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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

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Talk of the MLA & A Very Long Disengagement

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/03/06 at 04:39 PM

Jennifer Howard’s review of the MLA for the Chronicle is up.  Her take on the convention may remind some of you of some of ours, but that’s a function of her attending many of the same panels we did.  It should surprise no one, then, that she also noted the ubiquity of academic bloggers:

Another sign that the MLA has entered the digital era was the presence of academic bloggers, some of whom shed anonymity to identify themselves in Q&A sessions, and filed daily MLA briefings on such blogs as The Valve.

Call me Daily Brief Boy ... but be prepared to rechristen me something mighty unflattering when I’m still filing summaries of MLA 2005 panels as MLA 2006 rolls around.  (I’ll discuss Howard’s article in more detail when I respond to Clancy’s account of her panel.)

Mark Bauerlein also has an article in the latest Chronicle.  Jonathan has posted one possible response to Bauerlein’s anecdote.  Of more interest to me is a phenomenon John and I first observed during the panel on “English Studies and Political Literacy”:

Considering The Daily Show the equivalent of The O.C. or professional sports.

The lament that students get their news from Jon Stewart instead of NBC Nightly News leads me to believe that the complainant has never watched The Daily Show.  One panelist did mention Stewart’s infamous appearance on Crossfire but didn’t mention Stewart’s regularly gig.  Lost amid the continued apotheosis of Sy Hersh is that he does not work for NBC Nightly NewsThe Daily Show won’t tell them what to do “With Their Money” (Hint: SPEND!), but it may tell them more about politics in America than any of the Big Three’s nightly news shows.  Or The O.C..  Or maybe even the NBA Finals.


Comments

Other than the question of the importance of politics, Bauerlein’s essay fails to provide any statistics for comparison. Just as we imagine that teenage sex/pregnancy was invented in 1968, I have a feeling that our sense of the literacy of previous generations is wildly generous.

In a limited survey of 4 (my parents and my in-laws), I find that they are all completely devoid of literary/historical/geographical knowledge. My pops went to a nice little Jesuit liberal arts college and couldn’t tell you who came first, Shakespeare or Wordsworth. My father-in-law once asked me, in a bookstore, “do they still publish Shakespeare? Can you buy his books?”

I doubt that many of my parents’ friends are much better on this count. They like golf, college football, home decorating, movies. But not, say, James Joyce or the NYRB.

But the thing is, I don’t have academic parents. Fairly successful, college educated, but not academic.

My grandparents were a little better. But mainly, I suspect, because they couldn’t watch the OC or the O’Reilly. They read a lot of Michenerite (sp?) shlock.

So, while I don’t disagree that there might be a problem, I think it’s easy (as usual) to romanticize the past…

By on 01/03/06 at 10:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not so worried about young people acting like, well, young people, though a lot of the survey results in the article are appalling. But I am worried about young people not becoming civically engaged, or at least better informed, later in life. Are any studies planned to track this generation on these same subjects in 5 years? In 10? Do we know how the adults of today fared, or would have fared, on similar surveys during their college years?

By eb on 01/04/06 at 05:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh, and it just happens that the Daily Show was the subject of a survey shortly before the election. From CNN:

On top of that, “Daily Show” viewers know more about election issues than people who regularly read newspapers or watch television news, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey.

Dannagal Goldthwaite Young, a senior research analyst at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said “Daily Show” viewers came out on top “even when education, party identification, following politics, watching cable news, receiving campaign information online, age and gender are taken into consideration."

By eb on 01/04/06 at 05:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

2004 election, that is. (Three comments in a row, sorry about that.)

By eb on 01/04/06 at 05:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There is, in fact, much comparative work on trends in young people’s cultural habits and knowledge going back a few decades, for instance, UCLA’s The American Freshman survey and the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. To find a downward trend is not to postulate a “golden age.”

By on 01/04/06 at 10:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m a non-subscriber. The Chronicle is of only marginal interest to me, and when they put something behind a pay wall it strikes me as rather pathetically conceited.

I feel the same way about Project Muse, which (IIRC) recently offered me a 4-page paper that might not be any good at all for only $11.00.

By John Emerson on 01/05/06 at 10:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Again: why should English departments care about political literacy?  Because of the word “literacy”?  What if we talked about “scientific literacy” or “computer literacy” - would we expect English professors to educate their students on the laws of thermodynamics, or provide tutorials on operating systems?

Why is it that English faculty seem so dissatisfied with the study of literature as literature?

I wasn’t at the panel (though I was at the meeting, sort of), so feel free to abuse me for misconstruing the panel’s contents from its title.

By on 01/05/06 at 01:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Why is it that English faculty seem so dissatisfied with the study of literature as literature?

Maybe because many of them teach rhetoric?

By Michael Bérubé on 01/06/06 at 05:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Or composition, for that matter.

By Ray Davis on 01/06/06 at 05:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Maybe because many of them teach rhetoric?

Or composition, for that matter.

Ooh.  Snappy. 

Political activism involves rhetoric...therefore...teaching rhetoric involves political activism!  Did I follow that line of reasoning correctly?

Or is it that bored faculty, forced to teach composition for 14 or 15 weeks when they can turn students into proficient writers in only 2 or 3, turn to advocating political engagement to pass the time?  (And the students emerging from college are notoriously excellent writers, too, so it must be working....)

By on 01/07/06 at 12:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Or is it that bored faculty, forced to teach composition for 14 or 15 weeks when they can turn students into proficient writers in only 2 or 3...

On what planet can a composition instructor turn functionally illiterate students into “proficient writers” in two or three weeks?  (And is it hiring?)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/07/06 at 01:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, rhetoric (being public speech and all) does involve political literacy.  Ask that Commie Cicero or that Leninist avant la lettre, Quintilian, if you don’t believe me.

Political activism, that I don’t know about.  I thought we were talking about political literacy.

By Michael Bérubé on 01/08/06 at 06:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, rhetoric does involve political literacy

Full circle.

Political literacy involves chemistry, too[*].  Why not leave teaching political literacy to the chemists, then?  Let the chemists ensure that their students are politically engaged, and let them wring their hands about it at their annual meetings.

On what planet can a composition instructor turn functionally illiterate students into “proficient writers” in two or three weeks?

Yes, I suppose you are right.  My mistake.

Perhaps the lesson, then, is that composition instructors already have enough to do and should worry more about writing skills and less about their students’ political literacy.

--------
[*]I’m sure we are all science-literate enough not to need a list, but here are a few items anyway: DDT, EPA, herbal supplements, homeopathic medicines, greenhouse gases, dioxin, PCBs, petroleum, methane, fuel cells, bio-diesel, carcinogens, brown fields, clean air act, arsenic standards for drinking water, etc.

By on 01/09/06 at 09:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

For centuries, the study of rhetoric has involved the issue of political literacy. Rhetoricians tend to be hired by English departments, not by chemisty departments. Rhetoricians do more than teach composition classes; they also teach a wide variety of classes on rhetoric, often to advanced students who are already proficient writers.

By George H. Williams on 01/09/06 at 12:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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