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Thursday, May 23, 2013

America: An Evil Empire. Christians: Frightening. White People: Oppressive and Unqualified to Speak. Literary Quality: Specious. Any questioning of Left Wing Ideology: "Hateful, Irrational, Dishonest." The Consensus of … Christian English Professors???

Source

I recently was beaten up by a gang of Christian English professors.

Okay, I was beaten up verbally. And they beat me up online, not in person.

I slumped away with a tear-streaked face and skinned knees.

Even in its weirdness and smallness, this dustup says much about some big issues in education, current culture, and Christianity.

Will try to make sense of this nasty farce in this blog post.

***

Why Can't Johnny Read?

It's a frequent comment. A crisis in literacy looms in America. Students in advanced grades have trouble with basic reading and writing. There are tragic real life consequences for this failure in education.

According to various websites,

"Across the country, 65 percent of eighth graders do not meet grade level expectations in reading. And according to a report out in March, the average reading level of teens in grades 9-12 is 5.3 -- barely above the fifth grade."

"Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level."

"1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read."

"As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous."

"Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate."

Sources: here and here.

I am a teacher.

I want to give my students the intoxication of staying up all night to read a book under the blankets with a flashlight. I want to give them feeling several feet taller when they've used the right word in a tense stand-off. I want to give them that moment when life has hit them hard and they remember a stupid poem they were forced to memorize in school years before and they suddenly realize that that stupid poem is the one medicine they require to survive that otherwise un-survivable tragedy.

I want to give my students escape on a beach with a big, fat paperback. I want to give them a resume that verbally encapsulates and communicates the very best about themselves. I want them to feel the utter self-assurance of a James Bond, of an Olympic champion, no matter what big words or ideas or lies or insults or promises are thrown at them by what professors or politicians or seducers or websites or door-to-door salesmen. I want to give them words their grandchildren will remember after they are gone.

That's why, on the first day of the semester, I tell my students, I don't care what church you attend, I don't care for whom you vote, I don't care what you buy or what you sell. I care about how you perform.

***

Another commonplace observation: university faculty are disproportionately liberal. English faculty are the most liberal of all.

"72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative…at the most elite schools 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative. Academia is 'a very homogenous environment.' … liberals, men and non-regular churchgoers are more likely to be teaching at top schools, while conservatives, women and more religious faculty are more likely to be relegated to lower-tier colleges and universities.

The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and religious studies, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative." source

And yet another commonplace: all too often university students get the impression from their professors that their advancement to the next grade, and to a degree, and to a positive letter of recommendation from their professors once they begin that job search, depends on their adoption of left-wing ideology, rather than their mastery of subject matter or new skills. As one student puts it, "The class did teach me the most important skill in life: just say what people want to hear at all times, contain all actual feelings and you will be fine. Know your audience." source

Is there a connection? Are Americans having so much trouble with verbal skills because American English faculty are determined, not to improve student reading or writing, but to coerce students into adopting leftwing ideology?

I think there may very well be.

Tatjana Menaker, a former resident of the Soviet Union, describes the shock she experienced when she received grades in English classes, on an American university campus, based, not on performance, but on adoption of leftist ideology.

"After arriving in the United States with a diploma from Leningrad University…I couldn’t believe what I found. Imagine the utter amazement of a refugee from a Communist country, where Marxism was forced on all students, now having to sink in a puddle of socialist propaganda again – but this time in the middle of an American university! Imagine the astonishment of a person who, after fighting the KGB and being a refusenik, finally comes so close to her dream of receiving a real education instead of indoctrination, only to find herself, once again, in the middle of a socialist brainwashing machine." source.

***

About a year ago I joined an online discussion group dedicated to professors discussing Christianity and Literature.

Christianity. Literature. Teaching. Three of my great loves!

I was a member for about a year. It was an eventful year in my life, as posts here show, and I did not give the group my full attention. My impression was, though, that the posts were often more reflective of leftwing ideology than Christianity, literature, or teaching.

One series of posts focused on defining the US as an evil empire.

I questioned this. What about China, I ventured? China is committing a cultural and biological genocide in Tibet. China is exploiting Burmese natural resources, impoverishing the Burmese people, and contributing to the Burmese dictatorship, one of the most oppressive, murderous regimes on earth. Burma refused foreign aid from the US even as tens of thousands of innocents died in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. In order to better understand leftist labeling of America as an evil empire, can we provide context of other contemporary empires, like China?

My post was not responded to with enthusiasm.

Christians were labeled as oppressive.

I mentioned that Christians have been called the most subjected to persecution for their beliefs. The Pew Forum reports that "Over the three-year period studied, incidents of either government or social harassment were reported against Christians in 130 countries" source. Christians are actively persecuted in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea.

No, I was told by list members. Christians are "everywhere, militant, frightening."

This same professor pooh-poohed the idea that Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. He wrote, "I don't buy the marginalized Christian minority point of view."

After that exchange I realized I was a stranger in a strange land. I tried to remain silent. I thought I'd just lurk and soak up what I could of the group's wisdom on Christianity, literature, and teaching.

I was not successful in that attempt.

Someone mentioned Barbara Kingsolver's writing about life in the Republic of Congo. Barbara Kingsolver is a successful American writer who lived in the Republic of Congo.

A group member, Professor Rovira, wrote "Kingsolver cannot understand those issues the way one of the colonized could."

I had to respond to this.

This denigration of the work of Barbara Kingsolver on the basis of her identity, and accompanying elevation of the worth of others based on their identity – in a word, Kingsolver's work is less valuable because she is white and American, and others' work is better because they are black and not American, is representational of an identity politics worldview that is pervasive among liberals in academia.

This is the leftist mirror image of the ancient association of identity with worth that keeps serfs serfs, no matter how talented they may be, and that keeps those in the palace in the palace, no matter how demented, inbred or corrupt they may be.

The dream of America was to smash all that. To smash the insistence that what you were born was more important than the true measures of worth that determined who you really are: how much you learned. How well you performed.

Marian Anderson, who could sing. 
Think of Marion Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial.

Marian Anderson was a celebrated contralto. A great singer. The DAR, a prestigious organization, refused her permission to sing at Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson did – she sang to 75,000 people. She was valued because she could sing. The DAR de-valued her because of the color of her skin, the circumstances of her birth.

Left-wing college professors' denigration of Barbra Kingsolver's work because she is white and American is the mirror image of the racist DAR's devaluation of Marian Anderson's singing because she was black.

Marian Anderson could sing.

Barbara Kingsolver can write. 

Talent is a good and real thing. 

I responded to the denigration of Kingsolver, not on the basis of her talent as a writer, but on the basis of her identity.

I posted about my own experience, and the experience of my own people.

I am Polish and Slovak, I said. We are a people who know oppression, I said. We have been colonized. We have been massacred. We have been enslaved.

We have not produced a lot of great literature in America. There is no great Polish American novel. That is because oppressed people often don't have time, resources, or a tradition to produce great, elite literature. We were too busy mining coal, smelting iron, producing steel, farming small plots, manufacturing cars, cleaning others' houses, and refining petroleum.

My grandmother never learned to read or write. She was not going to write the great Polish American novel. After my grandfather was killed, she made and sold bootleg liquor. My father rode the rails seeking work. He joined the army under false papers when he was just sixteen. My mother raised three different families of children as a domestic servant after her coal miner father got emphysema. These lifestyles did not leave us a lot of time to write the Great American Novel.

Others wrote about us, and they were not us. The big authors on Poles in Poland are Norman Davies and Timothy Garton Ash, both English, not Polish.

The big author about the Bohunk immigrant experience was Upton Sinclair, an American-born, Protestant WASP. He wrote "The Jungle," the one indispensable volume on the Bohunk experience.

If I were to teach a class on Poland, I would include Davies, Ash, Sinclair, Thomas Sowell and Booker T. Washington, two African Americans I cite in my dissertation. I would include Amy Chua, Chinese. I would include Edna Bonacich, Jewish.

They would be on the syllabus before any Polish names. I would insist on this because their writing has value. The quality of their writing and their scholarship is what matters, not their ethnic identity.

***

Prof. Rovira immediately denounced what I wrote as "hateful," "dishonest" and "irrational."

A Prof. Pearson directed a lengthy lecture at me. Prof. Pearson addressed nothing that I had said.

Rather, once again, as so often in this group of professors, Prof. Pearson wrote as if there were only two kinds of people in the world: rich, privileged, oppressive, hateful, evil white Americans and oppressed "people of color." Again, and again – the black and white division of the world. No poor whites. None. No "people of color" who ever oppress anyone. No Chinese occupation of Tibet. No rich, black dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko or Haitian Duvalier family or House of Saud. No. Just, the entire universe, divided up into rich, evil, oppressive whites and poor, virtuous, people of color. No room for Polaks or Slovaks in this reality. No room for Okies or Appalachian Hillbillies or those French Canadians who were sterilized by American eugenicists. Nope. Because no whites are poor. No whites have ever suffered oppression.

Prof. Pearson wrote about "who can best represent the experiences of an oppressed people without falling into orientalist traps" and "who has the right to speak for a people." "The problem with focusing on literary worth/talent is that it fails to acknowledge the unevenness of the playing field." He said. "On the specious grounds of 'literary quality', the white folks will almost always win." "Reading literature simply on grounds of 'literary worth and talent' always works at a disadvantage to people of color" "Meanwhile, and let's be honest, white people have often done a terrible, TERRIBLE job of representing people of color, much less of representing non-Western cultures"

Prof Pearson ended his little lecture with the patronizing sign off, "I hope this explanation helps."

No discussion ensued.

There was nothing to discuss. A working class Polak woman, me, had dared to say that there is such a thing as literary worth and talent and that identity does not dictate value. I had dared to say that dividing up the world into rich, evil, oppressive whites and virtuous and oppressed "people of color" was a limited paradigm. I was put in my place by the powers that be. After Prof. Pearson put me in my place, one of the professors suggested changing the topic to Shakespeare, and that occurred immediately.

***

Professors Rovira and Pearson were arguing that identity as someone who has experienced oppression makes one's words worth listening to. Professors Rovira and Pearson were arguing that elites don't have the right to speak for those who have suffered.

I have suffered. I spoke.

They, the elites, the English professors, immediately slapped me down.

Hypocrisy.

Do I have to present my resume here? What do I know about oppression? One of my family members was lynched. When my father was born his country did not exist as a political entity – it was a colony of Russia, who kept Polish peasants so oppressed that Booker T Washington, an ex-American slave seeking "the man furthest down" went to Poland to study us.

My family came to America where mine bosses solicited us for labor by calling out, "Get me a Hunky; I need a donkey." My parents were of ethnicities deemed racially inferior by the US congress. My mother, a brilliant writer, one of the most brilliant women I will ever hope to know, spent her life cleaning rich women's houses. My father mined coal as a child, worked blue collar as an adult, after leading American troops as a sergeant liberating the Pacific.

I grew up in poverty. This kind of poverty – where if you can't stomach the foul surplus macaroni and margarine that is for dinner, you do not eat. Barefoot. Because the special shoes you need are too expensive. I started working before I was legally qualified to do so. I forged papers to make this happen. I worked full time as a nurse's aide while getting my BA. I was homeless for a while in college, still got straight As.

I joined Peace Corps and lived and worked in tiny villages in Africa and Asia. I watched children starve to death because of vicious local customs like the caste system. I saw human beings enslaved, in literal, not metaphorical, chains. I fed starving children and taught a slave girl to read.

I lived in Poland during the overthrow of communism. I participated in anti-Soviet riots. I come back to the US and entered grad school and was attacked by a professor. I was told she was allowed to abuse her employees because she was black and female and everyone was afraid of being called racist or sexist so they did not challenge her. Result – unbeknownst to me, my inner ear burst and I spent the next several years vomiting and paralyzed. I wrote my dissertation anyway, about stereotyping of Poles as the world's worst haters. My book is so controversial, for eight years, it traveled from publisher to publisher, who at first said "Love it!" and then said, "Too scared!" Academia is publish perish. I find only part time work.

When I am told I have cancer, I am also told I cannot get surgery because I have no health insurance. I live in Section eight housing in a slum. My students are largely, like me, minority and poor.

And I need Prof. Pearson, an English Professor, to lecture me on oppression?

Uh … no.

How Professors Rovira and Pearson responded to me is how all too many professors respond to their students. Elitist contempt disguised in liberalism.

***

Prof. Pearson wrote that African American writing is less mature, less advanced; their works "aren't as polished from a literary style."

If I were black, I would be insulted by Prof. Pearson's post. African Americans do not need a liberal English professor to rescue them or their writing. There is excellent African American writing. It can be judged by the same standards used to judge white-as-typewriter paper American writing.

If an English professor said to me, "Hey, we are going to include some Polak writing on our syllabus, and we know y'all are not as mature, not as advanced, not as polished as our writing is, but we're gonna include your stuff in order to be multiculti and diverse," I would punch that son of a gun in the face. One shot. Right in the jaw. BAM!

Shelby Steele, in his excellent book "White Guilt," talks about the subtle racism and condescension inherent in the approach described above. He calls ethnic literature courses "humiliating stuff. A shuffle and a bow for a tossed coin" "easy dissociation for whites and crumbs for blacks" "a deal made of what is low and cowardly in both races"

"My belief was that minority writers should be included in our mainstream classes by merit." "They would be respected for their talent rather than endured for their color. They would be read by all our students on a regular basis. An ethnic literature class would only create a literary ghetto of mediocre writers, an Affirmative Action class where even great writers would be diminished…Universities could no longer afford to devote themselves singularly to excellence. Excellence and merit became 'oppressive' terms within the academy."

There's another problem with the kind of "inclusion" practiced by English professors.

Only some "people of color" need apply.

Marxist "people of color" are welcome.

Non-whites who are not ideologically pure are not welcome.

I know liberal, inclusive English professors who would not teach work by Jamaica Kincaid, V.S. Naipaul, or Salman Rushdie, because these authors' work is deemed not ideologically pure enough. Shelby Steele and John McWhorter would never appear on their syllabi. African American Thomas Sowell, a scholar I cite in my work on Poles, is anathema to them. There is no chance, zero, none, that they would ever include a Deneen Borelli.

***

None of this is news. What shocked me about this group was that they identify as Christian.


6 comments:

  1. I am constantly amazed by the "educational elite" of our society. The amount of arrogance and ignorance wrapped up in one body at times seems to knows no boundaries.

    Because of my present passions, I often come into contact with people with advanced degrees. Some are very kind and generous, others not so much. Many have a tendency to judge a person based only on their formal education level, not on the content that they provide. I may not be well educated, I may not even be the sharpest tool in the shed. However, this I say to you, I have lessons to teach. I have a voice to be heard. I will not be marginalized because you have fallen into the pseudo intellectual trap that in reality is a Marxist doctrine and you were just plain too stupid to see it.

    I may be uneducated, but at least I wasn't dumb enough to fall for that one.

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    1. Scott you have natural wisdom, and that shows

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  2. This is another beautifully crafted, erudite, passionate, and unflinching post from an amazing human being. Aside from setting forth much of what's wrong with current academia, it provides a wonderful summary of what teaching is -- or should be -- all about.

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    1. Karen, I am deeply touched by your positive feedback. Thank you.

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  3. Thank you Danusha. Thank you for your witness to the truth, your honest, straightforward testimony. What you describe reminds me so much of Josef Pieper's book, "Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power". He calls such specious arguments as were used against you 'speech without a partner, since there is no true other ... such (communication), in contradiction to the nature of language, intends not to communicate but to manipulate.'

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    1. Booklady, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I will check out the book you mention.

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