Friday, February 24, 2006

David Horowitz, Boy Scholar

What astonishes me most about amateur researcher David Horowitz is not simply his ability to twist things, but his audacity in claiming that he has something to say about education that is worth listening to. I’ll get to that last point, but let me start with a small example of his Chubby Checkering (is there a special school for this somewhere off to the right?): I posted a diary on him on my own blog and in a number of other places, including at TPMCafe, where Horowitz or one of his minions must have seen it. On his own blog, Horowitz wrote:

Over the weekend I came across this "review," which appears on TPMCafe a collective blog site created by Joshua Micah Marshall. The writer of the review obviously hasn't read the book, and hasn't the foggiest idea of what its argument is.
Uh, David, that’s not quite it, now, is it? And you know it. My blog wasn’t a “review” at all. I’ve no interest in reading the book and don’t pretend to review it. Why don’t I want to read it? For one thing, you even promote it as a list (101 professors… ), and I’ve no interest in reading or writing about lists. I was writing, instead, about your lack of knowledge about education. My point in that blog is that you have no business writing a book about college professors, for you have no expertise either on what they do or on who they are.

That’s not the only reason I don’t need to read your book. Lists aren’t arguments, after all—though you are certainly trying to make an argument through your list. Your list is meant to make us believe that these “most dangerous” professors are representative, to some degree, of leftist college professors and that all they do in the classroom is indoctrinate. As I reject both propositions, there would be no point in my reading your book, even if you were competent to comment on the topic.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no point in my commenting on you, David! I’ve read some of your other books, and have seen first hand (through them and through your writings on the web) that you have no real interest in scholarship or academia at all. Your goal (it is clear from your writing) is to extend political power over universities; your goal isn’t reforming but controlling.

Let’s leave that aside, though. Let’s pretend that you really do have an interest in education, and not just in bringing universities under the influence of right-wing politicians (along with all the rest of the institutions of our country).

Answer me this: What have you ever done that makes you an expert on education, that makes any ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ you might devise, any book on universities or university teachers you might write, worth considering? If it weren’t for the right-wing funding machine behind you that promotes you, what would you be able to point to, showing that you know enough about education topics to be listened to at all, to be taken seriously at all? As far as I can tell, it’s only money that brings you attention. As far as I can tell, you have built no credibility of your own as a commentator on education.

As far as I can tell, you can’t answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

Have you ever been a teacher or a college administrator?

Have you studied education theory or practice in any formal way?

Have you developed a rigorous experimental design that could lead to grounded conclusions about education?

Have you at least talked to the professors on your list about their pedagogy?

Have you surveyed students and graduates in any significant fashion about their professors?

If you could answer “yes” to any of these, perhaps (and just perhaps) your book could be taken seriously.

Go back to school, David. Learn something.

Then, perhaps, you’ll have something to say that’s worth listening to.

4 comments:

DWPittelli said...

You write of Horowitz: "you have no business writing a book about college professors, for you have no expertise either on what they do or on who they are."

I see you're an English professor. What makes you think you're qualified to judge a political tract, (particularly one you admit not to have read)?

You write: "Professors do not go into the classroom intent on imbuing students with their own points of view. Not only is that not their job, but it is (and I cannot emphasize this too greatly) not what they do.

Perhaps Horowitz has shown that this is in fact what some 100 of them do. You won't know, since you have not read his book.

You write: "our students are not stupid and are not just clay for professors to form."

Indeed. Does that mean it is impossible for a professor to be out of line in terms of propagandizing students? And aren't people in general also capable of disagreeing with propaganda? Does the observation that propaganda generally doesn't succeed in convincing everybody mean that it is never unnacceptable for a person with power to monopolize viewpoints within any forum?

AaronBarlow said...

First of all, Horowitz's book isn't supposed to be a political tract, but about education.

Second, Horowitz has shown nothing of the sort. He is not working from first-hand information or rigorous research of any sort. I don't need the book to know that--even he admits it.

Third, Horowitz's premise is based on the idea that our students are at risk because of the political beliefs our their professors. Therefore, he believes that students can be swayed by their "propaganda." No one is monopolizing any forum, anyway--no student graduates without having taken courses from thirty or forty quite different professors.

neuralgourmet said...

Interesting that. All these dangerous liberal/leftist professors indoctrinating young minds (according to Horowitz) and yet somehow campus conservative groups still somehow manage to flourish, there seems to be no shortage of young Republican voters or young right wing talk radio listeners. The indoctrination doesn't seem to be working so good. So where's the danger?

Of course, there aren't scores of professors out there attempting to indoctrinate young adults into some kind of liberal cult. Rather this is just Horowitz's attempt at peddling a watered down and gussied up for the new media version of some old, tired John Birch Society conspiracy theory.

AaronBarlow said...

Neuralgormet, you've pinpointed the heart of it.

There's no threat to education from leftist professors. If there were, we would have seen the results long ago.

Horowitz is nothing more than a part of an attempt to exert rightwing control over another of our national institutions, our educational structure.