Saving the Humanities

While political battles rage over why Johnny cannot read, the teachers of Johnny's teachers enjoy virtual immunity from public scrutiny. Their intellectual profile remains invisible to the public eye. In a sense, this is understandable. They were educated in the rarefied atmosphere of this country's great universities where the life of the mind is protected by the rules of academic freedom and by the abstractness of ideas advanced in research journals. In the eyes of the public, what goes on at such universities is a matter for specialists to discuss. A concerned parent merely talks of the desirability of more English and history courses. He cannot tell the difference between courses which question foundational epistemology and postulate incommensurability of hermeneutics, and those which question dialectical epistemology and proclaim  the  identity  principle. Nor is he interested in such distinctions. He will see nothing wrong in teaching "high philosophy" or "critical thinking" (which is what he assumes both kinds of courses teach) to his son or daughter. Parents have battled over high school textbooks but not over the books used at universities. The fact of life is that for an average parent (and for an average university trustee), Friedrich Nietzsche looks just as good as John Locke, and Richard Rorty seems as impressive as Aristotle.


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