Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An Open Invitation to David Horowitz

What bothers me most about David Horowitz’s jihad against American educational institutions is that it deflects from the very real need for reform within academic faculties. One of the problems facing our colleges and universities is a lack of intellectual diversity amongst the teachers, as Peter Schuck points out, but the solution is not the “Horowitzian” one of mandating political diversity through political control of educational institutions.

As I argue in an article for ePluribus Media, the reasons for the lack of intellectual diversity on campuses today are not nearly so simple as Horowitz and Schuck make them out to be. It’s not that the institutions deliberately keep people out, but that our universities are, by their very nature, humanist institutions, and so attract people of a more liberal bent. Similar cultural reasons lead people with more conservative frames of mind towards business. Demanding that businesses hire more liberals isn’t going to change that any more than is demanding that colleges hire more conservatives. The division lies deep within our culture; rearranging where people sit isn’t going to alter that fact.

Still, there are ways that our educational institutions could ensure that they are open to diversity of opinion and even teaching methodology—in addition to being open to diversity of race and gender. One such would be a restructuring of the tenure system, which tends to reward people for sitting still. Putatively a protection of outsider ideas, it is really an inherently conservative structure, keeping the insiders in and opening its doors only to those the insiders deem worthy. Tenure could be changed, making it a real protection of intellectual diversity—but that takes work inside our educational institutions. Another is through accepting the importance of a diversity of teaching methodologies—something that the nascent movement, in our federal government, towards standardized testing on the university level would make impossible (just as, through No Child Left Behind, our public school teachers are now finding they can only teach one way—“towards the test”). We need to let our great lecturers lecture—instead of forcing them to utilize small-group pedagogies (for example) that might be at odds with their abilities. And we need to let our great nurturers work with students on a more individual level. In the last few years, we have let inertia lead many of us to accept (without thinking about it) that there is only one effective way of teaching. If you don’t use the chalkboard, for example, you’ve done something wrong. Teachers should tell what’s going to be done, do it, then tell what was done—each class (making the class itself something like the horrid five-paragraph theme).

We need to break away from such patterns. But change cannot be effectively mandated from outside (as Horowitz would want), for that brings the faculty under direct political control with all the rigidity implied. All that would happen is that one set of strictures would be replaced by another, more draconian set—and education would suffer.

Ultimately, my problem with Horowitz is simply that he is demanding change from outside, from a position of no intimate knowledge of how our colleges and universities are operating. If he really does want to be a part of effective change in these institutions, he needs to come inside, to see how things really are working (or are not, in some cases). Effective change cannot be mandated from a distance.

For that reason, I have decided to present an open invitation to David Horowitz: come to my classes and observe! You will need to come more than once, for things are different on different days (as is necessary for any attempt to foster thinking), but do come!!

To really know what goes on, of course, you will need to attend many more classes than just mine. Why not, then, when you speak on campuses, as if you can be allowed to observe a class or two each time? After a semester or so, you may even have developed a good picture of how education manifests itself today.

To others reading this, either students or faculty: If Horowitz comes to your campus, arrange it so that there are classes open to him. Bring him in, doing it publicly and without any snarkiness. Welcome him and let him see exactly how things are done.

Of course, be careful: make sure you tape any classes he attends.

You don’t want to be misrepresented later.

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