Monday, March 16, 2009

"A Defender of Classroom Indoctrination" Replies

Imagine my surprise this morning on the front page of FrontPage Magazine where I read that “AAUP spokesman John Wilson attempts to justify the political corruption of the academic curriculum.” I am not a spokesman for the AAUP. I do not work for the AAUP. I am the editor of Illinois Academe, which is published by the Illinois AAUP, which is a distinct 501(c)4 and a separate entity from the AAUP. (I am also not a spokesperson for the Illinois AAUP, just the editor of its newsletter with my own views).

This is only the beginning of the errors in Jacob Laksin’s retort to my review of the book he and Horowitz wrote. Ironically, Laksin calls my review “dishonest or just plain careless” while his attacks are both dishonest and careless. For example, Laksin accuses me of “ad hominem invective” against Horowitz (no examples are given, perhaps because Laksin doesn’t understand what an ad hominem argument is).

Laksin claims, “It is Wilson who is apparently unaware that this corruption of the profession of academic geography is precisely our point.” No, I’m perfectly aware of the point. I simply dismiss the archaic notion that geography professors can only teach about maps without teaching about the social connections of people to land. Laksin and Horowitz want the dumbing down of an entire profession in order to banish interdisciplinary teaching.

Laksin repeats the belief that classes in “Global Feminisms” and how revolutions are organized should not be allowed in higher education. Here again, we disagree. I am troubled by some, but not very many, of the courses in Laksin and Horowitz’s book, just as I am troubled by the way some business and economics and agriculture and other classes may be taught in a doctrinaire, pro-corporate way. But I don’t believe that the solution to a flawed class is to impose a repressive system aimed at banning any class deemed “one-sided” by a critic in its reading list or course description.

According to Laksin, “We have never called for the banning of left-wing speech; we do not call for the imposition of any apparatus, let alone a repressive one; and far from attacking academic speech, we seek to restore it. Our aim in One-Party Classroom is to hold schools accountable to the very standards by which they professedly abide.” Exactly how do you hold schools accountable to standards with imposing “any apparatus”? One may argue that an apparatus is a good thing, but please don’t accuse me of a “fertile imagination” when you’re confirming exactly what I say.

My objection to Laksin and Horowitz is not that they criticize these classes, however inane and anti-intellectual their opposition often seems. My complaint is that they repeatedly in the book demand action to be taken to get rid of such classes they dislike, action which they say should be taken by faculty, administrators, trustees, and even accrediting agencies. Then, when I point out the danger of this approach, Laksin first denies it and then immediately re-affirms that this is exactly what they want.

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