Sep 192007

From the History News Network:

Tony Judt: Notes the downside to multicultural studies

The historian Tony Judt, a self-described “old leftist” and the director of the Remarque Institute at N.Y.U., which examines Europe and European-American relations, said undergraduates often arrive unprepared from high school and seeking courses “in what we might have thought of as the old-fashioned approach” — broad surveys. But many young professors aren’t interested in teaching outside their narrow specialties, nor are they generally prepared to do so. And colleges are loath to reinstate the core curriculums they abandoned in the ’60s. “Because we lack cultural self-confidence, we’ve lacked the ability to say, ‘This is a good book and should be taught, this isn’t and shouldn’t,’ ” said Judt, who was dean of the humanities at N.Y.U. in the early ’90s.

Judt also denounces the balkanization created by interdisciplinary ethnic studies programs. Multiculturalism “created lots and lots of microconstituencies, which universities didn’t have the courage to oppose,” he said. “It’s much more like a supermarket — kids can take pretty much any courses they like: Jewish kids take Jewish studies, gay students gay studies, black students African-American studies. You no longer have a university, but a series of identity constituencies all studying themselves.”

If he’s an “old leftist,” maybe it isn’t my imagination that there once was a time when the left was not intellectually bankrupt.

It’s bad enough that premature specialization takes place at the college level, but you see high schools trying to play college and do the same thing. That’s a subject for another day, though, because there is something else to mention — something that the HNN article didn’t say. The article is excerpted from a NYT article, “Revisiting the Canon Wars,” by Rachel Donadio. Here’s an item that caught my attention:

But Fish thinks humanities professors bear some blame for their diminished standing. He’s at work on a new book, “Save the World on Your Own Time,” which argues that academics should teach, not proselytize. In his view, “the invasion of political agendas” into the classroom in the ’60s and ’70s was “extremely dangerous,” since it meant classrooms could become battlegrounds for political demagoguery.

So on the one hand you have the National Association of Social Work saying you can’t become a professional unless you proselytize, and this Fish guy saying not while the kids are still in college, at least. I know which side of the argument I’m cheering for.