Notes Toward an Integration of Education and Citizenship
In case you didn’t get enough on Conservative Critiques of Academia (CCOA) when Rufus was trying to explore the idea of liberal bias, and whether it holds water, Phoebe Maltz and Withywindle have been going back and forth for the last few weeks. The notes that follow were written several days ago in reaction to this post at Athens and Jerusalem; I’m still in a bit of an NCAA-inspired emotional hangover and don’t have sufficient brainpower yet to seriously think about their more recent discussions.
I urge you to, at the very least, just go skim this post—glance at the titles on the list—so that you can follow what I’m talking about. Go. Okay, back? Good. Let’s get started.
1) Withywindle’s list is significantly more than the “liberal bias” accusation that Rufus explored a few weeks back. The list itself is an attempt to thread out the various CCOAs that Phoebe blasted for incoherence.
2) He offers sketches of six critiques, but I believe you could also make the case that, regardless of the individual criticisms offered, there are three types of CCOA: Virtue/Culture (1, 2, 3), Political (3, 4, and especially 5), and Practical (4, 6).
3) The Political CCOA is the one we’ve already talked to death—and I don’t just mean here at the League. Crazy anti-Western Men-Hating Leftists take over the He-Man Woman-Haters Club and proceed to demolish academic and pedagogical standards. Before you know it, you’ve got professors showing students how to use a dildo + power tool contraption. We’re going to ignore this one. If you want to leave a comment talking about how “liberal bias” is a conspiracy theory, that’s nice. But it’s not what I’m talking about.
4) For reasons of interest (mine and, hopefully, yours) that will become clear, let’s also set aside the Practical CCOA for the time being. (I’ve offered a “practical” critique of parts of academia here, if you’re interested, though I don’t think it’s an inherently “conservative” critique.)
5) This leaves us with the Virtue/Culture CCOA. Withywindle has already noted that a decision to inculcate virtue demands asking “Which?” or “Whose?” A Straussian and a Thomist might be able to agree that a university ought to promote virtue—but once they get down to particulars, that agreement will disappear.
5.1) This may be an easier question for a genuinely religiously-affiliated university. It is, in theory, easier for Notre Dame to settle on a broadly Catholic idea of educational virtue that manages to be coherent while allowing for academic quarreling than for my alma mater, which severed its Methodist ties long ago, to settle on such an outline. That is, it wouldn’t necessarily be against the mission of a religiously-affiliated university to choose between—to keep our example going—Straussians and Thomists. On the other hand, such a choice does present rather clear problems for a secular university.
5.2) Of course, my claim that it’s “easier” to solve the Virtue/Culture matter as a religiously-affiliated university requires that the university—or the religious affiliation itself—already have or be capable of developing some sort of philosophy of higher education coherent with its own values. While Jesuit institutions, in theory if not always in practice, do have a history of a Jesuit educational philosophy, one need only look toward Yeshiva University (Modern Orthodox) and the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) to see that there is no such philosophy for American Jewry. The former has spent the last several decades trending right as an institution; the latter, once the monument of an integration of Jewish and Western higher education, has, as an undergraduate institution, become little more than an extension of Columbia and Barnard.
6) The question still lingers, unaddressed, of the way in which a non- or nominally-affiliated university could understand calls for “virtue” within its mission and structure. How do you even ask the question of such a university—the dominant form in American higher education?
7) A shift from “virtue” to “citizenship” allows us to ask the question with greater ease.
7.1) That is, rather than asking, “Is the inculcation of virtue a duty of the modern university/college?” we should begin by asking, “Is the promotion/development of good citizenship a duty of the modern university/college?”
7.2) My inclination is to answer, “Yes.” (It’s worth noting, however, that I am the product of a primary and secondary institution that quite clearly viewed this as part of its mission; I may have been brainwashed at a young age.)
7.3) This brings me, again, to my critique of Professor Bailey’s power-tool demonstration: I argued against it on a practical basis—as a gimmick of little or no pedagogical value—and as a breach of the university’s (and the individual professor’s) broader obligation to the communities in which they exist.
8) Define your terms!
8.1) By “citizenship,” I do not mean patriotism. I most certainly do not mean the kind of dangerously malformed patriotism that might be summarized as, “America! Fuck yeah!”
8.2) My definition, unfortunately, is going to fail to be precise. By “citizenship,” I do mean a concept that rests somewhere on the nexus between Porcher neighborliness and a kind of Pomoco “stuck-with-[civic]-virtue,” a broadly construed concept that includes, in addition to those already mentioned, the development of stewardship and a healthy dose of idealism to argue with the cynicism of experience. (Not to overwhelm, or even to balance out, but to argue with.)
8.3) If I attempt to drain from my concept of “citizenship” all the Wendell Berry and Jewish-inflected thought, I’m left with the fact of an individual who inescapably exists within community(ies)—who therefore inescapably lives in relationship to/with community.
8.4) A re-statement of my prior question: “Does the modern university/college have an obligation to develop in its students an understanding of how to live in relationship to/with community?” My answer remains yes.
8.5) A further refinement: rather than merely “how to live,” “how to live well.” I’d be willing to concede the insertion of the adverb for the sake of the greater argument, but I would continue to answer, “Yes.”
9) This is not a call for didactic training in place of university education. A liberal arts education, effectively constructed and carried out, involves an education, through literature, history, etc. of how to live well.
9.1) Without citizenship, I find it hard to develop a defense of the liberal arts/humanities that is not, ultimately for their own sake—that is, I find it hard to develop a defense that insists upon their intrinsic value.
10) But I’m not arguing, CCOA-style, for a return to old-timey liberal arts education. I think the liberal arts are inherently valuable and should be an integral part of an education; I do not think they should be all of an education.
10.1) For example: The (admittedly botched) floating of an idea at Northwestern several months ago that would require extracurricular participation. One can see how this idea could be developed in a way that a) doesn’t allow IM sports to count, b) does not take away from academic requirements, and c) insists upon students engaging in the communal or civic life of Evanston or Chicago.
10.2) Jason Peters, FPR bar jester and Professor of English, leads his students in the development of a community garden.
11) In my experience, there is nothing inherently “conservative” about this line of reasoning—at least not if we limit “conservative” to political conservatism. To the best of my knowledge, Morton Schapiro and Northwestern’s administration are hardly right-wing. My friends and acquaintances who have called for improvement in a university’s devotion to citizenship have, in fact, almost uniformly been liberals.
12) This is a CCOA only if society itself has become a conservative cause.
12.1) If this is the case, we’re in much worse shape than I had realized.