Intellectual Disarmament


Ross Douthat writes that when he was an undergraduate at Harvard University “our so-called ‘core’ curriculum promised to teach us ‘approaches to knowledge’ rather than the thing itself.” 

It was, and remains, an insane view for humanists to take, a unilateral disarmament in the contest for student hearts and minds; no other discipline promises to teach only a style of thinking and not some essential substance.
(Ross Douthat, “The Academic Apocalypse,” NYTimes, 1-11-19)

As a failed teacher I’ve found that some of the best pointers on teaching issue from the armchairs of non-teachers. It’s tempting to invert the sardonic old dig to: “Those who can’t teach it do it.”

I once taught Spanish in a humanities division. Our medley of disciplines — foreign languages, art, English, music, history, theater — competed to fulfill the humanities component of students’ degree plans. 

I finally dropped out of academia, before being thrown out, and went into advertising. My own insufficiency and creeping disengagement had defeated me. I could not give undergraduates a good reason to meet my Spanish class twice a week.

I had made one belated grasp for “substance” in an effort to make Spanish look relevant to elective shoppers: Translation! My overture to slant teaching in that direction was batted away by the senior ranks. 

As it happened, I had a profitable side-hustle as a translator for off-shoring industries. My obsession with George Steiner’s “After Babel” did not keep my bid to align my classroom and research activities from looking non-cynical to my tenured colleagues. They didn’t buy it, or me.

 (c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.