The drudge of all work: the promotion of female stereotypes in English composition classes run by those inscribed by patriarchal cliches
From Reut Cohen, PJM:
On September 18, Metro State College in Denver announced that campus officials would investigate a college professor who assigned an essay in an English composition course which explicitly called for a critique of the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
According to students, their instructor, Andrew Hallam, told them that their assignment was to write an essay to critique the Ã¢â‚¬Å“fairy tale imageÃ¢â‚¬Â of the governor that was presented at the Republican National Convention.
Students in the class who did not agree with the instructorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s views reported that the instructor and students ridiculed them and that they had felt like they were singled out. The college officials will be investigating studentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ claims of bias and bullying in the classroom.
One student, Jana Barber, suggested that the professor used the classroom setting as Ã¢â‚¬Å“just an open door for him to discuss politics with us.Ã¢â‚¬Â She has filed a complaint against the professor.
Another student suggested that the professor allowed other students to bully him and his peers who disagreed with the professor. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I said something to him like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWell, there may be five of us, but weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re ready to debate this,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ and he cussed us out,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Ben Faurer. Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trying to avoid all this, go along like nothing is happening,Ã¢â‚¬Â Faurer said about the instructor who is in his first semester at the college.
A spokesperson for the college, Cathy Lucas, agreed that the professors need to foster free thinking. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The facultyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s responsibility is to provide opportunity for critical thinking and civic engagement, so bringing something of relevancy into the classroom was the facultyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s goal.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This kind of thing is hardly unusual in English Departments, where from experience I can assure you that, for many faculty members, having spent time buried in minutia of, say, the semiotics of clothing in Renaissance depictions of hangings, is somehow grounds to pontificate on contemporary politics as if these highly specialized scholars were members of Queen Elizabeth’s inner circle.
But that aside, what is notable about this story is not the pseudo-profundity of the assignment itself; instead, what matters here is the response from the college, which includes the now predictable boilerplate about fostering “critical thinking” and “civic engagement” — both of which are Humanities euphemisms, the first for “telling Occam’s Razor to go fuck itself: dig hard enough and you, too, can find some deconstructive avenue to attack bourgeois Enlightenment shibboleths that it is not at all obvious the author ever intended; the second for “getting involved in leftist politics, either actively or through tacit agreement to accept the ‘lessons’ you’ll be taught, however obliquely those lessons are presented, and by virtue of gaining a passing understanding of the academic argot in which those lessons are couched (postcolonialism; cultural materialism; new historicism; gender and race studies; post structuralism; psychoanalytical theory as run through Lacan, etc.).
It is almost pedestrian at this point to wonder why Palin (rather than the equally deserving Obama) was chosen as representative of a “fairy tale” — one presumes that, were they intellectually consistent or idealistically coherent, women’s studies profs or feminist English profs at Metro would have located misogynistic assumptions in the choice of assignment material and would have launched their own critiques of Mr Hallam — but that kind of interdepartmental fighting is trivial when, in the larger sense, the object of scorn is a political opponent worthy of criticism.
And Palin most certainly would be — particularly to the kind of establishment feminists one tends to find on the faculty at places like Metro.
I happen to know one such teacher, a woman I went to grad school with, and will follow up with her about this attempt to “coach” students into the ways of academia. Because on the one hand, while what Mr Hallam assigned was crass and obvious, on the other hand there are far more experienced faculty members who know how to assign similar projects without drawing quite so much attention to themselves.
Which would make Mr Hallam’s transgression one of presentation, not one of conviction. That is to say, this is, for Mr Hallam, a teachable moment — one that, should he survive the initial public onslaught, will doubtless teach him how, in the future, to assign such “critical thinking” exercises designed to foster “civic engagement” without being quite so obvious about it.
I will try to contact my friends on the English Department staff at Metro and see if I can get any of them on record. One, in particular, teaches from a feminist perspective — so I’m curious to see where she’ll come down on all this. My suspicion is that she’ll choose not to comment, or simply avoid my calls.
Meanwhile, shame on Pajamas Media for not letting me loose in my area of expertise — something I suppose I should have come to expect after their failure to put me to involve me in a major convention happening right in my back yard.
Perhaps if I change my name to Victor Davis Goldstein…
(h/t Geoff B)