Thursday, November 17, 2011

No tears for Massimo

Massimo Pigliucci is a self-styled public intellectual who runs a blog misleadingly called Rationally Speaking. It is in fact highly politicized, a vehicle for Professor Pigliucci to promote his left-liberal views – and himself. Which (apart from the misleading blog name) would be fine, if it wasn't for the site's (and Massimo's) loyal followers, and the feeling that one is dealing here not with a group of freely thinking individuals but with a sort of cult. [Update Nov. 2013: Whether or not this was true at the time, I have to say that this is no longer how I see the site. For one thing, one of the secondary writers there who was very political has gone, and my sense is that Massimo himself (with whom I have had some productive interactions) has focused more on non-political topics in the last couple of years. Also, there is much robust debate in the comment threads, and a variety of views on display.]

So I had a sense of Schadenfreude (unworthy, I know) when I read this post by Pigliucci on an imminent restructuring of the curricula at the City University of New York where he is employed as a philosophy professor.

The proposal incorporates a reduction of the compulsory general education requirements from more than 50 to 30 credits (out of a total of 120 credits necessary for graduation). And within that 30 there is a 'required core' of 7 credits in English composition and 8 in mathematics and science. Professor Pigliucci alleges that this is part of a national trend towards "dismantling liberal arts education" and that these efforts are motivated by an attempt to produce not "intelligent and critically thinking citizens" but "workers who are trained to do whatever the market and the reigning plutocracy bids them to do." Unfortunately, the phrase "reigning plutocracy" gives him away.

It's my view that many - too many - academics in the humanities have betrayed their calling by allowing the content of what they teach to become politicized to an extreme degree. Too often divergent views on controversial issues are not welcomed and students are required to echo the politically correct clichés of their teachers in order to succeed. Feminism, multiculturalism, standard liberal views on social issues, geo-politics and capitalism dominate teaching and writing in many areas within the humanities and social sciences. And so the process continues, as indoctrinated college graduates become teachers themselves or journalists or public employees of one kind or another or occupiers of Wall Street.

So I'll not be shedding any tears for Massimo and his like if they lose their battle to maintain their power and influence. All in all, I think some good may come from the withdrawal of funding from the humanities as certain particularly noxious forms of indoctrination will be curtailed.

And whatever there is of abiding value in the areas affected by funding cuts will more than likely be incorporated - under other names perhaps - into new curricula, or find other modes of survival.