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Sunday, November 05, 2006

DST 06:  Special Sunday update

Here I am in northern New York, not far from this late-breaking vileness, brought to you by the “grownups” in Today’s GOP.

Coincidence?  There are no coincidences on the Dangeral Studies Tour.

For obvious reasons, I can’t tell you where I’m headed next (Virginia?  Montana? back to Mizzou?  gotta keep Karl R. guessing).  But as I board my private (and invisible) plane I want to take a moment to thank Chris Clarke for volunteering for our WAAGNFNP show trial, and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of our Minister of Justice, Oaktown Girl.  Thanks also to everyone who contributed to this highly entertaining thread last week!  Let it never be said that Dangeral Studies attends to politics at the expense of poetics.

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What’s Liberal? update, in response to Colin Danby’s question in comment 2, while I’m eating a quesadilla in the Pittsburgh airport:

Would someone who has a copy of wlatla at hand like to check whether the Bauerlein complaint about Michael’s response to the “Analyze the U.S. constitution” essay question is a fair cop?  Commenters here seem to have the impression MB endorses the question, and in particular that

“If students of American political science are not introduced to the contradictions underlying the foundation of a revolutionary democratic nation that practiced slavery and restricted the vote to landowning men, they are being miseducated.”

is *all* wlatla has to say about it.

Thanks for asking, Colin!  And why don’t you have a copy of the book at hand, may I ask?

For the record, since I just happen to have the manuscript on my hard drive:  I discuss the case of

19-year-old Foothill College student Ahmad al-Qloushi, a Kuwaiti-American who claimed that he received a failing grade on a term paper about the U.S. Constitution because it was “pro-American,” and who promptly appeared as a guest on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes show on February 17, 2005.  Horowitz flogged this case as well; it was picked up by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, and bandied about briefly on the Internet, partly for its obvious shock value: anti-American professor harasses Middle Eastern student who loves the United States! But it was bandied about only briefly—because once al-Qloushi’s essay itself became available, the story died an undignified death.  Al-Qloushi’s political science professor, Joseph Woolcock, had posed the following question:

Dye and Zeigler [authors of an American government textbook] contend that the constitution of the United States was not “ordained and established” by “the people” as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who [were] representative of powerful economic and political interests.  Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded [the] majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America’s elite interest.

Most people who have taken college-level political science courses will know that this is a standard line of inquiry with regard to the founding of the United States: on one hand, the Declaration of Independence insisted that all men were created equal, and on the other hand, the Constitution (the original document) backed away from this radical claim in favor of a far more limited conception of republican citizenship.  Indeed, I can say—from my office across the quad in the English department—that if students of American political science are not introduced to the contradictions underlying the foundation of a revolutionary democratic nation that practiced slavery and restricted the vote to land-owning men, they are being miseducated.

If al-Qloushi had been given an F for arguing that the Constitution represented the best compromise available at the time—a compromise between Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian conceptions of democracy, mediated by a Madisonian insistence on the separation of powers and a realistic assessment of what it would take to get the Southern states to agree to something stronger than the Articles of Confederation—then Horowitz and Fox News might have been justified in pleading his case as an example of liberal bias.  But what al-Qloushi actually wrote was this.

I proceed to quote sections of the essay, and then I remark,

After the essay became available on the Internet, most conservative academics immediately distanced themselves from it; one conservative professor-blogger gave it a low D, and another gave it an F.  The essay has the germ of a plausible thesis—that the Constitution was progressive for its time but required reinterpretation and amendment to adapt to evolving conceptions of human freedoms—but is terribly written and largely tangential to the question at issue.  But one thing is uncontroversial:  it is not a college-level essay. 

Now, stop and contemplate the political dispensation under which an essay like this is submitted as evidence of liberal bias in the university.  Remember, as you wonder at this state of affairs, that American conservatives have been complaining—plausibly enough, in some cases—for the past three decades about the sorry state of undergraduate writing and the prevalence of “feel-good” forms of pedagogy which seek to bolster students’ self-esteem even when the students in question are incapable of composing a decent sentence in English.  And then marvel, if you will, at the phenomenon of a conservative culture of complaint—not a “fringe” or “marginal” culture, but a culture that extends to national media networks like Fox News—that takes an essay like al-Qloushi’s not as evidence of the shoddy quality of undergraduate writing but as evidence of the persecution of conservative students by leftist professors. 

And that’s what What’s Liberal? has to say about that.

Posted by Michael on 11/05 at 10:34 AM
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