"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Learning Should Be Uncomfortable" for White Boys

This is an interesting story and emblematic of what's wrong with a lot of what passes for liberal arts education in American colleges:

Shannon Gibney is a professor of English and African diaspora studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). When that’s your job, there are a lot of opportunities to talk about racism, imperialism, capitalism, and history. There are also a lot of opportunities to anger students who would rather not learn about racism, imperialism, capitalism, and history. I presume MCTC knows that; they have an African diaspora studies program.  [But] when Gibney led a discussion on structural racism in her mass communication class, three white students filed a discrimination complaint because it made them feel uncomfortable. This time, MCTC reprimanded Gibney under their anti-discrimination policy...

So much wrong here.   First, if you're living in America as, say, a Somali immigrant (there are a lot of those in Minneapolis), the last thing you need is "African Diaspora Studies."    What you need is learning a skilled trade, learning how to speak English, learning math and science and engineering, in short, learning marketable skills that can get you out of poverty and into the American mainstream and middle-class, which, presumably, is why you came here in the first place.   The problem with Somalia and, increasingly, in America's urban under-class, is not that there's too much capitalism, but that there's too little; in Somalia, not too much imperialism, but, arguably, not enough.  

Second, putting aside the political arguments... what on earth is any of this doing in a "mass communications" class?   Is racism, imperialism, capitalism and history really the appropriate subject matters for a "mass communications" class?  

Which, finally, begs the question... what the hell is a "mass communications" class and why exactly should it be taught at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College?   I can see teaching something like that at a Harvard or a Yale where young people can spend four years being countercultural dilletantes and still get jobs at Goldman Sachs after graduation.   But at MCTC these young people are being gravely disserved if the faculty thinks their job is radicalizing the students.   Their job is to help their students get J-O-B-S, period (as the President likes to say).

But, needless to say, the writer at Slate.com thinks that the Professor is the victim because... well, because of some "speak truth to power" liberal bullshit that you can read for yourself:

If I want to piss off the majority of higher education’s customers, then defying the natural superiority of men by being a female authority figure, countering white oppression beliefs by appealing to structural racism, and making young people feel the emotions of being offended would seem like a good way to go. If, like Gibney, I were a professor hired to teach diaspora studies, doing so would be my job. 
Teaching what people would rather not learn is especially tough if you are a woman or a minority professor. Research shows that our customers rate Asian-American, Hispanic, black, and women professors lower than white male professors across all subjects. Most disturbingly, student evaluations of women of color are harshest when customers are told that the results will be “communicated to a third party for the purposes of evaluation.” Our customers are not only disinclined to like tough subjects; they’re also inclined to take their discomfort out on minority professors, who are the least likely to have the protection of tenure or support from university administration. 
Learning is—should often be—uncomfortable for individuals.

Thought experiment: imagine a white teacher who wants to teach class about "structural racism," but her focus is on affirmative action and systematic mismatching of African-American students with universities and colleges, i.e., 1200 SAT kid at Harvard when he ought to be at UW-Madison, 1000 SAT kid at Madison when he ought to be at UW-Whitewater, 800 SAT kid at Whitewater when he probably shouldn't be in college at all, etc. She lectures about how this practice does a disservice to African-Americans who have higher dropout rates because of mismatching. She also adds how it could be perceived as unfair to whites with high GPAs and SATs who don't get into schools of their choices, and (perhaps especially) to Asian-American kids who are essentially discriminated against in applying to elite schools. The discussion makes the African-American students in class very uncomfortable and even angry.

Do you still think that "Learning is—should often be—uncomfortable for individuals"? If not, why not?

The reality is that liberal professors are all about making learning "uncomfortable" only for white male middle-class students, while coddling young women and, particularly, young minorities in the gauzy softness of liberal arts curricula that cannot possibly provide them the tools to succeed in a competitive marketplace.  

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