I love the conservative hand-wringing about what those crazy college kids are learning. I’m in law school, and I suspect that Charlotte Allen would fall over clutching her pearls if she were to take a look at my schedule, which includes classes like “Sexuality and the Law” and “Race and Legal Scholarship” and “Feminist Jurisprudence.” Oh, the horror of taking classes with some of the best faculty in the country at a top-five law school if those classes recognize things like race and gender and sex. What in the world could those issues have to do with the law, or life in general?
Allen bemoans the fact that students can get the same number of credits for taking a class on, say, Marxism as they can on the Greek Tragedies. She writes:
Nipping at UCLA’s heels was Amherst, with “Taking Marx Seriously.” The first sentence of the course description is: “Should Marx be given another chance?” With 100 million dead in various gulags and related charnel houses, I don’t think so.
Well, if the number of people who die for an ideology is indicative of how seriously it should be taken, then we should probably rid ourselves of the Abrahamic religions, no? (And yes, Charlotte, that does include Christianity).
The conservative knee-jerk response to the words “Marxism” or “Socialism” or “Communism” is always good for a laugh. In Charlotte’s world, there is absolutely no possible use for a course which examines Marxism beyond concluding “it’s totally stupid” — despite the fact that, if you bother to venture outside of your front yard, Marx’s theories have had quite an effect world-wide, from Yugoslavia to Iran. According to Wikipedia, Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Kerala and West Bengal have all at least nominally adhered to Marxism There are a whole lot of people who have thought that Marx should, in fact, be taken seriously. We can shake out heads at what a dummy he was, but that doesn’t make it so — and that doesn’t make him any less influential. Asking “Should Marx be given another chance?” allows students to critique and question his ideologies in light of modern philosophy, economics, and social structures. Sounds exactly like what students at institutions of higher learning should be doing.
Yes, it’s valuable to read the Greek tradgedies. Yes, Shakespeare matters. But at some point, more modern theories have to be studied, too. College is not simply to look back hundreds of years. Part of its purpose is to give students a more comprehensive world view, to introduce them to new ideas, and to equip them with the tools to be critical and creative thinkers. The Odyssey alone isn’t going to do that; students need to take on contemporary philosophies, and recognize that until very, very recently, academia was the realm of a white, wealthy, Western elite, and therefore omits the perspectives, ideas and experiences of most people we share our world with.
Charlotte Allen would be happier to make students to live in the past, and allow them to be under the impression that all significant cultural and academic works have come from rich white dudes. She would prefer that they don’t take on the important issues of our time, and instead assume that King Lear’s problems are fully applicable — and even offer answers — to modern predicaments. Yes, we need to learn from the past (although the Republican party doesn’t seem to have caught on to that quite yet — and neither has Charlotte, for that matter, when we realize that she has based her entire career on trying to limit the rights and opportunities of other women). But we also need to pay attention to what the best and brightest thinkers and writers and artists are putting out now. And what those thinkers, writers and artists have been saying for the past few decades is that traditionally silenced voices count, too.
Do some of the classes have silly titles? Sure. But when more young people are going to college than ever, and universities are often similar to corporations in trying to attract students, there’s something to be said for framing these issues in a fresh way. And perhaps this is a sign of my liberal insanity, but some of the courses listed sound pretty helpful. Prime example: “Nonviolent responses to terrorism.”
What does it say about conservatives when a class focusing on problem-solving in the face of an incredibly pertinent, important issue is laughable because it uses the term “nonviolent”? They find this course absurd simply because it suggests that solutions exist beyond killing almost 700,000 people.
Forgive me if I don’t think these brainiacs are the best people to be throwing stones right now.
At Bob Jones, you can major in Camp Ministries, wherein you will take courses like Recreational Leadership and Camp Administration where “you will study the history of camping.” You can also study “Church Music” or simply “Bible” — but never fear, the courses are divided into “Bible” for the normal people and “Bible (women).” There’s also “Interpretive Speech,” which “is designed to provide broad liberal arts preparation for careers in public relations, communications and ministries using Christian drama.”
But studying Marxism, which has impacted the lives of millions of people world-wide, is a waste of time. And need I remind anyone that American conservatism isn’t exactly the height of intellect, given its dominant views on, say, evolution and climate change? Or its leaders’ inability to secure basic knowledge of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Islam in general before invading two countries and gearing up for a third, if not fourth?
I suppose, though, it’s more fun to write articles for the LA Times where you get to giggle as you type “phallus” (hee hee! I usually say “peepee”!) than it is to address the fact that right-wing anti-intellectualism is wreaking havoc world-wide and leaving a lot of bodies in its wake.
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