4.0358 Texas Controversy, Part II (1/82)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 3 Aug 90 18:55:12 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0358. Friday, 3 Aug 1990.

Date: Friday, 3 August 1990 3:26pm CST
Subject: 4.0351 More on UTexas Comp. Cou

OK, let me see if I've got this right.

Skip Knox thinks the University of Texas administration is right to force
postponement of the proposed E 306 syllabus because a (by definition
differently organized) composition course he took somewhere else at some
other time wasn't, in his opinion, any good? Very clever. We're trying
to teach people to argue a little more cogently than that, down here in

Michel Pierssens can't understand why the issue deserves so much
e-space. So sorry! It was important to me and quite a few of my
colleagues at UT and elsewhere, and I made the evident mistake of
thinking it might be of more general interest. Speaking of loops, M.
Pierssens, it seems to me we've had this kind of discussion before. If
I remember right, consensus was that Humanists are free to delete,
unread, any messages on subjects they're not interested in-- the
Subject: headings so nicely provided by our editors@brownvm might come
in handy there, don't you think?

Hoke Robinson prefers to leave aside minor problems like the NAS's
involvement in the movement to get the course stopped. Glad he has the
luxury, but it might be of interest to some others to learn that the
local affiliate, the Texas Association of Scholars, paid for the
advertisement I mentioned in an earlier posting (one of those long
messages Pierssens objects to; hope he's stopped reading by now). I
have no problem with their doing that; I do have a problem with the fact
that the name of the organization does not appear in the ad, and that
the ad is represented as a statement of concern by individual faculty
members. I was under the impression that political advertisements were
supposed to carry the legend, "Paid Political Advertisement" or words to
that effect. The NAS is welcome to the debate-- but as the NAS.

But, leaving aside racism and the NAS and all that unpleasantness, as
Professor Robinson would like, what have we got? Well, we've got the
dread specter of multiculturalism, which Professor Robinson raises
before going on to talk at some length about questions of "relevance"
and the problems to teaching by "trial and error." I must have missed
something somewhere-- I don't recall having said anything about
encouraging either graduate students or faculty to randomize their text
selection processes. I wasn't aware, soehow, that the only alternatives
to teaching texts Matthew Arnold would have approved (whoops! sorry to
have brought into the discussion someone so declasse as to have lectured
in the vernacular) were randomness on one hand or, on the other,
whatever the current equivalent of _The Greening of America_ might be--
_The Closing of the American Mind_, perhaps? There is, it seems to me,
something rather contradictory about first insisting that only books
which have stood the test of time can be taught without risk, and then
making it impossible to submit anything to that test, but I'm sure I`m
missing something somewhere again and I'm sure someone will be kind
enough to explain it to me. Of course some texts will fail to stand up
over time! So do scientific theories; so do theories of history and
explanations of historical events and patterns. Things do change.

I don't understand Professor Robinson's conception of "risk," either--
surely he can't be serious in suggesting that students should sue us for
malpractice if we "guess" wrong about the future? Mind if I borrow your
crystal ball, sir? What if we "guess" wrong about the PAST? What if
everyone who teaches Milton turns out, 20 years from now, to have
mistaken for a document of universal and timeless value a text espousing
ahighly partisan and narrowly sectarian point of view about parochial
religio-political issues on a small island off the coast of the United
States of Europe? Does it diminish Milton, in some way I'm too stupid
to imagine, to consider that there might have been other poets writing,
at about the same time in non-European languages, works of similarly
astonishing beauty and scope? Did the re-emergence of the Homeric texts
do violence to Virgil? I don't recall feeling that the Epic of
Gilgamesh did anything to hurt The Iliad, or that Things Fall Apart did
harm to Madame Bovary.

Perhaps Professor Robinson would feel more comfortable if we left out of
the English curriculum everything written after 1850; that way we could
be really sure everything had stood up well. And while we're at it,
let's get rid of American literature again-- after all, it entered the
curriculum pretty damn recently too, just another bunch of colonial
upstarts. When I was an undergraduate in the English HOnors Program at
the University of Michigan in 1972, we had to petition for an honors
seminar in American lit; the department gave in only reluctantly.
Meanwhile, I suggest malpractice insurance.

And to Ed Waldron, thanks.

John Slatin, UT Austin