Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2003/ 24 Tishrei, 5764
How to prosper though stupid
He calls it the Stupid People's Amendment: "No Employer shall make any inquiry into any job applicant's race, sex, religion, training, record, competence or skill." These "simple, forthright 18 words, uncluttered with ambiguity," he said, "would once and for all cleanse every ism from the land."
Life is busy imitating art on some of our finest (or at least our most expensive) campuses, where parents of students are paying a lot of money for second-rate courses taught by out-of-touch professors hired over the last three decades. Fully tenured, of course, they show not even a passing concern for competence or skill. You could say they teach "Stupid People's Studies."
And that's the good news. What's worse is that at many elite universities students are taught by postdoctoral lecturers and graduate-student teaching assistants, who share the same prejudices but who have only a quarter of the formal education of the tenured professors and are paid at 25 percent of a tenured professor's salary. They're generally less equipped for teaching than junior-college instructors.
In a scathing indictment of this state of unacknowledged misery, Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution and professor of classics at California State University at Fresno, notes the dumbing down of the humanities in favor of "Ethnics Studies," "Women's Studies," "Environmental Studies," and "Peace Studies."
In the National Review, he tells how the University of California at Santa Barbara, for example, offers 62 courses in Chicano Studies with titles such as Methodology of the Oppressed; Barrio Popular Culture; Body, Culture, and Power; Chicano Political Organizing; and De-Colonizing Cyber-Cinema.
The politicization on the campus is from the left, naturally, and it deprives young minds of the pleasure of reading the grand narratives in the Great Books, and cheats them of learning how to question without political prejudice. These students never learn to experience the complexities in a universe different - historically, politically, poetically - from the one they inhabit.
They're shocked and repulsed when they hear phrases such as the "evil empire" or "axis of evil" because they don't understand the nature of evil. ("Dr. Faustus?" Who was he but another greedy, lustful white male?)
The campus culture that pushes a postmodern relativism that denies universal truths will inevitably adhere to dogmatic "truths" of political correctness. The search for real solutions in the real world is shunned for the comfort of the virtual oasis, free of anything tougher than dealing with the deadline for a term paper or getting a paper accepted for publication in an academic journal that no one would dream of reading.
In a wonderful book called "Who Killed Homer?" Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath show how many classicists on college campuses teach the ancient Greeks with revisionist jargon, expressed within a narrow frame of anti-American pieties. A brave student or professor who argues about the positive ways the Greeks influenced modern European culture is dismissed as a "cultural colonialist."
Most Greek literature, to be sure, was the work of an elite of white (though often swarthy) males, but they created some of the most fascinating women in literature. Ancient Greek women were not emancipated, by our lights, but the Athenian democracy was not an early Taliban.
Yet women on many campuses are taught no more about the classics than what they are required to memorize in a women's studies major typically called "Women in Antiquity," where the female of the species is studied within the context of feminist-lesbian-gynocentric critical theory.
A typical multicultural text argues that we can't understand cultures different from our own because we are burdened by Hellenic notions of "linear" thinking, and refuse to see our limitations as well as those of the ancient "texts." A sample paragraph about our supposed critical obtuseness in understanding the works of the ancient Greeks is so unreadable that such a writer could only have reached even modest prominence through the offices of the Stupid People's Amendment.
Consider, mercifully briefly, this introduction from a work called "History, Tragedy, Theory. Dialogues on Athenian Drama": "Nor may the meaning be referred to referents external to the text, for the analysis also argues that the claimed referentiality of a text is irreducibly metaphorical, based on a distinction between inside and outside that is shown to be a logical fiction."
If you want the rest of it, wait for the movie that's probably not coming soon to a theater near you.
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