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Dec 4, 2004 3:16 pm

Today's Reading ...

Today's reading assignment is Tim Burke's"Once More With Feeling" at Easily Distracted. There, he responds to recent calls for greater intellectual diversity in academic communities, including those here at Cliopatria by KC Johnson and elsewhere by Mark Bauerlein (subscription required), Jeff Jacoby, and George Will. At Crooked Timber, John Holbo invites your choral responses to Tim's orchestration; at Cliopatria, solos are welcome. My colleague, Jonathan Dresner, has posted his response here.

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Jonathan Rees - 12/4/2004

I read Tim Burke when he posts here, and over at his blog whenever Ralph gives me a reading assignment. He has a really nice way of shifting paradigms in the middle of an argument so that you think about it differently. That's clearly what he's done in the post referenced above, but I'm afraid this time it doesn't really address the question.

Since the argument is about the lack of diversity in academia, not the history profession, adding an interdisciplinary dimension to every professor's thinking won't change anything. There will simply be a lot liberals from a lot of disciplines talking to each other.

That said, I don't think a lot of liberals in any discipline is necessarily a problem. A good teacher will try to get beyond their own particular ideological bias and think in this novel Burkean (is that word taken?) whenever they are in the classroom because taht's what good teachers do; they challenge their students to think differently. Indeed there's nothing I hate more than a student who simply tries to tell me what they think I want to hear.

Really, it's kind of insulting to suggest that liberals can't teach conservative students or visa versa. Nobody worth their salary is trying to create a bunch of ideological clones, they're trying to get everybody to break out of their little mental boxes and in order to do that they have to be able to critique arguments on the basis of their effectiveness, not on whether they toe a particular ideological line. The same thing goes with their own work. If professors can't anticipate criticisms of what they write, they won't be published.

Ironically, there's just a taste of postmodern identity politics in Tim's piece and the whole conservative critique. "We are liberals therefore we can't escape our own skin and see things differently" or "We are historians and we can't think like sociologists or political scientists do." Nobody should make the same mistake that so many English professors do, taking interesting insights about identity and turning them into straightjackets.