I've talked about my love for Bill Reading's The University in Ruins on this blog before. Today I came across a disturbing news item on Facebook that made me think of Reading's warning, a warning echoed by Mark C. Taylor in The Moment of Complexity: that if, after the decimation of the Modern Enlightenment project (Lyotard, etc), educators failed to provide a robust and compelling justification for education, then one would be constructed for them. Kant's institution sealed faculty from public scrutiny, provided they obeyed State laws. The old motto: "think but obey." That was the deal Kant and Humbodlt struck for institutions of higher learning in their seminalConflict of the Faculties--the public stays out of curriculum, and the educators stay out of politics.
Increasingly, however, the State (the polis) has rescinded this contract. The fiasco in Texas regarding history textbooks in 2010 was a clear shot across the bow: no longer will faculty be free to determine what gets taught in classrooms. Those decisions will now be made outside the discipline. With the deconstruction of the Modern University, and its goals of universality and assimilation, goes the forcefield that shielded academics from the realm of politics. Of course, there's more going on here: the radical shift in Universities from centers of conservative values to liberal critique, the massive increase of students attending University, the increasing polarization and invective of political discourse in the electric era, etc. My point is simply that the classroom is no longer isolated from politics. In fact, the classroom is a political hot spot, if the events in Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida tell us anything.
Now we can add New Hampshire to the list. Huffington Post:
The Tea Party dominated New Hampshire Legislature on Wednesday overrode the governor's veto to enact a new law allowing parents to object to any part of the school curriculum.
There's a small part of me, a Levinasian part, that argues we could interpret such a law as inviting alterity--forcing educators to consider different perspectives. But that voice is drowned out by another part of me, screaming that school is supposed to be a center for challenging beliefs, encountering difference, and inspiring change. Again, we call them the liberal arts for a reason (and have all the way back to Cicero, who saw oratory as the art of adjusting the convictions of the republic).
But there's another aspect here that really bothers me--the lack of respect it affords educators to determine what should be taught. The article indicates that parents are responsible for paying the costs of alternative curriculum--but think of the amount of time and energy that will be dedicated to Intelligent Design (which, I would argue, is one of the real intentions here--not "whole language" or "everyday math"). FTA:
Hoell stressed the new law could allow parents to address both moral and academic objections to parts of the curriculum. The lawmaker said he could imagine the provision being utilized by parents who disagree with the "whole language" approach to reading education or the Everyday Math program.
"What if a school chooses to use whole language and the parent likes phonics, which is a better long-term way to teach kids to read?" Hoell said to HuffPost.
What about the fact that education, both curriculum and pedagogy, is an intense area of study and that those who shape curriculum have years, if not a lifetime, of training? As if we needed more evidence of how little respect some people have for the difficulty of educating well. As if education didn't require expertise. The emphasis placed on standardization and assessment by No Child Left Behind and the Spellings Commission influences, at least implicitly, how we teach. But, to me, the events in Texas and now New Hampshire are much more invasive--directly assaulting what we teach.
We should see this for what it is. Burke would remind us that this is war, a logomachy over the logos guiding our nation's identity. It is a war from which the Modern University provided academia amnesty. In the 21st century, it is a war we must be willing to fight.
Let you alone! That's all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?