Thursday, March 8, 2012

Of all the stupid....

Look, as a leftist, I'm no fan of Obama's politics. I'm all in favor of criticizing his policies, his ideology, and his followers. However, I'm with LGM on one thing: trying to turn the readings Obama assigned to students for a course he taught into a scandal is just plain dumb.

Now maybe things have changed since I was a student way back in the day, but here's the way college courses work. On the first day of class you get a syllabus, which has all sorts of info about the course that most of us students find boring and would have preferred to ignore. Among other things, you get info about what the required readings are for the course. There may also be a list of suggested readings. You go to the bookstore, purchase the requisite book or books for the course, and go on your merry way. If you value your GPA, you start reading and make sure to show up for class. Otherwise, you let the books collect dust while you focus on perfecting your mad beer pong skills.

It should come as no surprise that when I took a Comparative Religions course, I and my classmates were assigned a set of selections from numerous major world religious scriptures, including the Qur'an. The course on Political Philosophy included numerous books, such as Plato's Republic, Hobbes' Leviathan, and Marx and Engels' The German Ideology. The text assigned for the Philosophy of Feminism I took toward the end of my college career covered a variety of major feminist philosophical perspectives. The course called Oriental Philosophy (which primarily focused on Chinese philosophies) included a very brief treatment of Mao. If one were to take a course on Marx and Marxism, one can readily imagine reading Das Kapital at bare minimum. Typically the reading lists were very obvious. It would have been impossible to imagine the course functioning without those particular readings. They were, after all, the classics. Even when the readings didn't seem immediately obviously relevant, their relevance would often be revealed as a semester progressed. I took a course on Existentialism where we read some selections from the work of Ryle and Wittgenstein - neither of whom would ever be mistaken for existentialists, but were necessary to read if we were to follow how that particular professor approached the work of, say, Jean-Paul Sartre. Any student with a modicum of intelligence would understand that there is a vast difference between a professor assigning a particular author's work for a course and actually endorsing the perspective that author took on a particular topic. In my Political Philosophy class, the prof certainly covered Marx and Engels because of the importance of their work, but it was always pretty obvious to me that he really had no use for either Marx or Marxism. I'm sure I could go on. The point of a four-year college education is to be exposed to a variety of thinkers and in the process learn how to critically evaluate what one is reading and hearing. In the case of a graduate or professional level course, like the sort that Obama was teaching, the point is to learn the information needed to be an effective scholar or professional practitioner within one's chosen specialty.

If one really wants to be indoctrinated, I'd strongly suggest going to a private religious school, or simply watch and listen to the inane ramblings of political and religious extremists who assure their audiences that they have ALL the answers.

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