October 1, 2008

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 “fairy tale image” of the governor that was presented at the Republican National Convention.

Students in the class who did not agree with the instructor’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 students’ claims of bias and bullying in the classroom.

One student, Jana Barber, suggested that the professor used the classroom setting as “just an open door for him to discuss politics with us.” 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. “I said something to him like, ‘Well, there may be five of us, but we’re ready to debate this,’ and he cussed us out,” said Ben Faurer. “He’s trying to avoid all this, go along like nothing is happening,” 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. “The faculty’s responsibility is to provide opportunity for critical thinking and civic engagement, so bringing something of relevancy into the classroom was the faculty’s goal.”

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)

Posted by Jeff G. @ 10:28am

Comments (47)

  1. That professor would probably get mad if I stepped on his Obambi’s unicorn tail.

  2. More to the topic, I mean, come on dude, get with the program. If by program, I mean “don’t make the indoctrination quite so frickin’ obvious, all these annoying bloggers are starting to call attention to our methods, so keep it on the dl, eh?”

    I spent 12 weeks this summer receiving some subtle massaging in the direction of leftist thought. Too bad for the prof I knew it was coming. But I fear for the other in that class (those who weren’t already there to begin with, anyway).

  3. Fuck it.

    You all write this fucking blog.

  4. Jeff, what prompted that?

  5. No dice man, it’s all you.


    And, for one, appreciate it. Your writings over the past few years helped me identify the crap I’m being fed on a weekly basis and the subtleties of the language used.

  6. Rhetoric 101
    Topic: Fuck Obama and His Acolytes (5-7pp)
    Rough draft due Friday for workshopping

  7. Perhaps if I change my name to Victor Davis Goldstein…

    I’ve seen you write some posts that could have been written by Goldsteven den Beste.

  8. I like it, Dan, but you would be up on charges of RACISM! tne minutes after you gave the assignment.

  9. SDB got tons of grief too, I think, hence his move to anime-blogging.

  10. Jeff, are you sending pieces to PJM? Maybe writing as Victor Davis Steyn would work even better.

  11. Marc GoldSteyn?

  12. “Steve Fossett” might open an eye or two, and nobody is using it at the moment.*

  13. “She has filed a complaint against the professor.”

    Wow, pushback from a student.

    Ain’t that a crime against Teh Narrativeâ„¢ or something?

  14. “Fuck it.

    You all write this fucking blog.”

    Not so fast, my friend. You tried that before. This place suffered. Fuck PJM. That’s the ticket. They’re the fools.

  15. Postcolonialism was all the rage when I was in grad school. Several of my teachers sounded exactly like the Marxist peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We actually discussed the violence inherent in the system, day in and day out. What a joyless, soul-destroying enterprise it all was. So I gave up my dream of working four hours a day and having summers off. I wouldn’t have landed a cushy teaching job anyway. I would’ve ended up teaching Comp 099 at someplace that began with “Metro.”

  16. Wait a minute here. Isn’t this kind of like the reporting thing? Just because some guy gets a scoop doesn’t mean they have an exclusive. If they don’t have the mojo to run the story to ground, it doesn’t really matter if they get there first. There is a long history of the person breaking the story not being the person who ends up owning it.

    So, Andele Andele!! – Arriba, Arriba!! and whatnot.

  17. Will they let us wear armbands after the New Dawn? ‘Cause I think armbands are teh kewl.

    My only worry is that they’ll change the recitation and I’ll be sick tht morning and when I come in I won’t be on the same page as everyone else.

  18. The good news is, from what I gathered by watching 14 minutes of SNL, is that it’s okay once more to make jokes about women being stupid. Hopefully the GOP will run a fat Lesbian and a Jew next time. Think of the comic material we could bring back once the PC forces of enlightenment have given us the green light.

  19. I have to take my kid to school, get gas, go pick up some DVDs (I’m depressed right now), then come home and eat lunch (during which time I work my grip). After that I’ll try to follow up.

  20. Oops. Forgot I have to do a half-hour plyo routine in my strength shoes. Which is going to be a challenge given that I’m still trying to recover from the first time I tried that routine.

  21. Good on ya! The being depressed thing is a bit of a bitch, so a bit of inertia is pretty understandable. Hope you’re feeling spry and can take a big bite out of this one.

  22. during which time I work my grip

    TMI, Jeff.

  23. Yeah, Jeff, work that grip until you feel sweet release.

    There was a chick from SF who used to write pRon in our grad program. She announced, at a party of course, because grad students in lib arts are the most fucking boring people on the planet, that she no longer allowed her students to write about abortion. I asked why, being bored and boring myself, and she replied, “They (the full profs, some of whom were those old crusty fellows who taught because they actually liked books, and are unfortunately almost extinct) “said I can’t because I fail everyone who is prolife. My students are too stupid to know what the right opinion is!”

    Yup. Fail on the opinion, and not on the skill…

  24. Well, you did use semiotic. So, I’m good for now.

  25. Did someone post this from David Thompson’s place awhile back?

    Regardless, it’s totally germane. It’s about how profs feel entitled to preach to their students, seeing it as their moral duty.

  26. You can tell right of those little stupid student people that put up with that sort of assignment weren’t going to get graded on composition as long as they got a good Palin hate on. What a stupid professor. That college should be embarrassed and fire his dumb gay ass I think. Juvenile fucktard.

  27. oh. right *off* … I am typing while enjoying a tasty Kashi frozen meal

  28. Now I’m depressed.

    Darn PJM crap office politics. You should go with the best. We’re second rate isn’t a business model.

  29. The fact that the students were actually paying to get indoctrinated is pretty funny. Plus bathroom stall foot taping gay.

  30. Wow. Just checked out the faculty list for English at Metro. I went to school with a bunch of those folks. Further checking out their CVs, I find that they are getting together to edit critical anthologies and the like, into which they put their own work. Great way to pick up publications.

  31. PJM serves ads. Sometimes. When the servers work. That should be a lot the focus I think. I’m sick of the Oreck ones though but for real I’m thinking about getting an air filter this winter even though I know I probably won’t really get one.

  32. I though they taught educators how to avoid embarrasing, public, teachable moments like this in pedagogy grad school…

    Something like: EDUC 683; How to avoid criticism while indoctrinating students under the guise of critical thinking.

  33. The one professor for whom I ever had any really lasting respect was the one who consistently gave me the highest grades in the class even though my papers always took the opposite view of what most everyone else in the class thought he was looking for.

    Turned out what he was looking for was a well-written argument, not a correct opinion.

    That professor, he’s not there anymore.

  34. I should add that, by taking the opposite view, I was challenging myself to always write an effective argument. Still, he saw that for the ploy it was, so instead of A’s he gave me A-minuses.

  35. Ok, so there are semiotics.

    Are there, like, whole otics?

  36. Wow, pushback from a student.

    The effectiveness of which I’ve pondered for years. Twenty years working on a campus and I never once read of CONSERVATIVE students seizing the university president’s office and crapping in his potted plant. I want to see it.

  37. We don’t seize buildings. We threaten to eliminate future donations to the endowment. After generations of such, along with a teaching hospital, they tend to listen. Even if they don’t like it.

  38. We threaten to eliminate future donations to the endowment.

    Not at taxpayer supported schools you don’t. There, you’re too busy wearing big styrofoam fingers and puking on your tailgate to listen to how the Student Union only allows your kids to enjoy Left leaning speakers, assuming there’s enough of your money left over from funding the Black Student Union, Women’s Safety Lounge, and Multicultural Crisis Room.

    I know. I’ve tried to tell you.

  39. Pingback: Conservatism Today

  40. Gov. Palin is not a female stereotype because she is not a woman. A professor said so. So she can be defined as a Right-Wing-Death-Beast, which the season for is always open.

    For failure to understand that you must sing songs of praise for the Leader for two hours. And you must wear your blue shirt when singing.

    One People.
    One Nation.
    One Leader.


  41. Salt Lick –

    “Not at taxpayer supported schools you don’t.

    Funny how it all works.

    We work, we pay taxes. Those of us who work hardest and are most succesful pay more taxes. The really successful pay the most taxes of all. Taxpayers are now for all intents a minority of the voting population…

    So government pays schools to churn out product that… does indeed barf in your lawn. Or in your kid’s head during class. Government coerces banks to make horrible, catastrophic business decisions that translate into loans being made to people with no reasonable expectation of paying back a fraction of the value of the loans but allows the banks to craft fantasy vehicles, pay big lobby and contribution money, and everybody understood that in the end it would be GOVERNMENT making the problem go away. A decades-long evolutionary process has brought about a Wall Street business/Government environment where “baksheesh” is as readily understood and accepted as in any Arab souk.

    Oh, and all those folks who stepped up to “affordable housing” and then flipped once, twice, or three times, or leveraged into two or three times the inflated value of the homes they couldn’t afford already…

    They are voting Democrat. Because they know that it will NEVER come back to them that they have to be responsible for their actions, under Democrats.

    You and me? We are going to watch the socialization of our national economy.

    Using our tax money.

    Golly. Now I’m depressed, too.

    Bread and circuses. Back when I read Gibbon the first time, I marveled at the short sightedness and laziness of the later Romans.

    Not any more.

  42. Pingback: Steynian 260 « Free Mark Steyn!

  43. I can’t really be as funny as people are expected to be around here but I figure… chances are that students who disagreed could have written a very good paper about the reactions to Palin… to critique the perception of the “fairy tale” image and the odd reaction to it. Critique the notion that she even presents a fairy tale image instead of a normal one and how did normal become fairy tale?

    But… it’s always a chance, and a significant one, to take when your grade is on the line and even without a strong reason to think that the teacher would grade punitively, it’s a matter of risk management. How *sure* are you that the teacher wouldn’t grade badly for not parroting what you perceive to be his own point of view?

  44. I took a semester of JC on my way into the Marine Corps.

    The first four essays I turned in for my Lit class came back “A”‘s. In addition to Lit I’d enrolled in Calculus, Trig, Biology I (but booted the catalog number and ended up in the Premed Bio – loved it), and stupidly, in Drama, since I had enjoyed the experience in high school.

    Calculus kicked my ass. It still does. But after a month in Drama I had made two discoveries: I was the only straight guy out of eight in the twenty odd member company. It didn’t bug me, but it was definitely something new. In addition, I decided that I couldn’t afford time or cash to travel to our two workshops.

    I kept with the Calculus and it did indeed kick my ass. I had hoped that the time freed up from chasing the muse would redound to mathematical comprehension but I was sadly, disastrously mistaken. What really burned were the Cheerleader Twins who sat on either side of me and ate everything right up.

    But my introduction into the Real Academic World came when my Lit professor made first social contact at the end of the first week after I changed my classes around. He started out by saying he was glad I was able to keep his course; what had happened, if I didn’t mind saying?

    It’s been twenty years, but if you’ve read me here at all you know I talk too much. “… and besides, I was the only straight guy in the company. ha ha.”

    Never spoke a word to him the rest of the semester. I never saw the high side of a C in that class after that. And he failed to show up for the conference I scheduled hoping to work out the problem.

    I didn’t even know he was gay until the day I sat the final. “C”. I did get paid a couple hundred dollars for that one – that essay – as an article bought by a history magazine. I sent him a copy of the check.

    Big wheel keeps on turnin’. Kay Ceree Ceree. Etc.

  45. I went to Metro myself for undergrad in the mid-90s, and the kind of overt indoctrination as described in Jeff’s link was pretty rare, although it was present and obvious. It was mostly in the form of slight asides and never blew up into full rants, though; I guess this is how profs act when a Democrat is in office.

    I had a history prof who would take about one class a semester to talk politics, and although she was clearly left-wing, she never belittled her students for holding opposing views–simply asked, “Why do you feel that way?” and had reasonable discussions. The rest of the semester, though, she was pedal to the metal and went through her lectures with no politics at all. When I applied to grad school, she was the first person I asked for a recommendation.

    Looking at that particular instructor’s background, it’s not surprising that he felt that “advocacy” was the way to go. He’s an MA fresh out of grad school and obviously fired up to “change the world” and “make a difference”. Most of the people I went to grad school with were the same way–hell, one woman transferred to Wisconsin after our first year in the program because Arizona State wasn’t left-wing enough.

    The young lady who filed the complaint has some serious fortitude; in this day and age, it’s much easier to simply keep your head down, tell the profs what they want to hear, then skate out with an A average rather than confront the toxic intellectual atmosphere of the university head-on. This instructor won’t stop being a hyper-partisan, but he’s probably learned a lesson his older peers could have told him right off the bat–if you’re going to be biased, don’t make it so obvious.

  46. I encountered post-colonialism at the mountain bike trail the other day.

    A big ass diagram at the trailhead told me about native species and invasive species of plants, mostly flowers, cuz they are pretty and we like pretty things.

    Of course, the invaders were brought here from European settling on the continent, and they were mean flowers that beat up the other flowers.

    I couldn’t tell the diff between any of them, but I guess I just don’t have enough education.


  47. Ah, the soporific blossoms of academia! What better place to hide from reality than the socialist bastions of ‘higher’ education? But here’s the rub, folks: they take our tax dollars and student loan money to cram Marxism and deconstructionist assaults on Western ideals into our children’s heads like a crazed French farmer making fras grois. What a bargain! ACORN is nothin’ new, folks. Its model- taking our tax dollars to promote ‘progressive socialism’- was born in U.S. universities. If parents knew what pedagogical sophistries were afoot in the classrooms, they’d feel even worse about that second mortgage.