Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Higher Learning

As I was walking the hallowed halls of academia I kept noticing two flyers advertising two classes being offered by the university for the summer. One is called "Women, Culture and the State" and one is called "Women, Liberty and the Black Experience" both sound like typical classes in so-called "social justice" or "social awareness." Ordinarily I would have not paid them a second thought. After spending a semester teaching students of whom the majority could barely find five of the twenty most well-know countries on a map, I became curious.

I have had classes where a full one-third of the class could not write an adequate essay. I have seen 38 students come into a lecture late with drinks in hand. I have been approached with numerous complaints ranging from some disability that supposedly prevents them from performing adequately, to my grading practices, to some litany about all the trials and tribulations they have endured that have prevented them from performing adequately and entitle them to a break or a reduced standard. Many students cannot spell simple words, write complete sentences or use the same verb tense consistently in a paragraph. In short, there are some major deficits in their basic academic and life skills. Before I go any further, I must state that I do encounter some jewels of students. They are hard working, disciplined, intelligent and well-prepared for college but they are the exception not the rule.

So when I saw these two offerings for the summer, I had to ask myself what else is being offered here and why are we so concerned about creating social awareness and activism when many students lack basic academic skills? My curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to visit the undergraduate catalogue website to see what other odd classes are offered here. I was specifically looking for classes that focused on social activism but I found some other oddities as well. Here is what I found:

American Studies

AMS 100 Special Topics. One to three hours.
Selected American topics for lower-division undergraduate students offered by American studies faculty members or supervised teaching assistants. Some examples include Bluegrass Music in America, Contemporary American Youth, The Hollywood Western, Wealth in America, Love American Style, Psychedelic America, Oliver Stone's America, The Boys of Summer, First Freedoms, Murder She Solved, Race, Class, and Gender in Science Fiction, Gay/Lesbian Images in Popular Culture, The World of Robert Heinlein, Homicide: Life on TV, The Many Lives of Frederick Douglass, Murder in Miami, American Youth Culture, Civil War in Fiction, The Dukes of Hazzard, Mythology of Star Wars, Ellison's Invisible Man, Rock and Global Culture, and Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, Black Masculinity, Jackie Robinson's Legacy, Myths of Isadora Duncan, Rock Critic Lester Bangs, American Music in the World, Hip Hop: Droppin' Science, Dottie Rambo and Gospel Music, The Harlem Renaissance, Country Music Culture, Satire and Critical Laughter, Introduction to the Blues, Jim Henson's America, Modern Gay America, Horror Before Stephen King, The Hollywood Red Scare, Kerouac's On the Road, Homer Simpson's America, and The American Biker.

AMS 300 Special Topics. Three hours.
Selected American topics for advanced undergraduate students, offered by Department of American Studies faculty members or Americanists from related departments. Examples: Jewish-American Literature, Mobility in America, The American Folk Revival, Jazz and Jazz Life, Lesbian and Gay Cultures, The American West, Divorce and Stepfamilies, American Hobo Subculture, Southern Iconoclasts, Interracial Intimacies, World War II and Modern Memory, African-American Folk Art, P. T. Barnum's Century, 20th-Century American West, Women's Liberation Movement, Justice and Civil Society, and Southern Sexual Cultures.

AMS 304 Bob Marley: Alabama in Jamaica. Three hours.
A travel-study course that investigates the life of Bob Marley, with an emphasis on the arts of resistance to cultural and material domination as practiced and developed by the poorest people in the Black Atlantic. Immersion in Jamaican history and culture is essential methodology of the class.

New College

NEW 215 Humanities I: Perspectives in the Humanities on Environmental Studies. Four hours.
Considers five disciplinary perspectives on environmental studies within the humanities: literature and the environment; ecophilosophy; ecotheology; ecopsychology; and ecofeminisim. Considers how each perspective presents the relationship between humans and nature and suggests ways to heal environmental destruction.

NEW 218 Humanities I: Environmental Literature. Four hours.
Overview of environmental literature. Focus will be on the contribution of a humanistic approach to the environmental crisis.

NEW 224 Model United Nations. Three hours.
Introduces students to the role of the United Nations in the world today; to prepare students to host the Alabama Model U.N. conference.

Social Work

SW 351 Oppression and Social Injustice. Three hours.
Prerequisite: Sophomore standing.
Examines oppression and social injustices which are pertinent to social functioning and to the profession of social work. Offered in the fall and spring semesters.

Women's Studies

WS 220 Mothers and Daughters (previously WS 120). Three hours.
Investigation of the institution of motherhood, the forces shaping it, and the significance of mother-daughter relationships.

WS 470 Gender, Race, and Class. Three hours.
A cross-cultural approach to the study of gender, race, and class discrimination. Focuses on the mutually reinforcing forces of oppression.

Now this is just a sample of non-traditional courses offered at the university. The trend appears to be classes that focus on special interest groups, social activism and pop culture. Now the university setting is an arena in which the non-traditional is acceptable, to a point. I have never taken any of these special classes nor do I intend to. Based on the amount of left-wing bias in the standard classes offered, that I have experienced as a student, I can only imagine the degree of political indoctrination that occurs in these classes focusing on "social justice" and activism. Given my experience as a teacher, I can tell you that students are firmly grounded in pop culture and don't need to take classes on the Dukes of Hazzard, hip hop or baseball. I can also tell you that a student well-versed in ecofeminism, but not in the basics, is at best useless and at worst dangerous.

The university's job is to educate and it is failing. Universities are more concerned with entertaining students and turning out "socially conscious" students, that are up to date on who society's victims are, but lack a basic education for which their parents and the taxpayers pay. Higher education is in a crisis and I say ditch the classes that promote social awareness, left-wing political agendas and entertainment as education and focus on the basics.

Academia's problems are much deeper than the issue I am discussing here. The courses are a reflection of the current state of academia and not the cause of its problems. Those will be discussed at a later date.

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