This is only a Preview!

You must Publish this diary to make this visible to the public,
or click 'Edit Diary' to make further changes first.

Posting a Diary Entry

Daily Kos welcomes blog articles from readers, known as diaries. The Intro section to a diary should be about three paragraphs long, and is required. The body section is optional, as is the poll, which can have 1 to 15 choices. Descriptive tags are also required to help others find your diary by subject; please don't use "cute" tags.

When you're ready, scroll down below the tags and click Save & Preview. You can edit your diary after it's published by clicking Edit Diary. Polls cannot be edited once they are published.

If this is your first time creating a Diary since the Ajax upgrade, before you enter any text below, please press Ctrl-F5 and then hold down the Shift Key and press your browser's Reload button to refresh its cache with the new script files.


  1. One diary daily maximum.
  2. Substantive diaries only. If you don't have at least three solid, original paragraphs, you should probably post a comment in an Open Thread.
  3. No repetitive diaries. Take a moment to ensure your topic hasn't been blogged (you can search for Stories and Diaries that already cover this topic), though fresh original analysis is always welcome.
  4. Use the "Body" textbox if your diary entry is longer than three paragraphs.
  5. Any images in your posts must be hosted by an approved image hosting service (one of: imageshack.us, photobucket.com, flickr.com, smugmug.com, allyoucanupload.com, picturetrail.com, mac.com, webshots.com, editgrid.com).
  6. Copying and pasting entire copyrighted works is prohibited. If you do quote something, keep it brief, always provide a link to the original source, and use the <blockquote> tags to clearly identify the quoted material. Violating this rule is grounds for immediate banning.
  7. Be civil. Do not "call out" other users by name in diary titles. Do not use profanity in diary titles. Don't write diaries whose main purpose is to deliberately inflame.
For the complete list of DailyKos diary guidelines, please click here.

Please begin with an informative title:

I tend to sympathize with the view that professors ought to encourage their students to think for themselves rather than encouraging them to agree with the professors.  And of course the idea that the University of Colorado needs a Professor of Conservatism is laughable, though the prejudice underlying that idea and the plot to subvert academic standards and freedom in the name of "intellectual diversity," of which that idea is one of the weapons, are not matters for laughter.

But Stanley Fish's view of teaching as an entirely apolitical activity doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

In particicular, Fish brought me up short when he wrote:

A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.
Yes, the classroom discussion Prof. Fish imagines would be a valuable one.  But I doubt that it's the only sort of discussion that could be of value, or that Prof. Fish's preferred discussion would, in and of itself, constitute an adequate treatment of Marcuse or of Strauss.  

If students are never asked to seriously engage with the possibility that one side of an argument might, on balance, be right and the other side wrong, then are they really being encouraged to think, or are they just learning how to play a game in which the claims made in the texts under study are mere counters, to be moved around the board according to the rules?

Note that professors in fields where it is believed that actual knowledge is available do not follow Prof. Fish's model.  An historian of science might treat Darwin and Lamarck as Prof. Fish wishes Marcuse and Strauss to be treated, though even then the fact that Darwin was right and Lamarck wrong might deserve mention at some point; after all, one of the things one might usefully learn from a study of the history of science is how it comes to be that false ideas are proposed, supported, and (sometimes) eventually refuted and abandoned.  

But a biologist would have scant time for such nonsense.  She would damned well want to make sure that her students knew at the end of class that selection is, and adaptation by the inheritance of acquired characteristics is not, the mechanism by which gene pools change in response to environmental pressure.  Similarly, a chemist would not give equal weight and time to oxygen and phlogiston as explanatory schemata for combustion, or a physicist treat thermodynamics and caloric as competing on equal terms to explain the phenomenon of temperature.

Even in Prof. Fish's own literature classroom, I doubt that the theory that Bacon or the Earl of Oxford wrote Hamlet gets fully equal treatment with the conventional or "Stratfordian" view.  So why should an economics professor be kinder to proponents of bimetallism or Social Credit or self-financing tax cuts?

Teachers, no matter how impartial they intend to be on politically controversial questions, are always trying to show their students how to distinguish between better and worse arguments, according to the canons of whatever discipline is being taught.  In doing so, it's impossible to remain entirely impartial among conclusions, since a conclusion that can only be supported by bad arguments must be regarded as unsound.   And sometimes the unsound argument and the false conclusion are those presented by one side of a political argument.  (The biologist's insistence on the strong evidentiary and logical basis for Darwinism is not irrelevant to the live political debate about what sort of biology to teach in high school.)

No, that does not give teachers the right to proselytize for their causes from the lectern, or justify the establishment of quotas for conservatives, or quotas for Marxists for that matter.    But it does mean that a teacher's beliefs — what views the teacher regards as legitimate, and what views the teacher regards as "fringe" — do make a difference in the classroom, and that a faculty with a particular political "tilt" needs to make conscious efforts to police itself in order to protect the intellectual freedom of its students.  

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Mark A R Kleiman on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 05:21 AM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.