BEYOND THE CULTURE WARS by Gerald Graff

BEYOND THE CULTURE WARS

How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Avoiding the explicit taking of sides in the academic war between ``radicals'' and ``conservatives,'' Graff (Humanities and English/Univ. of Chicago; Professing Literature, 1989, etc.--not reviewed) argues that everything in higher education will be fine- -in fact better than ever--if the great battle itself becomes what college students study. The trouble for college students today seems to be that their teachers so often contradict each other--one saying, for example, that Western culture is the world's highest ideal, another that it's racist, sexist, and oppressive. What's a student to do? Graff suggests tearing down the classroom wall between the teachers- -having them teach together in ``theme'' courses--so that students can watch the two argue face to face, thereby learning much not only about the nature of the debate but about approaches to knowledge. Never allowing that students might make conclusions for themselves even with the classroom wall in place, Graff argues tirelessly for the merits of its removal. The ``wars'' now going on, he declares, are a sign not of moral collapse but of a valuable social energy and commitment among humanities scholars no longer content just to be dull antiquarians; fights may arise between them and their old-fashioned colleagues, but conflict causes paralysis ``only as long as we fail to take positive advantage of it.'' Well, maybe, but the how is the trouble. Putting faculty together into cozily ``thematized'' classrooms won't convince everybody that a lot of new learning will occur, and even Graff, as if admitting the unspeakable truth that quality of teaching depends on quality of teacher, devastatingly admits that ``a dull, pedantic faculty teaching in concert will produce no more inspiring result than a dull, pedantic faculty teaching separately.'' Earnest in intent, but in logic wandering confusedly in the torn battlefields of academe.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1992
ISBN: 0-393-03424-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1992