Saturday, September 13, 2014

Contraries: Back to School, Bucket Challenges, and Recommended Reading

By Mary Grabar, September 12, 2014

This appeared here and my thanks to Mary for allowing me to publish her work.  RK
 
If you live in a college town you know that (here in Clinton, New York), school is back in session. That brings worry about the required reading and class discussions, especially after a summer of rioting in the previously little-known St. Louis suburb of Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown. College students are chalking up campuses with "hands up." Unfortunately, a number of curriculum companies are sending out biased materials that exploit the tragedy, fanning the flames, and adding little to students' knowledge about history or civics. Slate Magazine had an article headlined, "The Birth of the #Ferguson Syllabus," with links to syllabi and teaching materials. Students in the school of social work at Michigan had rap sessions about how "police militarization" led to the escalation of protests to looting. Teaching for Change's lesson, sent out by Rethinking Schools, refers back to Malcolm X with a video.

Accompanying the video clip is the explanation: "Upon his return from Mecca in 1964, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) stated that he wanted to bring charges against the United States for its treatment of African-Americans. He believed that it was 'impossible for the United States government to solve the race problem' and the only way to get the United States to change its racist ways was to bring international pressure." This is from the lesson titled, "Teaching About Ferguson." There is also a suggested link to a lesson on racism in the Zinn Education Project, as well as to the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, for a discussion about the "militarization of police."

Michelle Alexander is one of the "celebrated academics" that Jason Riley, in his new book, Please Stop Helping Us, takes to task for her outrageous claims that incarceration is a new form of slavery and Jim Crow. On the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, Riley has also offered his insightful commentary on Fox News. I reviewed his book at the Selous Foundation and suggest it highly as a clear-headed, fact-based response to incendiary ideological lessons. It's an invaluable reference for rebutting claims by professors who follow the line of Professor Alexander.

A Good New Curriculum Offering: In addition to books like Jason Riley's, students, parents, and teachers now have a curriculum called "Communism: Its Ideology, Its History, Its Legacy," available from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. It was written by Grove City College professor, Dr. Paul Kengor, at the prompting of Dr. Lee Edwards, distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who spearheaded the foundation and is author of numerous books on Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, and Barry Goldwater. Readers may remember Dr. Kengor's chapter in the Dissident Prof title Exiled, "Anti-Anti-Communism and the Academy." According to Kengor, the curriculum was written with the expertise and help of Claire Griffin, to make it suited for use in public schools. So parents and teachers, put in the suggestion for a purchase.

After all, curriculum materials, paid for with tax dollars, should be balanced, which is not the case for how tax dollars are spent on membership fees for the National Association of School Boards of Education. Members are sent to an annual conference, where they will be given the sales pitch for Common Core, as I wrote in another article for the Selous Foundation this week.
 
No doubt, you've heard about the "Ice Bucket Challenge," a silly activity (dumping a bucket of ice water over one's head) for the worthy cause of finding a cure for the disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). But leave it to a student president to make a charitable event into a political cause by dumping a bucket of blood over herself to protest Israel. Now where would students get such ideas? Well, it's not only American Studies professors who sometimes diverge from academics into politics. Georgia State University English professor Randy Malamud at Inside Higher Education suggests an ice-bucket-fundraiser for the humanities. Students need to hear writers like Thomas Pynchon and Zadie Smith, he says. Malamud makes the case for such a humanities fundraiser, recognizing that most readers would need to be convinced:

“Is our cause sufficiently worthy? Of course it is, and it’s pointless to argue whether higher education or ALS is more deserving: apples and oranges. The suffering of an ALS victim is terrible. The plight of people who cannot maximize their talents, too, is terrible. At my university, where over half our students qualify for Pell Grants and a third are first-generation college students, I see firsthand every day how profoundly meaningful a college education is for those who are marginally able to achieve it, and how fundamentally valuable it would be to extend that margin as much as possible.”

Notice how the professor uses the same word, "terrible," to describe the suffering of an ALS victim and those who cannot "maximize their talents." Maximizing talents is aligned with exposure to Dr. Malamud's version of what a humanities education should be. Dr. Malamud's own scholarship began with spiteful and lopsided studies of Modernism and T.S. Eliot, but in recent years has shifted to a study of animals. This is from the University website:

“Dr. Malamud's fourth book, Reading Zoos, analyzes zoos as a cultural phenomenon. Bringing together the perspectives of cultural studies, ecocriticism, and postcolonial studies, Dr. Malamud looks at literary accounts of zoos and argues that these "zoo stories" help illustrate how real zoos resonate with a self-congratulatory imperial bravado that disqualifies them from offering, as they claim, a valid or enlightening experiences of animals and nature. The decontextualized convenience that spectators enjoy as they move from cage to cage and gawk at the inmates stands as a symptom of a degraded cultural imagination.”

Lest you think that this is all to his humanities scholarship, his bio continues with a description of his subsequent work building on this work about animals:

“Poetic Animals and Animal Souls continues Dr. Malamud's research interests from Reading Zoos by addressing a wider set of tropes that human culture offers for the consideration of animals. This book posits some aesthetic ideals for transposing animals into art, and also includes a focused practical application of these ideals in a strain of animal poetry.”

When one considers this type of scholarship by humanities professors one understands why an outrageous charity event would be needed to support it. Certainly, English departments are not being supported by students, as dropping enrollments indicate. Why would those who love literature be interested in a book like Reading Zoos?

The Dissident Prof recommends that you contribute to charities as much as you can after checking out the organizations. This includes organizations fighting diseases and helping animals, but not in English departments. And you don't need to pour anything over your head.

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