thinking. In doing so, it never really engages conservative educational thought, whose operative concepts (tradition, core curriculum, common culture, high art, etc.) are mostly about content. In truth, open-minded conservative teachers would agree to all of Bérubé’s procedural norms. Bérubé contrasts constructivists like himself, who know that history, social circumstance, and conversation are the primary ingredients of knowledge, to various fundamentalists who insist that knowledge comes from extra-human sources such as the Word of God, and who grade students accordingly. But these tyrants are a false comparison, a rarity in classrooms. The real debate lies not over debating tactics, but over course content. Disagreement arises over the texts assigned, the topics emphasized, and the angles of interpretation taken. Bérubé barely touches upon these, leaving What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? with a hole at the center.

At one of those moments, Bérubé cites a case of falsely imputed “liberal bias,” and it indicates something else, precisely the curricular dispute that should be, but isn’t, elaborated. It concerns an assigned essay topic that was claimed by a conservative student to be anti-American, a claim rightly judged by Bérubé a silly exaggeration. Still, the tendentiousness of the question is plain. Here is the final sentence:


Analyze the U.S. constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded [the] majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America’s elite interest.

And here is Bérubé’s comment:


If students of American political science are not introduced to the contradictions underlying the foundation of a revolutionary democratic nation that practiced slavery and restricted the vote to landowning men, they are being miseducated.

What Bérubé considers good history registers with conservatives quite differently. They note the emphasis on exploitation and hypocrisy, along with no chance to argue otherwise. The Founding’s positive side is glossed over as if it were false ornament. And as for miseducation, the historical significance of the Constitution isn’t primarily that it legalized “exclusion” and “class domination,” but rather that a group of men acculturated to exclusion and domination should have conceived a system of government and a set of rights from which free and oppressed people have drawn inspiration for two centuries. The assignment, then, asks undergraduates to take a partial and politically loaded viewpoint on the Founding. If we want full historical context, by all means bring in the inequalities and injustices of the time, but let’s not obscure the extraordinary moral and political breakthrough represented by the document.

That Bérubé accepts such assignments as straightforward history goes a long way toward explaining why conservative criticisms appear unbalanced or cynical. The liberal outlook, especially regarding race and gender, has seeped into and saturated the curriculum so much that questioning it looks not like a new venture into the marketplace of ideas but like a violation of civility. This makes it almost impossible for conservative reformers in higher education to question, much less alter, the curriculum. It’s a frustrating impasse. Liberal approaches to the curriculum are so embedded that conservative attacks look suspect on procedural grounds. Say that multiculturalism as commonly practiced is incompatible with the training of erudite students and you offend the other parties. Describe “diversity” as a coercive and illusory term that will be remembered as nothing but a curious example of the mores of the early twenty-first century and you become an unprofessional crank. The substance of your criticism is waylaid by its impropriety.

When substantive points are recast as lapses in decency, outsiders have no chance of gaining a seat at the table. Someone as professionally aware as Professor Bérubé should recognize that, and he has at other times done so. But here, he overlooks the situation, because, I think, the aggressive actions of David Horowitz and others have raised the threat level. What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, the major statement on the issue by a major academic voice, never outlines the most important aspect of any educational program, its curriculum. On the evidence of its arguments, we may safely assume that in spite of all the publicized assaults from the outside (such as the Academic Bill of Rights) and all the humiliating episodes on the inside (such as Ward Churchill), the humanities remain tied to a liberal outlook—not to liberal personnel, but more deeply to liberal values and pedagogies.


Bauerline seems to confuse the cultural binary of liberal/conservative with the political binary of Democrat/Republican.  The attacks against which Berube defends the academy are mostly about folks like Horowitz trying to get Republican ideas into the academic market.  The conservatives Bauerline discusses here—the traditionalists, the national culturalists, the core curriculumists, etc.—are not necessarily, or even often, Republicans.  Schlesinger and Hirsch come to mind as politically liberal, culturally conservative scholars, and I don’t think that the culture wars today are about getting more people like E. D. Hirsch in the academy (for there are plenty of them as far as I can see).

By on 11/03/06 at 10:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"When substantive points are recast as lapses in decency, outsiders have no chance of gaining a seat at the table.”

Well, no, the conservative attacks, led by Horowitz, *are* lapses in decency.  Surely Horowitz is one outsider whose strategy and tactics have legitimately denied him a seat at the table. 

“Defenders of current practices will shout about censorship and zealotry even though our proposals merely ask that conservative opinion be granted a modest place in the curriculum and in student life.” That’s from a Bauerlein March 2004 article supporting Horowitz, which goes on to attempt to redefine academic freedom.

Going to politicians to import conservatism into the liberal arts curriculum is no different than forcing the teaching of intelligent design as well as evolution in a biology course.  The academic field itself is supposed to decide on its curriculum.

By on 11/04/06 at 12:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for your review of Professor Berube’s latest book. Quite interesting to me in light of the recent debate me’n Mr B conducted on his site that spilled over onto Professor O’Connor’s ACTA Online site. The thread over at ACTA has only now been closed. To paraphrase Rita Hayworth in Gilda, if the debate were a ranch it’d be called the “Bar-none”.

To RP: David Horowitz has promoted a modest programme of higher educational reform consistent both with free speech and academic freedom rights. A mon avis, he is a courageous campaigner for many good causes, including the war on global Islamo-fascism and against leftist political indoctrination on college campuses. He often faces hostile critics virtually alone; I’d another taste of this sort of one-against-all action on Professor Berube’s website when his oppo-research attack dogs thought they’d cornered me. Little did they know . . . Not a bad two-day piece of agonistic rhetorical blog-work for an old soldier. And me VFW mates at the Friday eve fish-fry loved it--especially the ACTA Online finishing-work this morning, as several just emailed me.



By on 11/04/06 at 10:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Remarkable how strongly David Horowitz figures in the horizon of academics interested in the liberal bias issue. Blissett’s comment applies more to Michael’s book than to my review, for What’s Liberal precisely doesn’t discuss educators who have mounted strong criticisms of the existing curriculum, including Hirsch and Ravitch. That these people may be political liberals is beside the point.

And Pukalsky’s final remark is telling, equating intelligent design with conservatism. Are there no elements of conservatism that lack controversial and unscientific elements, but which get short shrift in the curriculum? Pukalsky says that we should let the academic field itself decide the curriculum. But what if the field has become so insulated and self-absorbed that its management amounts more to conformist police work than it does to the advancement of knowledge and instruction? That is, I think, the case with the humanities today.

By on 11/05/06 at 10:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ll quote from WLAtLA pg. 204-205:

“Why is there so little ‘conservative’ historicism in the humanities? [...] the intellectual right says, ‘No! works of art are timeless, timeless, timeless’”

“In this, as in other schools of cultural criticism, the intellectual right hasn’t brought anything to the table in decades.”

If conservatism hasn’t brought anything to the table, why should it be at the table?  Intelligent design advocates wish that they had a place at the table within biology, but they don’t—not because the field is insulated and self-absorbed, but because they have done no useful work.

And there is another respect in which the two issues are linked.  In order to get support for changing curricula in the humanities, those who support Horowitz are going to the same politically conservative network that supports intelligent design and other pseudosciences.  Once the principle of political control over curricula is established, there is nothing to prevent it being expanded; the same politicians who would be necessary to implement the one would also implement the other.  That is a worse outcome than a bit of insulation and self-absorption.

By on 11/05/06 at 11:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

(a) Horowitz/ACTA figure on a lot of people’s people’s horizon because they’re *on* the horizon lobbying state legislatures.  Folks at private universities can afford to be more blasé.  And judging from early reviews there are still people who don’t get the procedural liberalism point or reject it, so you need writing of this kind.

(b) Mark wishes Michael had written instead on his favorite subject of “the” curriculum.  As I’ve noted elsewhere I think the terminological schemas Mark (I comment at length at DeLong’s) and others are using for this are way too impoverished to get us beyond food-fight blog squabbles.  Yes, absolutely, there’s lots of smart stuff that can go under one or more category of conservatism that should be taught—Burke and Hayek should be taught more, for example.  Let’s *do* it, and not as as some lame scale-balancing exercise (a rhetoric Bauerlein appeals to) but because it’s exciting, challenging thought.

(c) The “conformist police work” point wants to be demonstrated not asserted.

(d) Mark, would you support an effort to increase the representation of Austrian, Marxist, Post Keynesian, Feminist, and Institutionalist thought in the contemporary Economics curriculum?

By on 11/05/06 at 01:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, your problem here is that there’s no evidence that smart folks like Hirsch or Ravitch or Schlesinger have a hard time of it in the academy.  There’s also no evidence that their viewpoints are ignored by the groupthinkers in the humanities.  (Having just written a review essay of Hirsch on cultural literacy and core knowledge, I can safely say that Hirsch received supportive AND critical replies from scholars in the fields of education, psychology, English, history, and philosophy.) That Berube ignores Hirsch or Ravitch on curricular reform is no doubt because Hirsch is concerned largely with K-6 education, and Ravitch with K-12 education.

My main problem with this debate is the idea that we need simply to add conservative scholars to “balance” out the liberal scholars, as if the truth is merely an antinomy.  For example, check out Ron Silliman’s blog for a link to Language Poet/poli sci professor Bruce Andrew’s recent debate with Bill O’Reilly.  O’Reilly, like Horowitz, has accepted some weak version of postmodernism: there are no standards of truth, there are no standards of verisimilitude (which, as psychologist Jerome Bruner reminds us, is narrative’s version of truth).  Instead, for every liberal book on your syllabus, you need a conservative book. 

That’s ridiculous.  For example, I agree that left-wing literary criticism of imperialism and the novel too often over-simplifies empire into some Star Wars-esque The Empire.  But the solution to this isn’t to teach conservative over-simplifications alongside leftist oversimplifications.  (Especially considering that most conservatives would argue that the very idea that art might have some connection to imperialism is a wrongheaded way to view art.) Instead, literary scholars need to be forced to adhere to better evidentiary standards.  I don’t think that bringing in conservative hires to the academy will necessarily improve evidentiary standards (it’s not like O’Reilly argues that conservatives have better facts—he just wants an equal attention to liberal and conservative narratives without any real attention to evidence in either case).

By on 11/05/06 at 03:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The “conservative” position within literature departments tends to be “apolitical.” In other words, it almost never is an application of right-wing theory to literature, but almost always a resistance to the idea of politicization itself.  This position is well represented by many prominent and successful scholars who might very well be “liberal” in their political lives outside the department.  That creates a certain asymmetry--perhaps what Luther was referring to in his first comment.  It would be pointless to want to find a rightwing perspective to balance the leftwing perspective, because nobody is interested in actually developing such a perspective toward literature, in my experience at least.  A conservative in English department culture would gravitate toward an art for art’s sake position and be indistinguishable from a liberal, non-marxist in his or her actual scholarship.

By Jonathan Mayhew on 11/05/06 at 04:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree with some of the follow-up comments here, such as the need to avoid personnel balancing acts. I think that open-minded liberals are just as capable of teaching conservative traditions as conservatives are.

I agree that “scale balancing” in the curriculum is wrong-headed as well. We shouldn’t accept anything into the classroom just because it has representation in certain areas of public life. It has to pass certain tests first: historical influence, epistemological rigor, etc. I don’t think intelligent design belongs in a science classroom.

But certain conservative/libertarian traditions and ideas do pass those tests. Does one have to make a case for Hayek? Why should grad students have to read Discipline and Punish or Words and Things in several classes in grad school (as I did), while never reading a word of The Counter-Revolution of Science (on much the same subjects)? Are the essays in The Public Interest in the seventies any less intelligent than essays from the same time in Diacritics? They were certainly a lot more influential upon American culture and policy.

One needn’t ask for “equal time” for these kinds of things, but some recognition is requisite in a responsible higher-ed curriculum in the humanities. Without it, we come down to assertions such as the one Rich cites: “The intellectual right hasn’t brought anything to the table in decades.” And what of Losing Ground, of The End of History, of Neoconservatism: The Biography of An Idea? You may despise the ideas therein, but they were serious, and they had an impact.

This is not a workable strategy. If humanities professors continue to dismiss conservative/libertarian ideas and traditions that have wide influence in public life, the faculty will become even more marginal to U.S. culture than it already is.

By on 11/05/06 at 04:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks Mark.  We’re now getting at least 3 different notions of conservatism: libertarianism which maps back to 19C liberalism, Burkean 19C conservatism, and the apolitical great-lit position Jonathan points out.  It might be useful disentangling these more.

I still find it very odd to see Foucault grouped with liberalism! 

One follow-on comment: almost everything intellectually important that I read as an undergrad (including Foucault!) or as a grad student, I read off-syllabus.  The syllabus tells you where the people teaching you happen to be and how they conceptualize their piece of the field.  I’m not trying to let instructors off the hook, but having been through more curricular discussions than I want to remember, I think faculty routinely overestimate the extent to which their choice of readings influences students.  What persuaded me that Austrians had something to say was seeing them do new things with Austrian theory and reach places others couldn’t.

P.S. Michael has posted more at on what the book has to say about the exam question discussed above.

By on 11/05/06 at 06:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, I’m curious of your answer to Colin Danby’s question.  Economics departments are famously narrow, ideologically, and this ideology clearly favors ideas that range from the center-right to the right.  Do you also demand that economics departments allow left-wing ideas through their doors?

And does this extend to outside the School of Arts and Humanities?  Conservative ideas have almost total hegemony over business schools.  Do you think that business schools begin to appoint leftists to their faculty?

By on 11/05/06 at 07:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, I see where you’re coming from.  On a personal note, I read Fukuyama in literature grad school for a Hegel and Theory course taught by a far-left Lacanian.  (I also received the highest praise for the paper I wrote in the class on Dewey, Fukuyama, and democracy, a paper that was entirely center-left politically.)

By on 11/05/06 at 08:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark Bauerlein: “And what of Losing Ground, of The End of History, of Neoconservatism: The Biography of An Idea? You may despise the ideas therein, but they were serious, and they had an impact.”

How is this relevant to a discussion of Bérubé’s book, or even to a discussion of a great-books curriculum?  Bérubé is a cultural studies professor, and examples of teaching that he describes in his book concern literature and philosophy.  I dispute that these books were in any way serious—I would say that they are primarily pop-cultural—but granting for the sake of argument that they were, it is a bait-and-switch to imply that all this time we were concerned with political science.

As for the rest, if intellectual conservatism has to depend on invocations of Hayek, or on essays in The Public Interest in the seventies, then I’d say that the assertion that “The intellectual right hasn’t brought anything to the table in decades” is true of more than just cultural studies.

By on 11/05/06 at 08:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A few responses:

Yes, Colin is right that I’m mixing a few different traditions here (libertarian, traditionalist . . .), and it’s unfortunate that while humanities curricula delve scrupulously into the differences between different versions of gender studies, political criticism, and the like, we get little discrimination of conservatisms. Colin also could be right about overestimating syllabus selections, but the syllabus sure counted a lot back in the 70s and 80s when people were all over “opening up the canon.”

To Walt: If current left and center-left notions of economics meet scholarly tests, then of course they should be included in econ courses. And because they have been so much a regrettable part of 20th century history, they should be included in economic history courses. Hiring practices are another matter, and I like preferential treatment on political grounds as much as I do on racial grounds.

To Rich: The End of History is a work of speculative philosophy/history in the Hegelian tradition, and the essays in Neoconservatism include many on culture and intellectuals. They are much more humanistically-oriented than many of the works now routinely included on cultural studies syllabi. And as for what intellectual conservatism depends upon, I could add many more names than Hayek, going back 200 years to Burke, and I’d stand by the value of essays in The Publiic Interest as far exceeding the pop-cultural. We just have to agree to disagree on that.  But at least you’ll acknowledge that they proved far, far more powerful and influential than anything that appeared in the liberal or left journals, and on grounds of historical impact deserve some consideration in the theory/culture/society syllabus.

By on 11/06/06 at 08:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s my understanding that the problems that the Austrian economists (e.g. Hayek) have in the American university come from mainstream economists, who are more often conservative than not. Austrian economists are not happy folk. I personally favor breaking up all the paradigm orthodoxies, and that would let some conservatives in too, but I can’t see it happening. 

The reason Bérubé focuses on Horowitz and the intelligent design people is that they are big players. The reason why Berube’s critics pretend Horowitz and intelligent design aren’t there is that he’s an embarassment to them. Why shouldn’t Bérubé write a book mostly about Horowitz et al? Someone who wants a different book should write it themself.

On his blog Bérubé responds on the Constitution question.

By John Emerson on 11/06/06 at 08:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"But at least you’ll acknowledge that they proved far, far more powerful and influential than anything that appeared in the liberal or left journals, and on grounds of historical impact deserve some consideration in the theory/culture/society syllabus.”

I’m not sure whether the theory/culture/society syllabus really makes any concessions to historical impact, in the sense of influences on politics.  Actually, I’ll rephrase that: I have been arguing for almost a year now that whatever is studied within this constellation appears to have nothing to do with actual politics.  But that doesn’t mean that it necessarily should.  That, again, is up to those within the field itself.  In a political science course that covered recent history, I would expect these ideas to be studied, of course.

“And as for what intellectual conservatism depends upon, I could add many more names than Hayek, going back 200 years to Burke [...]”

Well, yes, that is the problem—that it goes *back* from Hayek to Burke (plus those essays from the seventies, if you wish).  Within the last couple of decades, conservatism has been taken over by a deeply anti-intellectual political movement, which has produced little or no intellectually worthwhile work.  Yes, they are politically influential, as the Bush administration proves.  But this political influence makes them an object of study, not a source of ideas.

By on 11/06/06 at 10:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Let’s distinguish, Rich, between political movements and intellectual traditions.  The post above exemplifies one of the many problems of using “conservatism” or “liberalism” as massive catch-all terms. 

(This does mean of course problematizing the argument about political influence; it’s hard to make a first-principles argument that the current administration is particularly conservative in any of the traditional senses of the term.)

By on 11/06/06 at 01:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

To add to Rich’s post: I’m also not sure 18th and 19th century conservative and traditional liberal writers aren’t included on syllabi in relevant fields.  In Brit lit classes, we read the canonical essayists, including Johnson, Burke, Arnold, Ruskin, Carlyle, and others. 

Why Marx and not Hayek?  I’ve not read much Hayek, but he doesn’t seem to offer a framework for the analysis of non-economic or cultural formations.  The usefulness of Marx for literature scholars is precisely in the way Marx, however clumsily, noted the intimate connection between economic and social processes on one hand and artistic processes on the other.  This is why the first 60 pages of *Capital*, the 18th B., and the Manifesto are probably all most lit folks read: in the first, we get ideas of alienation and fetishism (how people become things and things become animated); in the latter two, we get maps of cultural history superimposed over economic history. 

And as far as I know, Hayek doesn’t argue that economic history doesn’t push cultural history.  So that a neocon like Fukuyama can basically import Marx wholesale into a liberal capitalist framework, using Kojeve to show that dialectically speaking, Marx simply got the destination, not the process, wrong: history tends toward the West (America) not the East (Russia and China). 

Finally, when it comes to literary scholarly interest that really does involve political science, conservative thinkers are always included.  Just look at the renewed interest in Schmitt and the idea of the state of exception in all the recent scholarship on sovereignty and culture.

By on 11/06/06 at 01:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Colin: “Let’s distinguish, Rich, between political movements and intellectual traditions.  The post above exemplifies one of the many problems of using “conservatism” or “liberalism” as massive catch-all terms.”

I don’t see the problem.  Mark Bauerlein supports Horowitz’ effort, which is a classic right-wing political move.  I don’t see any contemporary conservative intellectual tradition that is seperate from actual right-wing political conservativism.

What names have actually been mentioned?  Well, Hayek and Burke are not contemporary, needless to say.  Three specific books were recommended, by Charles Murray, Francis Fukuyama, and Irving Kristol.  How can you possibly preserve the distinction that you want to preserve?

So who are the literary intellectual conservatives, as opposed to political conservatives?  People like Harold Bloom?  But Bloom doesn’t need Horowitz to get him into the university.

By on 11/06/06 at 03:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

To take up a few lines of criticism:

Colin and Rich, I think that you underestimate the cultural aspect of neoconservatism during the 70s and 80s. Even in essays such as “broken windows,” you see deep-seated assumptions and speculative ideas that have far-reaching implications for cultural study. The same goes for Hayek’s less economic texts, Luther, such as the one I mentioned earlier, “The Counter-Revolution of Science.”

Finally, John, Michael’s counterpolemic against David Horowitz et al is skillful and entertaining, but my point in the review was that it doesn’t address the deeper criticisms of today’s version of liberal education by folks such as E. D. Hirsch (whose K-8 curriculum, which I have assisted in, applies well as a criticism of the undergraduate curriculum). And Hirsch calls himself an “educational conservative.” The reason to bring up these figures in relation to Michael’s book may be seen from his title, “What’s Liberal . . .?” That’s a pretty broad topic, and at least some consideration of the conservative educational case (along with the conservative political case) against the current curriculum would have strengthened his book.

By on 11/06/06 at 03:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ultimately, we’re back at the “canon wars” of the 70s and 80s.  Only this time, the question concerns secondary more than primary texts.

When looked at this way, I don’t think the issue is much about politics at all.  For example, literary theorists don’t cling to Freud and Lacan because of some shared political vision with these psychoanalysts—for crying out loud, feminists cling to Freud, even as they beat him up for his ridiculous ideas about female sexuality. 

Mark is right that a certain complacency has taken over certain quarters of the humanities (although my friends in biology and physics departments say the same thing about the dominant views in their fields).  But I don’t think it’s political.  Hopefully, when folks like Scott become faculty members, we’ll see a slow shift away from disproven psychoanalytic ideas and toward more scientifically established theories.  (Ironically, education departments—often mocked as intellectually bankrupt—seem more up to date on ideas about cognitive psychology, information processing, and the like, and almost never cite Freud or Lacan in their publications.)

Likewise, I hope that the initial burst of scholarly activity spurred by critics like Said, Spivak, and Bhabha becomes more balanced and empirical in its claims.  This has actually happened to a large degree, as “postcolonial studies” becomes more local and historical in its focus.  We need the critiques of Said by folks like Knox; at the same time, we must not abandon the powerful questions Said raised because of political pressures from the Right.  Is *Orientalism* full of sloppy scholarship?  Sure.  Did it inaugerate an almost entirely new set of questions about the relationship between knowledge and power?  Indeed.  Daniel Pipes demand for more knowledge about the Middle East winds up proving Said right!

At the same time, Mark needs to reply to Rich more thoroughly.  Since the 1970s, we’ve seen a highly endowed conservative network of think-tanks, but what enduring scholarship has emerged from them?  Fukuyama renounced *The End of History*, and I admire him for it (even though Derrida, among many others, devastated Fukuyama’s ideas long before 9/11 hammered in the last coffin nails).  There’s Thomas Sowell at the Hoover Institute, along with his buddy Dinesh D’Sousa, and both have been shown to fabricate evidence and promote false research.  (And Albert Murray, a staple of African-American Studies syllabi, gave us every worthwhile idea of Sowell’s long before Sowell.)

Finally, as I’ve written many times, my own dissertation is neither theoretical nor political, and I never encountered the slightest resistance from the committees at a highly recognized, Ivy League English department.  Which is to say: conservative close-reading approaches to literature can still earn you a Ph.D.

By on 11/06/06 at 03:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, Andrew Sullivan’s new _Conservative Soul_ is one of many efforts to draw distinctions like this—I don’t think repeating the phrase “actual right-wing political conservativism” gets us real far because it assumes what that which requires demonstration. 

I had the impression Mark was trying to distance himself from Horowitz/ACTA, as Daniel Drezner did, but possibly I’m wrong.  In any case I suggest to you that as long as academic questions are reduced to the kind of snarling zero-sum politics you find at places like Kos, you cede half the field to goons like Horowitz—it becomes a game of power and who can caricature whom most effectively.

Jerry Muller’s _Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought_ (Princeton 1998) is a good intro survey, and Perry Anderson, if you would rather read a paid-up lefty, has some smart writing on contemporary consertative thought in his 2005 _Spectrum_.  Plus I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for citing canonical works!  If you want to get a sense of contemporary Austrian economics one portal is

By on 11/06/06 at 07:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This whole thing is silly. Horowitz isn’t some straw man being used to obscure serious issues. He’s the main player in the game that’s being played and the guy who forced Berube to write his book.

There may be some other argument to be made about how various sorts of conservatives are being treated within the university, but right now Horowitz is what’s happening. Drezner and Bauerlein both want to come in, disavow Horowitz, ask why Berube wastes so much time talking about someone like Horowitz whom they have disavowed, and then take advantage of the Horowitzean moment to advance their own agendas.

Horowitz may or may not be a conservative, but he’s definitely a partisan Republican and he’s something of a goon into the bargain.

Perhaps, once this particular game is over, a more thoughtful debate can be begun. I suggest that Drezner and Bauerlein use their tremendous authority within the conservative movement to muscle Horowitz out of the way, and then maybe we can talk.

By John Emerson on 11/06/06 at 08:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

From the Hayek Wiki:

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago, becoming a professor in the Committee on Social Thought (he was barred from entering the Economics department because of his Austrian economic views by one member whom he would not name and many speculate was Frank Knight).

Frank Knight was not a liberal. The discrimination against the Austrian school comes especially from the mathematical economists—the Austrians are anti-mathematical. Economics is plenty conservative these days, but it’s still not Austrian.

By John Emerson on 11/06/06 at 08:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Emerson has it right above.  The problem is that MB wants to (rightly) distance himself from the anti-intellectual, flamethrowing Horowitz position, and wants Berube to ignore that position and instead only pay attention to Hirsch and co.  However, Horowitz is out there, and conservative critics of higher education, including MB, have supported him. 

Basically, if conservative critics like Bauerlein want to be taken seriously by liberal academics, taken as acting in good faith, then they need to distance themselves from Horowitz and the like. (Just as any serious liberal refuses to endorse someone like Ward Churchill.) To put it another way, you don’t get to be one kind of critic on The Valve, and another on FrontPage. 

I, for one, wish conservatives as astute as Bauerlein—people, who, like Bauerlein, believe that the academy should be reformed rather than wrecked—would disavow the reckless hatred of the Horowitzes and work toward the kind of serious conversation that Bauerlein wants to have here.  (And, to his credit, B. seems to recognize that Berube wants to have that as well).  For starters, Bauerlein makes an excellent point about the inability of contemporary academic liberalism to agree on the content of a curriculum.  (None of the responses that I have seen here, though maybe I missed one, came up with a satisfactory counterargument on this point.) I have a feeling that we might want different outcomes, but if comments like his could spur a conversation that would generate a definitive curriculum in the liberal arts, I for one believe it would be a vast improvement.  But liberals and conservatives are much more likely to have a truly generative exchange about the content of a liberal arts curriculum if they both believe that their interlocutors are operating in good faith.

By on 11/06/06 at 09:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Michael (not Berube), I don’t think the issue of curricular reform is ultimately political.  Generalized debates might occur between conservative groups like ACTA and lefty cult stud types, but the real-world opponents of Core Curricula are most often the professional schools on campuses: engineering, business, pre-law, pre-med, and so on.  Their opposition isn’t ideological; it’s about turf.  They want to the right to set the curriculum of the students in their majors.  At the university where I went for my Ph.D., the opponents of the required freshman writing course were from the schools of business and engineering.

My own opposition to core college curricula is similarly apolitical.  I simply think that if colleges turn into high schools, then that gives high schools permission to continue to be elementary schools.  We need more rigorous K-12 curricula, so that a student’s time at university can be a time when the students gets to pursue his or her intellectual interests to the fullest extent.

By on 11/06/06 at 09:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I also agree with John Emerson.  The attempt to make this distinction between bad political conservatives and good intellectual conservatives (who just happen to support the political ones) is weirdly ahistorical.  Colin Danby writes: “I don’t think repeating the phrase “actual right-wing political conservativism” gets us real far because it assumes what that which requires demonstration”—but actual right-wing political conservatism is demonstrated every day of the Bush administration.

Colin also writes “as long as academic questions are reduced to the kind of snarling zero-sum politics you find at places like Kos”—well, that’s oddly passive phrasing.  Who is doing the reducing, in general?  It’s as if Kos just appeared, with no history of reaction to years of right-wing hyperpartisanship.  Similarly, who is reducing academic questions to zero-sum politics?  Horowitz.

Michael (not Berube) writes: “if comments like his could spur a conversation that would generate a definitive curriculum in the liberal arts, I for one believe it would be a vast improvement.” Well, I don’t think that a definitive curriculum is possible, any more than a definitive reading.  The question is, who gets to decide.  That’s exactly the question that is the point under attack.

By on 11/07/06 at 12:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve followed the comments on this topic sometimes with interest and sometimes dismay. In one important sense, the liberal-left political faction dominant at most universities is deeply “conservative” and resistant to change its ever-developing “progressive” antinomian agenda. While it may on occasion “tolerate” harmless nostalgia for the now-destroyed classical or core curriculum, it will not tolerate attempts to reform seriously either its curriculum or its climate of political intimidation (hence the snobbish hostility shown toward modest reform proposals of David Horowitz and his student supporters).

Anyone who is “conservative” rather than “reactionary” or “revisionary” in the face of the abominably low level of classical and modern foreign language teaching in the States on K-12 levels (and thus extending well into higher education levels) has a good deal of explaining to do.

By on 11/07/06 at 09:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jacques, we’re talking about something else here.

Horowitz isn’t trying to get Cicero reintroduced into the curriculum, and the people behind him aren’t multilingual cosmopolitans. They’re people who read the Bible in God’s English. They don’t ponder the difference between Plato’s “Republic” and his “Laws”. They’re much more likely to find themselves terribly torn between Ayn Rand and Pat Robertson.

Don’t get your hopes up on the “core curriculum”. Reed College has that and has always had that, and Reed is famously leftish. Every Reedie has read Herodotus and Thucydides, but what good does it do them?

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 10:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Robert Scholes pointed out a long time ago that literary studies has moved to a canon of methods and away from a canon of content.  What Bauerlein wants is to shift that pendulum back (both within lit studs and the humanities generally, I suppose).  I still think this is a debate worth having.  Moreover, I think that unless humanist academics are willing to have this debate more openly and carefully, so that they define either (or both) canon more precisely, so that the general public knows what humanists are trying to teach and why, then someone else is going to try to define that for them.  In fact, that is what is happening right now.

Again, I said before, one of the reasons that humanists feel unable to have this debate is that they feel as though they are under attack from a kind of criticism that believes the entire enterprise is corrupt, full of sycophantic, intellectual lazy, pampered liberals.  If someone like Bauerlein wants to be taken seriously by academics and not just by the critics of academia, then he needs to occasionally point out how false this account is.

By on 11/07/06 at 10:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There’s Thomas Sowell at the Hoover Institute, along with his buddy Dinesh D’Sousa, and both have been shown to fabricate evidence and promote false research.

Any evidence for this, particularly as to Sowell?  People disagree with his positions, but that’s a long way from accusing him of outright fabrication.

By on 11/07/06 at 10:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I am completely in favor of moving way from a canon of method to a canon of content. I think that methodologism and enforced paradigms is the curse of the contemporary university, and as things have developed, there may be no department anywhere where I could possibly be either comfortable or accepted.

I even vaguely agree that Berube is a little too committed to process liberalism, and that his vestigial content liberalism (a weak sort of social democracy, I think) is pretty thin and undeveloped. But this doesn’t really detract from my support of Berube against Horowitz and the intelligent design people.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 10:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

My department still has a very canonical reading list. I would imagine that a lot of other departments do too. Shouldn’t this debate take place with some empirical support?  That is, some reference to whether it is actually true that we have moved beyond the canon?  In my experience the canon is still the boss man--except in the field of contemporary literature where the canon is still in the process of being formed.

By Jonathan Mayhew on 11/07/06 at 10:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Since I come from a science background, I favor a canon of method.  But I don’t know whether that is really appropriate for the humanities or not.

I would think that one problem for a literary canon of content, though, is that more and more is being written, what with increasing population, literacy, and time for artistic pursuits.  Unless you are committed to some kind of narrative of cultural decline, you’d guess that, over reasonably long periods of time, the ratio of canon-worthy to non-canonical works would stay about the same (unless canonical is just a synonym for influential).  So a canon of content would seem to expand until no undergraduate could reasonably be expected to read much of it.  I think that conservatives have less trouble with canons of content because this narrative of decline permits them to ignore most candidate works.

By on 11/07/06 at 11:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Canons of content are all about student-proofing education.  Theey’re great if you think the ultimate goal of education is familiarity with content—sort of like E. D. Hirsch’s desire to have all students be able to think “tragic love” and not much else when they see the words “Romeo & Juliet.” It’s education in a Skinner box. 

The notion that a student should pay $25,000 each year so that a professor can force-feed them content is outrageous.  Learning is the responsibility of the student; the teacher cannot force the student to learn.  The real question is this: how can we develop courses in which students must research the canon of content for themselves, rather than having this content presented uncritically like a Happy Meal for them in the syllabus or core course requirements?  I remember reading about a class on *The Waste Land* at the New School.  The only required text was the poem.  The students used the poem as the basis for individual research programs.  I’m sure most of the students wound up learning a lot about Wagner, Baudelaire, Shakespeare, the fisher-king myth, and so on—but through their own research, not through a “Greatest Hits of Western Civ” syllabus.  And those students will ultimately recall this research far better, because cognitively, it will all be connected in their schema.  (Just as nearly every dissertation student I’ve ever asked has admitted to remembering their dissertation research better than their generalist oral exam research: we remember what we discover ourselves through goal-oriented activities.)

As Jerome Bruner wrote in the early 60s, the goal of education should be having students *do* the field of study and not just *talk* about it.  Think of the vast gulf between the way professors teach literature to undergraduates and the way they themselves research literature.  It’s not that I don’t believe in “core content.” It’s more about *how* students come to learn about core content.  How can this core be tied to an intrinsic motivation rather than an extrinsic motivation?  When will we stop treating college students like pigeons in an experiment? 

Michael ~B is right that this is a debate worth having.  But it’s not a political debate.  And let’s be clear: those who favor a canon of content are guided by a largely disproven behaviorist folk psychology.

By on 11/07/06 at 11:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think that you would inevitably end up with plural canons. For example, most Catholics and probably most conservatives would probably want to raise the profile of Latin. the relative mixes of hstory vs. philosophy vs. literature vs. social science, classical vs. modern, Eurocentric vs. cosmopolitan, etc., would vary widely.

(That paragraph was about liberal arts generally. Within literature the questions would be similar but more restricted.)

A plural canon would make it impossible to exactly rank schools by quality the way Brian Leiter does, but making Brian Leiter impossible would be a very good thing.

Rick, there are big questions as to whether economics falls on the science side or the humanities side of that line. The fact that there are methodological disagreements within economics the way there really aren’t in physics speaks against putting economics on the science side of the line. Whatever consensus there is is a bureaucratic one, created by control of hiring.  (Redman, “Economics and the Philosophy of Science”; Hodgson, “How Economics Forgot History”; Keen, “Debunking Economics.")

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 11:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

My last nonsequiter paragraph above was an aside to Rick based on my agreement that a canon of method is appropriate on the science side, but maybe not the humanities side. I was talking about “where to draw the line”, with economics being an example case.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 11:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther, either a canon of method or a canon of content can be force-fed.

I think that the assumption of any canon of content should be that all good students will be reading non-canonical works on the side. And actually I suppose I favor a mixed content-method canon.

I don’t see how there can be a canon of method without a canon of content. Presumably a liberal program will include some familiarization with Locke, Mill, Dewey, or various other liberal thinkers—probably at the expense of Schmitt, Lenin, and Carlyle.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 11:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t want to come off as renouncing David Horowitz, because I think that beneath the polemics and tactics lies a warranted criticism of the intellectual condition of the campus. His politicking and smearing I take as simply the way politics are played, and having spent some time working in a politically delicate agency in DC, I don’t find his actions any worse than those of any other political advocacy campaign. Yes, he appears unfair, snide, belligerant . . . in academic settings. But in political ones, he’s a normal activist.

I’ll comment on the curricular points raised above in a moment.

By on 11/07/06 at 11:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I am perfectly willing to use normal political tactics against the Horowitz-Bauerlein team, if that’s what Mark is inviting me to do.

Liberal bloggers are often wrongly accused of wallowing in viciousness and out-of-control anger, and I always defend my little liberal brothers against that slanderous charge.

I myself, however, have a fully-functional capacity for wallowing in viciousness and out-of-control anger, and I am quite willing to use it against Horowitz and his little conservative friends, if that’s what’s appropriate.

I’m not completely sure that The Valve is the appropriate venue for this, but they really can’t stop me either.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 12:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich I’ll make one more try.  You’re assuming things that require demonstration, in particular the unity of something called “conservatism.” Adding terms like “right wing” or “actual” *does not constitute demonstration*.  I am not even making a good/bad distinction, and I am precisely insisting on an historical reading: historical method, (note all the solemn discussion of “method” above) assumes some willingness to sort through evidence about the world not just impose prefabricated schemas over it. 

The point re Kos et al. I’ll make plainer.  You’re playing Horowitz’s game.  You’re just as reductive and almost as intemperate.  Re “no history of reaction to years of right-wing hyperpartisanship,” saying he-hit-me-first gets us nowhere.

By on 11/07/06 at 12:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark Bauerlein: “I don’t want to come off as renouncing David Horowitz, because I think that beneath the polemics and tactics lies a warranted criticism of the intellectual condition of the campus. His politicking and smearing I take as simply the way politics are played [...] in political ones [settings], he’s a normal activist.”

Ah, the normalization of GOP-style politics.  Be warned that, contrary to the various concern trolls who wish that liberals could just go back to being nice and ineffectual, this game will be played by both sides.  The people who think that liberals scolding them about racism is the ultimate smear are in for a big shock, if Horowitz’ proposals ever get closer to reality.  Bérubé’s book may really be the liminal case—the last polite academic resistance before so-called “normal” politics takes over.

But I’m glad that my thesis about the lack of distinction between political and intellectual conservatism is being supported.  It doesn’t matter whether the intellectuals think that they are personally above the rough and tumble, as long as they support it.

By on 11/07/06 at 12:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s a free country, John.

As for Luther’s comment about favoring an education in which students “do” a field of study rather than “talk” about it, we have had experiments of this sort ever since Dewey and Kilpatrick and their followers, and I see no evidence of its benefits on other than anecdotes from the classroom. Howard Gardner will talk all day about how much more important it is to have students learn to “think historically” than to learn the contents of history.

Well, we see some of the results in the mountains of evidence of content-ignorance among college graduates, not to mention the rest of the young adult population. They don’t know any history, civics, geography, foreign languages, literature . . .

Luther speaks as if students in high school and college are being “force-fed” facts and books, treated like “pigeons.” But student choice and initiative has never been higher. If anything, we need a lot more “force-feeding” and a lot less independence. The pressures of career choice fall much more heavily on students than do the pressures of the liberal arts curriculum.

By on 11/07/06 at 12:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I guess that, contra-RP, I thought serious intellectual debate should be something distinct from the smearing sound-bites of a “political advocacy campaign” (from either side).  And I thought that conservatives were against the dumbing-down of academic discourse.

By on 11/07/06 at 12:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Since Mark is willing for Horowitz to be an issue here, I’d like to note that Horowitz seems to specialize in targeting individual leftists and liberals, presumably for firing.

I don’t recall that he’s involved himself in curriculum issues, or has been interested in the paradigm-monopoly questions I’m interested in.

Paradigm-monopoly is not a simple right-left issue. The monopoly paradigm in economics, for example, works not only against Marxists and other leftists, but also against Austrian economists and German historicist economists, both of whom can be quite conservative.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 12:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So, Mark: should the dangerous leftist Berube be fired or disciplined? Is it an outrage that this dangerous leftist is allowed to teach impressionable young minds? What about Norman Finkelstein, Frederic Jameson, Robert McChesney, Juan Cole, Orville Schell, Bettina Aptheker, Angela Davis, Richard Falk, H. Bruce Franklin, Amiri Baraka, Paul Ehrlich, Kathleen Cleaver, and Noam Chomsky? Is there a problem in the fact that they’re all teaching in college? Would education be enhanced by somehow getting rid of them?

Or how about the 60+ names on the list whom no one has ever heard of? They’re presumably more vulnerable and easier to get to. What kind of results have you and Horowitz had in increasing ideological diversity on campus by getting rid of these dangerous teachers?

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 01:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m against firing or disciplining anybody for his political views. If it ever happened include me in the protest.

By on 11/07/06 at 01:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Colin Danby: “The point re Kos et al. I’ll make plainer.  You’re playing Horowitz’s game.  You’re just as reductive and almost as intemperate.  Re “no history of reaction to years of right-wing hyperpartisanship,” saying he-hit-me-first gets us nowhere.”

Colin, neither a wish to be above historical events nor a deliberate refusal to accept them makes an actual politics.  We have a situation in which even the calm, intellectual conservatives—see MB above—support Horowitz’ tactics.  No matter how much you might want there to be a path from here that does not involve “reduction” into opposition, or “intemperance”, there is none.  I recently wrote a comment just about this. 

As for carefully proving, using historical method, that there is a single, unitary conservatism; no, I’m not going to do that in a comment box, or even outside a comment box.  But the point that I wanted to make is being made; the intellectuality of conservatives is irrelevant from a standpoint of politics.  Outside of a numerically very small, possibly imaginary, number of intellectual conservatives, there is no important conservative grouping that does not equate to Horowitz in tactics and general ideology.

Michael (not B) writes: “Well, I guess that, contra-RP, I thought serious intellectual debate should be something distinct from the smearing sound-bites of a “political advocacy campaign” (from either side).”

But I do think that serious intellectual debate should be distinct from the sound-bites of a political advocacy campaign.  That’s a normative statement.  Pointing out that it actually isn’t distinct is an observation.

By on 11/07/06 at 02:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think that we should play Horowitz’s game until we’ve beaten him. We can’t finesse this by pretending that he isn’t there, or by pretending that we can win by losing in a high-minded way, or by giving him concessions until he starts acting nice.

I’ve been listening far too long to high-minded conservatives saying that “behind David Duke’s polemics and tactics lies a warranted criticism” blah blah blah. Horowitz is a goon, and apparently he’s Bauerlein’s goon.

And also far too long to high-minded liberals saying “we can’t become like the enemy”. Bauerlein refuses to dissociate himself from Horowitz, so we should ignore Bauerlein as long as Horowitz is still a player.

And to me, “just as bad as Kos” isn’t very bad. I do not see Kos as being on a par with Horowitz, and if someone does think that, I don’t have much to talk about with them.

Note that I am not a tenured radical and, in fact, do have major beefs with the present system.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 02:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, then, mark, what was your friend Horowitz’s point in putting out a list of 100 dangerous radicals in American universities? Because that’s the kind of thing Horowitz mostly does. He’s a political purger and demagogue, not a curriculum reformer or a philosopher of educational method.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 02:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Emerson: “Note that I am not a tenured radical [...]”.  Yeah, I’m not an academic either.

I should try to point out to the “moderates” how dangerous their position is.  Look at the robocalls that the GOP is sending out this election.  This is a new tactic, based on harassment and deception, not the same old.  And it’s clear that it’s effective.  If it isn’t denounced by those snarling people at Kos, and if that doesn’t actually contribute to actually stopping it, then it’s going to become part of the normal political repertoire.  Of course the Democrats should do it next election if it doesn’t backfire in this one; their position as representatives of half the people in the country, with serious issues at stake, demands it.

And the moderates empower all of this.  That’s how Horowitz’ record of blatant lying and personal attacks can be blandly described as “simply the way politics are played”.  People will keep defining political deviancy down until their victims start to snarl.  By doing it early, you just save time and end up at a better place.

By on 11/07/06 at 03:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, the fact that you include a out-of-print nobody like Kilpatrick alongside Dewey tells me you’re uncritically repeating back the ideas of E. D. Hirsch.  Richard Ognibene disproved Hirsch’s idea that Kilpatrick played a central role in American education in a substantial review of *The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them*.  Also note how Hirsch did absolutely *no* research on what actually takes place in an American classroom.  Return to *Cultural Literacy* or *The Schools We Need* and see if you can find an empirical study of classroom practices.  He cites Larry Cremin a lot, but cherry-picks the research.  Cremin himself argues that progressivism never took hold in schools in any consistent or true form. 

All research on what actually takes place in the classroom tells us that constructivist methods never took hold.  I agree with Mark that our schools don’t teach enough, but Hirsch (and his followers like Mark) are completely wrong that they’re too busy teaching skills and not content.  Today’s average public school is about classroom management, not learning.  The students are neither memorizing historical fact nor taking part in rigorous inquiry-based historical research projects.  Students read textbooks, listen to teachers lecture, and then fill out worksheets.  Sometimes they build a volcano out of plaster-of-paris.  Ask a kid what she learned about volcanoes from this.  “Nothing” will be the answer.  (Finally, if you read Berliner and Biddle’s *Manufactured Crisis*, you’ll learn that 1990s American students compare equally to 1914 American students in terms of cultural literacy.)

Student choice isn’t the issue.  This isn’t about consumerism.  Sure, many colleges students can choose any college course they want.  But once they’re in most college classes, they follow a reading list from A to B.  They aren’t training in *how* to study literature; they are being told what those who study literature think about literature.  Professors in graduate programs constantly bemoan the fact their first-years can’t *do* literary study. 

Mark ultimately posits a false binary between doing history and learning the content of history.  If you actually read Jerome Bruner, who invented discovery learning and constructivist education, you’d see that the two are synonymous in his writings.  Bruner himself is a polymath expert in scientific methods, psychology, narratology, literature, and music.  He’s not some anti-content hippy.  His point is quite simple: if students are taught how to write history and then sent off to actively construct a historical narrative, they will learn more than if they simply are lectured about history or read a lecture in a textbook.  Anyone who has ever done a research paper knows this is true.  Those topics you were forced to investigate and make sense and structure of on your own are the ones you know the best.

By on 11/07/06 at 03:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A careful look at post-grad science education would be very illuminating with regard to teaching methods. Students from Asia are taught by rote content methods. They come to the US with very solid content backgrounds but rather weak skills in the exploratory and experimental aspects of science. American students can be the opposite.

Americna grad schools are unquestionably the best (unless I’ve been told wrong) but a lot of the best grad students are Asian.

Asian students who return to their homelands often try to introduce aspects of American science teaching, but usually are resisted fiercely.

This is a sketch based on lots of miscellaneous information I’ve recieved. It isn’t definitive by far. I am primarily just suggesting an avenue of investigation.

this is assumeing that we’re again talking about substantive issues, and no longer talking about the Horowitz-Bauerlein assault on education.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 06:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther is right that public school classrooms aren’t about teaching content or skills. They are about classroom management. This is why I think that anybody who says that educational outcomes haven’t worsened in recent years is flat wrong. To compare students in 1914 with 1990s students is to compare apples and oranges, unless you account for about two dozen demographic variables at the same time.

The inexplicable thing about bad outcomes (in content and in skills) is that alongside them we have positive movements:

1. never have young adults in America had so much access to education

2. never has the average amount of schooling been so high

3. never has access to cultural institutions been so high (libraries, museums, etc.)

4. never has access to information in general been so high (with the internet)

5. never has investment in K-12 education been so high (the Bush Admin increased the Dept of Ed budget 49 percent in its first years)

6. behavioral habits among young adults have improved in the last decade (violent crime, teenage pregnancy, . . .)

And yet, knowledge and skill levels have, at best, barely nudged upwards.

Why? As I’ve said, the curriculum is partly to blame, but even more so are the trends in leisure habits among teens and young adults.

To John: Horowitz’s book on the professors was a polemical job designed for political gain. You’re right, he’s not a curriculum reformer or an educator.

By on 11/07/06 at 06:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t want to come off as renouncing David Horowitz, because I think that beneath the polemics and tactics lies a warranted criticism of the intellectual condition of the campus. His politicking and smearing I take as simply the way politics are played, and having spent some time working in a politically delicate agency in DC, I don’t find his actions any worse than those of any other political advocacy campaign. Yes, he appears unfair, snide, belligerant . . . in academic settings. But in political ones, he’s a normal activist.

I guess I just don’t understand the way politics are played, then.  Because I don’t see what’s inhibiting Mark Bauerlein from renouncing someone who has claimed that “radicals like Berube can’t be bothered to actually read or respond rationally to anything that ruffles their progressive feathers, let alone be concerned about the fact that their entire political focus since 9/11 has been in getting our terrorist enemies off the hook." If Mark is suggesting that claims like this aren’t any worse than those of, say, the Sierra Club or NARAL, then I guess he’s simply seen a side of Washington DC—in the politically delicate National Endowment of the Arts—of which I am largely ignorant.

And I guess I don’t understand how thoughtful conservative A can fault me for going after David Horowitz, on the grounds that he’s not a responsible or representative conservative critic, while thoughtful conservative B refuses to distance himself from David Horowitz when the question is put to him.  See “not understanding the way politics are played,” above.

By Michael Bérubé on 11/07/06 at 06:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Michael, Mark is above the battle and only wants to talk rationally about substance. He doesn’t udnerstand why you’re so upset. Quit being a girl.

By John Emerson on 11/07/06 at 07:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Berube should be fired for running the blog with the most in-jokey comments on the entire internet.

By on 11/07/06 at 09:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

MB: “And I guess I don’t understand how thoughtful conservative A can fault me for going after David Horowitz, on the grounds that he’s not a responsible or representative conservative critic, while thoughtful conservative B refuses to distance himself from David Horowitz when the question is put to him.  See “not understanding the way politics are played,” above.”

Well, MB is a liberal professor, so he must be a hippie, right?  Perhaps this song will set him straight:

One con makes him loom larger
And one con makes him small
And the ones that must be somewhere else
Oppose him and stand tall
Go ask Horowitz
If there’s a difference at all

And if you’re chasing rumors
That make your reputation fall
About a hook escaping terrorist
Who you’ve helped out with a call
Call Horowitz
Cause he’s got the gall

When you’re a piece on a chessboard
Cause that’s how politics are played
And you’ve just had a giant mushroom cloud
And you’re feeling kind of betrayed
Go call Horowitz
Cause that’s the world he made

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And Dan Drezner’s talking backwards
And Bauerlein’s “off with his head!”
Remember what the concern troll said
“Stay in bed.  Stay in bed.  Stay in bed.”

By on 11/07/06 at 09:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark I don’t think it takes many examples to show that the “beneath the polemics and tactics ...” line of argument is morally obtuse, especially when aimed at something as vaguely defined as “the intellectual condition of the campus.” My campus was just leafleted by the Laroucheites, and I’m sure somewhere “beneath” all that malevolent crap, if you shovelled it artfully enough, you could make out a “warranted criticism.”

The same can be said for the lowest common denominator argument of “the way politics are played.” You can always fond somebody behaving worse.  So what?  Is it really a good argument for the canon that its champion is capable of this kind of relativism?

By on 11/07/06 at 09:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, here’s another list of conditions facing today’s youth:

In 2000, 13% of black, 7% of white and 6& of hispanic infants had low birthweight.

Three times as many black as white children under age 6 live in houses with serious risks of lead poisoning.

Black and hispanic children under 18 are three times more like that whites to be hungry and have an insecure food supply.

Three-year-olds in professional families had a vocabulary three times that of welfare parents in one comparative study. 

42% of black 4th graders watch six hours or more television per day.

17% of all 3rd graders had already attended three or more schools (rate is double for minority students).

Minorities and high poverty students are more likely to have uncertified teachers.

Poor and minority students are more likely to have classes with more than 25 students and unsafe school conditions.

The poverty rate has gone up every year since 2000, and there are five million more people living in poverty since then.  Between 2002 and 2003, the average income of the poorest 20 percent of the population actually declined, while the average income of the richest one percent grew by 1/7th.

In New York State, the high/low poverty school district funding gap was cited at $2,280 (when the national average gap was $900).

By on 11/07/06 at 11:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Let’s not harsh on the LaRouchies without good reason. Without LaRouche, how many of us would know that Aristotle was a Persian double agent, or that Franklin was a British double agent, or that the Bavarian Illuminati control the Catholic Church?

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 02:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve read not a few faineant battle-boasts and insults flung in David Horowitz’s direction on this site (especially from JE, who’s quick to toss out an accusation of a “non-sequiter” [sic] here and a “girlie-man” mock directed toward Professor Bauerlein there--not to mention M JE’s above short list of should-be-protected “profs”, several of whom are best known as sway-dough academic racaille, as well as from RP, whose “positive” views, a mon avis, represent the very quintessence of what is wrong with US education--on the order of “Evil, be thou my good” wrong), but very few direct challenges to DH to debate . . . in short, then, mostly snide behind-the-back bitches against DH. Why not issue a direct challenge that DH will actually read? I was willing and able, e.g., to take on M. Berube’s whole pack of snarling oppo-research curs on his own site (before being banned--a distinction I uniquely cherish), so what about you?

Note that my comments above about the abysmal state of US students’ lack of language training stand unanswered and thus unchallenged. Quid verbis?



By on 11/08/06 at 06:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"very few direct challenges to DH to debate”

I challenge DH to write a better Jefferson Airplane parody than I did.  No entry that does not have something at least as good (or bad) as “hook escaping terrorist” for “hookah smoking caterpillar” will be considered.

I don’t think that this is an unfair challenge.  Dimly remembered 60s culture is clearly Horowitz’ main strength.  Although he can set his small staff to ghosting it, as he does with some other undefined but presumably slightly less than 100% of his output.

By on 11/08/06 at 09:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Wit is where you don’t favor Belloc so much, Jacques Beau-Geste.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 11/08/06 at 09:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

An essay by Chomsky in the early 70s approvingly cites some of Horowitz’s work on Standard Oil’s mercenary apparatus in Ramparts, though no one should make too much of this…

By Jonathan Goodwin on 11/08/06 at 09:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The weakness of American foreign language study has been a running joke since before I was born (1946). It wasn’t caused by Communists. I agree with you! Americans should put more energy into foreign language teaching! People should also brush and floss daily and respect the speed limit when driving! What’s this have to do with anything?

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 09:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

True to Bérubé’s neopragmatist outlook, classroom liberalism bears upon attitude and conduct. It does not endorse a curriculum. The inculcation of tradition is barely hinted at. A student’s educational path may amble promiscuously through a smorgasbord of course offerings....The real debate lies not over debating tactics, but over course content.

I’m very interested in this discussion.

Michael has already said elsewhere that he regrets not having addressed the topic of the curriculum in What’s Liberal. I’d love to hear from both Mark and Michael on what, precisely, they’d recommend with regard to “course offerings” and “course content.” Surely these are very different things, easily conflated under the term “curriculum”?

As long as professors retain the right to set the texts for a course (or to set only one text, or no text) as well as the topics of discussion, course offerings will have a limited effect on course content. If a department decreed No Courses on Feminism, any course could still be taught from a feminist perspective; if a department decreed Only Courses on Feminism, a professor could still teach the course from a perspective critical of feminism.

By on 11/08/06 at 10:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

To RP, JG and JE especially:

Trivial and frivilous responses, gentlemen--generous of you to concede my points by default.

Perhaps more classical and modern foreign language training early (universally-understood as the most propitious time to introduce such languages) might obviate your whole pointless point about method versus content in teaching. In language training one gets it all without the tedious posturing about pedagogy.
And anyone sans classical languages ("Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything") caught professing him-or herself to be a rhetorician ought to be usefully retrained as gardener or hair-stylist.

In the sixties “counter-culturals” at least pretended to read copiously in the classics; nowadays,
a text is a text is a text--a Pleiade poet’s sonnet is worth a fashion article (a la Barthes) is worth a soap-op episode is worth a raw chunk of hip-hop doggerel (the currently fashionable post-modern “Whatever, dude” theory of canon formation). Or if tradionally-acknowledged canonical authors are still offered in English departments, leftist and antinomian templates placed over their works (doubtless to avoid “naive” readings) manage all too often to render them as ideologically cutesy and familiar as “Springtime for Hitler”.

By on 11/08/06 at 11:35 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Michael’s (Berube) comment quotes a cheap shot by David Horowitz, and he’s right to deplore it. And yes, one wouldn’t say the same about Sierra Club (although I dropped my membership a couple of years ago when the outfit got too partisan). But we do see the work of various PACs and politicians and party operatives who during elections play hardball in just the way that Horowitz does. His actions should be treated in the context of a political campaign, not as intellectual debate or, as John rightly noted, “educational philosophy.”

Michael’s rejoinders, as I wrote, are effective pieces of polemic themselves. I never said they shouldn’t be there. In fact, he says a lot of nasty things about conservative advocates, and I didn’t fault him for that. He did it with flair.
But I do think that more engagement with “educational conservatives,” especially in the last two chapters, would have strengthened the argument.

Luther cites a series of demographic stats that, unfortunately, mix racial and income categories so that we have little sense of the full picture. The heading mentions “today’s youth,” but the people he refers to make up only a portion of today’s youth.

In my list of cultural/educational access, I deliberately chose institutions that are free, or that run free programs. The reason to bring them up is that we have been discussing curriculum and its outcomes, and while we see other measures of young adults showing gains (behavioral, economic), we don’t see corresponding gains in skills and knowledge. Much of the blame goes to changes in leisure habits, but some goes to weak curricula as well (smorgasbord offerings, constructivist pedagogies, child-centered strategies etc.).

By on 11/08/06 at 11:45 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yet another tedious practise here I can’t help but notice is the effetely-invoked mention (to a whinging washing-machine cadence) of David Horowitz (comme notre president pour les benets academiques) as a kind of handy synonym for everything not generally desirable. Cui bono?

By on 11/08/06 at 11:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jacques, The Valve is one of the top—if not *the* top—group literature blogs around.  It’s also a forum for some of the most balanced and intelligent conversations about literary topics I’ve come across in my 12 years in the field.  Furthermore, it’s sponsored by the conservative-leaning ALSC.  If Horowitz wants some idea of how literature scholars actually think and work, he has a responsibility to track the conversations here (or at least have one of his interns do it—that way, when he inevitably gets his facts wrong, he can blame his interns, as he did so often in his debates with Michael Berube). 

About foreign language training is US schools: as someone involved in NY State education circles, I can say that the will is there, but the money isn’t.  Administrators in my local district just came back from a visit to China, where they went, in part, to learn about the Chinese system of language training.  Still, Jacques would be supremely unhappy with the Chinese.  While they learn three languages by high school (Mandarin, English, and most often Japanese), they don’t give two shits about classical European languages.  These administrators would love to begin such a system here, but that would mean hiring countless language teachers at the K-8 level—and few language majors in American universities want to teach young kids (when they can teach college kids or give private training to business people for much more money).  Right now, there’s a shortage of even Spanish teachers at the high school level. 

At the same time, I worry about the Chinese system of language training, tied as it is to present economic interests.  Say we begin teaching Chinese to American youth.  In twenty years, there’s a good chance that China will no longer be an economic leader (’tho there’s also a good chance they will be *the* business leaders).  In an ideal educational system, American children would be able to learn foreign languages early on, but they’d also have a choice of all major languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, Romance, Slavic, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, and so on.  Still, that’s totally impossible to do.

By on 11/08/06 at 01:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Where’d he come from? And how does he get the dog to speak all the foreign lingo?


By Bill Benzon on 11/08/06 at 01:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

As I understand, Horowitz’s anti-university activities are a primary topic topic of Berube’s book. Hence the mentions of Horowitz.

I am totally in favor of increased emphasis on foreign languages, but that’s been a losing battle in the US for many decades, and it’s peripheral or irrelevant to most of the active debates about education. A lot of educational conservatives are in the Basic Skills and Christian Education camps, which don’t emphasize frills like foreign language. The successful foreign language students I would meet in college tended to be effete liberals.

I don’t think that Horowitz has any ideas about education. While he’s stinking up the debate I’ll also just ignore the ideas of people who use the Horowitz threat to legitimize their own personal whines, though I will generously flick them some shit from time to time when I’m in the mood. I endorse Berube’s response to Horowitz, and am glad that he has made it possible for me to ignore the timewasting goon without guilt.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 01:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jacques, may I suggest that your signature ‘lack of argument, be thou my argument’ argumentative style lacks something, qua argument.

Clearly you feel entitled to a response to your points, but (upon examination) you appear to have said nothing that would cause someone who did not share your beliefs to begin doing so. So it is not clear why a reasonable person, who disagreed with you, would feel called upon to respond. You have, on the other hand, adequately and colorfully conveyed your contempt for a wide range of opinions and persons, but it is doubtful further expressive ventures in this vein, howsoever linguistically motley, will make your feelings plainer. Perhaps there is a point of diminishing returns? Food for thought. You are welcome to contribute constructively if you feel the company is such that you could bring yourself to argue - if you could bear to come within hailing distance of a more socratic if not irenic mode - without compromising yourself morally or intellectually or linguistically or on the basis of past military service. If this is simply an impossibility, then - goodness - what is the point, eh?

There are some other sharp elbows in the thread that should perhaps be filed down a bit. Please take it under advisement. I say that because it’s actually a real coversation that’s sort of rocking on the rails and I think it would be better if it stayed on. (I think this is consistent with Jefferson Airplane parodies, since that was really well done.)

Mark, it seems to me that the Horowitz point you are getting stuck with is a very serious one and you are dodging it rather than addressing it. You seem to be sliding between 1) the allegation that Michael B’s book is ‘counterpolemic’ to Horowitz, which implies a kind of equivalency - a mutual cancelling out; and 2) acknowledgement that Horowitz is in fact degrading the discourse, whereas Michael B is contributing something, but excusing the former on grounds of ‘politics as usual’. It seems to me that anyone who wants to denounce the intellectual quality of higher education has to bring at least college-level intellectual standards to the table. There isn’t any room for double-standards. If conservatives can bring something to the table, then they have a clear and strong interest in keeping the likes of Horowitz away from it. (He only makes them look bad by association.) If they can’t, then - again - Horowitz is no help. (But I’m sure it’s actually the former case we are dealing with here.) I don’t think you can really defend either the equivalency thesis or the permissibility of a double-standard.

Now I realize that you just don’t want to talk about Horowitz. You want to talk about other things that you feel Michael B should have talked about, where his case is weaker. That’s fine. But, since it wasn’t actually unreasonable for Michael B to focus on Horowitz to the extent he did, the best way to get off that subject - if you want to change it - is to concede the points about Horowitz. If you don’t, especially if you keep hinting that the Horowitz thing is overblown, everyone is going to keep dragging you back to Horowitz until you EITHER defend him on the merits OR disavow him on account of his demerits.

By John Holbo on 11/08/06 at 02:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

First, LB: Why refer to the CHINESE system of education as a point of comparison here with the US’s when I clearly implied references to the Europeans’ (not much general interest in China in Attic Greek and Latin, I fancy!)? The “lack of money” argument is both tedious and specious; there are many programmes (sports, to begin with) in which major reductions could finance real educational ones like classical and foreign languague training (see the excellent commentaries on secondary and intercollegiate sports in University Diaries).
I’ll get to the remarks of the others here a bit later, but I might note, Prof. Holbo, that I do manage to convey my messages without resort to unsocratic and provocative (non-irenic) expletives as in LB’s and JE’s last posts.
A bientot,

By on 11/08/06 at 03:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jacques and John, I make a lump sum donation to the Grice United Fund every year, in order to escape the nuisance of having to show discursive charity piecemeal toward dozens of annoying motherfuckers one at a time.

Anyone who feels that I am insufficiently charitable should just contact the Grice United Fund, and by return mail someone there will treat your cockamamie communication with respect.

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 05:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Does this mean you don’t take no GUF from no one, JE?

By Bill Benzon on 11/08/06 at 06:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, when I found that the Grice United Fund does not exist, I started it myself. $25 satisfies your Gricean obligations for a year.

Grice United Fund

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 06:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, there is absoltutely zero evidence that constructivist educational practices have led to a decline in students’ skills or knowledge. 

Furthermore, as Biddle and Berliner show in *The Manufactured Crisis*, the very idea of a decline in skills or knowledge is debateable when statistics are disaggregated (that is, when we account for the fact that today’s schools are far more inclusive than ever before of students from a variety of backgrounds and disabilities who were once not always included in educational statistics).

By on 11/08/06 at 10:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Manufactured Crisis was published 10 years ago. Things have changed. It’s out of date.

By on 11/08/06 at 11:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Studies Have Shown.”

By John Emerson on 11/08/06 at 11:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, I’d like to see the statistics that show a real decline in skills and knowledge in American youth over the past ten years.  I’m being earnest.

By on 11/09/06 at 12:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Here are the statistics I could find at

At grade 4, the average science score was higher in 2005 than in previous assessment years.
At grade 8, the average science score in 2005 showed no significant change compared to results in 1996 and 2000.
At grade 12, the average science score was lower than in 1996, and showed no significant change from 2000. 

In geography as of 2001, scores are up for fourth- and eighth-graders since 1994, while changes for high school seniors are not statistically significant.

Mathematics, 2005: Mathematics performance improved for the nation, for the majority of states, and for many student groups. Fourth-graders’ average score was 3 points higher and eighth-graders’ average score was 1 point higher in 2005 than in 2003, on a 0 to 500 point scale. The average scores increased since the first assessment year, 1990, by 25 points at grade 4 and by 16 points at grade 8.

Between 1990 and 2005, the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Basic increased by 30 percentage points, from 50 to 80 percent, and the percentage performing at or above Proficient increased from 13 to 36 percent. The percentage of eighth-graders performing at or above Basic was 17 percentage points higher in 2005 (69 percent) than in 1990 (52 percent), and the percentage performing at or above Proficient increased from 15 to 30 percent.

Reading, 2005: On a 0 to 500 point scale, fourth-graders’ average score was 1 point higher and eighth-graders’ average score was 1 point lower in 2005 than in 2003. Average scores in 2005 were 2 points higher than in the first assessment year, 1992, at both grades 4 and 8.

Between 1992 and 2005, there was no significant change in the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Basic, but the percentage performing at or above Proficient increased during this time. The percentage of eighth-graders performing at or above Basic was higher in 2005 (73 percent) than in 1992 (69 percent), but there was no significant change in the percentage scoring at or above Proficient between these same years.

History, 2001: Scores are up since 1994 for fourth- and eighth-graders, while changes for high school seniors are not statistically significant.

Writing, 2002: Fourth- and eighth-grade students make gains in writing since 1998, while changes for high school seniors are not statistically significant.

So, if *The Manufactured Crisis* was accurate until 1996, and the evidence above suggests a steady growth in K-8 education since then, I wonder if the nation’s really still at risk?

By on 11/09/06 at 01:04 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As one example off the top of my head, Luther, check out the recent National Institute for Literacy report, which found that while the percentage of college grads who reached “proficiency” was 40 percent in the early-90s, in 2003 it was only 31 percent.

To address your points, John, an anecdote. Several years ago, a grad student at Emory decided to transfer. She went out to a large university in California to talk to faculty there about her prospects. She returned in a glow, telling me, “They were great.” One prof, a well-known mid-career person the department had just hired, particularly engaged her trust. Something she told the student really endeared her--all the faculty at the program whom she should avoid should she make the switch.

Now, I’ve heard and seen too darn many cases like that in academia to get exercised over the tactics of Horowitz. It’s that simple. It’s not that I agree with them, but that I chalk them up to political activism, and that all-too-many academics have been doing various kinds of smearing, bullying, scapegoating and the like for years, beneath the radar, within the system. Added to that, Horowitz has absolutely no power over personnel, curriculum, or policies, and fears of his influence are overblown.

You’re right that we should not slide into a balancing approach here, and in characterizing What’s Liberal . . . as a counterpolemic, I only meant the first few chapters. Later, we get a lot more. But precisely in the discussions of classroom policy, it would have been nice to see, for instance, takes on how multiculturalism has improved humanities instruction, and why conservatives have been wrong to criticize it.

Now, your assumption that when criticizing higher education one must bring “college-level intellectual standards to the table” only goes so far. If you’re advocating legislation that affects the university, for instance, sometimes you don’t worry about intellectual standards. Instead, you care about winning. We should recognize that the rules of the campus, of intellectual discourse, are special rules with limited value outside the campus.

By on 11/09/06 at 03:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark Bauerlein: “Something she told the student really endeared her--all the faculty at the program whom she should avoid should she make the switch.”

Wow—so informal badmouthing is now equivalent to published claims that someone wants to help terrorists?  That is factually not true.

Mark Bauerlein: “Instead, you care about winning. We should recognize that the rules of the campus, of intellectual discourse, are special rules with limited value outside the campus.”

Those last two sentences might have been taken from my own comments, but note that I’ve never advocated, or practised, calling people terrorist sympathizers in the service of political goals.  Nor have any of the liberal groups that I’m familiar with.

But the thread has returned to my original claim, which I consider to be proved in this case: there are so few conservatives who are not treating this as part of political conservatism that we might as well ignore them.  Conversations about curriculum and so on are irrelevant.  The proper answer to someone who supports this kind of politics, and then says that they care about winning, is to tell them that they’re going to lose.  And then make it happen.

By on 11/09/06 at 09:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark keeps refusing to dissociate himself from Horowitz while demanding that we engage him on questions of educational reform. I think that he’s baiting readers of The Valve and has no actual desire to talk about substance. He just wants to be able to say that the people of the Valve, slavishly obeying Commissar Emerson and Commissar Puchalsky, refused to talk to him about serious educational issues.

I just checked in on Horowitz’s “Front Page”, “Students for Academic Freedom”, and “Discover the Network” and confirmed my preexisting opinion that he has nothing at all to say about any educational issue, is solely concerned with political-conservative causes—getting recognized status for on-campus conservatives, hiring more conservative faculty, and getting rid of as many leftist and Muslim faculty as possible.

In an interesting survival of Leninist terminology, his site’s email groups are called “eBrigades”.  It’s really too neat—he’s replicating the hard-line new-left tactics he used in the Sixties and early Seventies in a right-wing form.

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 09:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, Mark, especially for the ante-penultimate paragraph of your 3:17 am message; I think that fairly sums up my views as well on humanities profs who seem to fancy they’re members of a guild that requires obedience to a wide variety of leftist antinomian social and political causes. So out of step with views of the nation as a whole are so many of them, that when Michigan voters (in a “blue-state” that otherwise generally supported Democratic candidates on the statewide ballot) should, like Washington and California I’m pleased to say, pass a ballot measure (officially at least) ending race preferences in the state (the MCRI, which gained 58% approval), the reaction among all-too-many University of Michigan students and faculty (multiculturalists all) was inordinate rage, bitterness, and contempt for all those who supported it.

The MCRI would probably prevent or at least make suspect the situation described in the following anecdotes:
In the department at my PhD-granting institution, the department chair (yes, alas, they gave him a job too) decided he wanted to act affirmatively by granting all graduate assistants only “of colour” a term off teaching duties with full pay. One recipient of this prejudicial largesse was a grad student whose parents were both successful physicians, while another, a Caucasian, was the daughter of an immigrant farmer whose career as a hospital janitor barely supported his large family. The former student, by the way, left the department partly out of embarrassment over this unwise and divisive favouritism. Another friend of mine, a nursing student from a very large and poor family and supporting herself with difficulty, lost her scholarship when it was revealed that her dark complexion evidenced Portuguese, not Hispanic ancestry. These are only two of many such stories I’ve known first-hand or heard tell of, often sotto voce for fear of reprisals. My reaction to senior faculty and administrative support for race-preference “multiculturalism” is that I’ll take their views more seriously when they yield up their own positions (who’ve presumably gained most from the old system) in deference to those they think should be favoured. While I’m sure there are folks of good will supporting “muticulturalism” as popularly presented, I most often hear the shrill voices of the incurably self-righteous hyperventilating nonsense against its opponents. For if I may hazard a clutch at such an eely creature, and if “multiculturalism” means understanding of others unlike ourselves, it seems study of others’ languages may be the first and most important step. For those who speak the same language as we, perhaps our common humanity (always a suspect appeal for the race, class and “gender” “specialists” bred in humanities departments) may be most telling.

“Culture” is such an omnibus term these days, it might be best to jettison it altogether in socio-political debates in academe.

By on 11/09/06 at 09:53 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The former student, by the way, left the department partly out of embarrassment over this unwise and divisive favouritism.

You wonder what the story behind that was.

By John Emerson on 11/09/06 at 10:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I beg to differ once again (quelle surprise!) with John Emerson on the question of whether David Horowitz has anything to say about educational issues.

In his reminiscences on his own education at Columbia DH frequently refers to his own profs, whom he claims sought to teach him how to defend better his ideas without prejudicial in-"doc"-trination about what those ideas “should” be. Read, too, his long article posted today on the pathetic Communist shill Bettina Aptheker and her seemy radical-thuggish milieu. Aptheker is only one among hosts of blindered anti-American extremists and radicals lurking in taxpayer-financed “women’s studies” caves. That some, DH included, treat such women’s and ethnic studies departments as mere social and political advocacy clubs (a la that of Robespierre, political ringmaster of the circus of death) for extremist indoctrination is a direct criticism of whether such clubs constitute real departments teaching real disciplines.

JP’s and RP’s relentless demands that to avoid banishment from further dialogue Mark Bauerlein renounce DH’s every view is beginning to resemble an auto-da-fe right out of the Malleus Maleficarum. Now that’s what I’d call doing philosophy with a clamour.

Perhaps we could all agree that tomorrow is rightly set aside for the hommage we all owe to those who defended and do defend our freedom of speech here with their lives. Though we doubtless choose to honour our brave men and women in military sevice differently (some to bring them home from war, some to support them while they fight it), we can and should honour them, nevertheless. I and my VFW post tend to favour the latter emphasis as we visit our local Vets hospital tomorrow.

By on 11/10/06 at 11:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther cites stats showing that 4th graders are doing pretty well. Yes, they are. But 8th graders are flat overall, and 12th graders continue to show slight dips.The same holds for international comparisons at those grade levels.

By on 11/10/06 at 02:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jacques, if that’s the best you can do you might as well quit. Horowitz is solely interested in purging leftists. He may give educational reasons for his purge (in what you cited he gave liberal-neutral reasons similiar to Berube’s).

You want to talk about foreign-language education. What does Horowitz have to say about that? Bauerlein has things he wants to say about HS education and before. What does Horowitz have to say about that? I spent ten minutes on his sites and found nothing but 1.) attacks on leftists and 2.) claims that political conservatives were being discriminated against.

When someone’s involved both in the political attacks and the educational proposals, as Bauerlein is and as you are, I’m going to give precedence to the politics. Horowitz is the muscle which you two are using to try to get attention for your other ideas, but I’m not playing.

During the Sixties this kind of political pressure on the universities came from the Left, and lo!—Horowitz was there too! The guy has a certain consistency, no?

As for the seriousness of the Horowitzian threat, I don’t care. His intentions are bad. His chances of ever doing real damage diminished significantly last Tuesday, thank Dospog, but he doesn’t necessarily care much. His one-man operation has been feathering his nest pretty well and will continue to do so.

VFW-wise, the post here is six places down the road about half a mile away. I go there occasionally to here a guy I knew in HS play country. The members know who I am, and some are friendly and some not. They haven’t kicked me out of the place so far.

By John Emerson on 11/10/06 at 03:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Add a comment:



Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: