1.19.2009

well, is Stanley Fish *right* about anything?

he starts out with

In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.

which I would argue is a renegade opinion about education in general, the liberal arts in particular -- one that isn't held even by the majority of people who believe that pursuit of education is good, and even not by many who think that pursuit of liberal arts, humanities, and fine arts education is good, at least as good as pursuit of education in the applied sciences, say

for example, an effect on the student, teacher, and/or institution(s), or "education industry" would be an effect in the world, no?

one of the problems that I think IS not well addressed is that educational insitutions have long sold teaching (in liberal arts institutions, most important, then in other higher education, then in "lower" education, then in a corproate learning environment) over any other use or purpose for the education, OR, only the most obvious -- and not necessarily the most exciting, lucrative, or necessary -- applications


* * *

as I was making Po the parrot's food (very elaborate: three thawed soybean pods, one or two fresh sugar snap pea pods, one half of a *red* jalapeno, one slice of sundried tomato with particularly many seeds on it, a heaping tablespoon of bird bean mix, one carrot and several slices of *yellow potato* heated for 1 minute and 30 seconds, a chunk of trader joe's corn muffin which is not more than a day or two old and includes some crust, a few pieces of ZuPreem fruit flavor -- that's breakfast -- dinner is slightly different)

it occurred to me that the role of the humanities became different in my lifetime first because college became necessary to obtain a job, then because technical education -- or at least some foundation and aptitude that technology careers could be built upon -- became so lucrative, then because the economy was doing well enough for more people to go to school, and more recently, since the economy has soured one population is finding the time and necessity for schooling (carpentry isn't what it was two years ago, career wise) and the other is querying its utility (when there are "no jobs", is education "an investment", ought parents provide for children's education after the children are 17)

in a similar way, the role of reglion and the religious has changed significantly: the priest or preacher -- and "parish leaders" -- are no longer the only fairly well off, or fairly educated, members of the group of worshippers -- time was, the priest was the only one who'd been to college, for example, or had a housekeeper; this in turn has put a pressure on 1) spirit / belief (perhaps, though, the ability to focus upon religious practice leads to a greater facility with the workings of spirit and belief -- a sort of tenure argument, I think), 2) acts/religion as a social work, political activism -- something that many theologians are coming to question: is the role of religion, religious, and church / institutions physical ministry mostly, spiritual ministry a little, and no contemplation, say? food kitchens bearing results versus...

what does the protestant tradition of entrepreneurial religious foundation mean when sunday slide shows and providing the opportunity to work on a ministry's online video streaming outweighs any sort of belief -- in a post-vatican ii environment

parochial education eroding too: here, the parents who want their children out of a high pressure public education environment and in a more focussed on basic education and discipline and being a member of a strong community are not the parents who endow new buildings, say, or can afford to pay a lot of tuition, while teaching continues to be a vocation, even among those with no religious vocation

on the other hand, the churches being less strong, it being less necessary to be educated in that religion's schools of higher education for networking purposes, for example

fish continues on an earlier blog posting (I refuse to call each post a blog -- seems wrong)

This brief analysis of a line of poetry that simultaneously reports a resolution and undermines it is an example of the kind of work and teaching I have done for almost five decades. It is the work of a humanist, that is, someone employed in a college to teach literary, philosophical and historical texts. The questions raised in my previous column and in the responses to it are: what is the value of such work, why should anyone fund it, and why (for what reasons) does anyone do it?


the obvious answer is that if one can't interpret information, art, texts (even though they might not be written texts), one can't read to understand, and one certainly can't function fully in contemporary life

but Fish asnswers "puzzle and marvel" -- certainly the opposite of my opinion

so, it should become clearer that Fish and I live in parallel universes

he continues

When Jeffrey Sachs says that “in the real world” the distinction between the humanities and the sciences on the basis of utility does not hold because “philosophers have made important contributions to the sciences” and “the hard sciences have had a profound impact on the humanities,” he doesn’t come within 100 miles of refuting anything I say. Whatever does or does not happen in the “real world” is not the issue; the issue is what happens in the academic world, where the distinctions Sachs dismisses do hold.

first of all, while there are distinctions between humanities and sciences, and that many people (who I think are more than a little wrong) believe that the sciences are useful and the humanities are not, the content of neither quote from Sachs addresses the difference and/or different uses various study can be put to

I would say that, for example, lab work has really limited utility for anyone who already knows how to run an experiment and write a lab report, unless those persons are in a trade school to become lab techs. for example, design and management of a project of experiments as a team -- as in graduate level education -- might be more useful than ye olde wave pools after high school

and, on the other hand, why really anyone who cares about higher education in contemporary society would continue to draw a distinction between the academic world and its purported different functioning from the "real world"

he goes on (and on and on, as am I going)

The pertinent question is, Do humanities courses change lives and start movements? Does one teach with that purpose, and if one did could it be realized?

I also find this pertinent

If the answers to these questions are (as I contend) “no” –

I would say, yes in some cases, and no or not necessarily, and yes, but in only a few cases

one teaches the subject matter and any delayed effect of what happens in a classroom is contingent and cannot be aimed at

this seems to be to be irresponsible, perhaps because what I teach, have taught, I consider in terms of skill, practice, process, communication and application of subject matter; lower division lit is really about being able to read and write

hey! I think I'm writing a more decent updated teaching philosophy

too bad UC San Diego didn't interview me because they <> for somone with <>





On Mon, Jan 19, 2009 at 7:07 AM, Judy Roitman wrote:


Depressing. Hopefully wrong.

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/the-last-professor/

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