A couple of days ago I commented on some criticisms leveled at the textbook that I am currently using for my AP History course. As I mentioned my problem was not in the questioning of the interpretation, but in our tendency to rely on labels as a means of commentary of someone’s scholarship. Turns out the Weekly Standard has sunk to the same level in a short piece that critiques courses currently being taught in colleges and universities across the country. Here is an example of their sharp analysis:
At the University of California, Berkeley, students are taking "Doing Feminist Studies" and "Alternative Sexualities in a Transnational World." Surely these courses kill at least as many brain cells as a night of drinking. Berkeley also offers "Public Speaking About Diversity"–but it would probably be more fruitful to sit on the quad, watch fellow students go by, and then adjourn to the nearest Starbucks or the campus free speech zone to practice actual public speaking.
Fascinating. Is this really the best we can do? Perhaps the author meant for this to read as a comedy piece, but I suspect that this is not the case. Again, I am all for the critical analysis of courses and their epistemic validity, but it seems to me that the professors in question deserve the benefit of the doubt. My guess is that this critique reflects the author’s own insecurities and fears. My advice to the author is to grow up.
On a slightly different note my AP classes read and discussed a chapter from Howard Zinn’s Peoples History. Some of the students came in and were armed with the standard labels of "liberal" or "Marxist" – most having no idea how to use such concepts. I made it a point to keep the vague generalizations out and maintain their focus on the interpretation at hand. We ended up coming to terms with both the broad categories of Zinn’s interpretation, including what he wants the reader to understand about Colonial America, the various pieces of evidence, and the interpretation’s shortcomings. I am absolutely tired of our lack of patience and unwillingness to engage in serious dialogue.