Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Winding Things Up

I met with an advisee this afternoon, one who just hadn't managed to get in to see me during the semester. But we managed to set up a time and things went mostly well, except that I put my foot in my mouth, sort of. There are times when I just know I'm an idiot about things, and today was one of those times. (Or not. It's hard to tell, sometimes.)

As long as I was at the office, I went through my advisees' grade reports. A couple did outstandingly well, most did pretty okay, and a couple had rough semesters, apparently. I'll follow up with some emails.

One of my students stopped by, and we had a nice chat. He'd had the beginning of a really rough time in another class, but the prof talked to him, suggested the counseling center, and apparently, he followed through, got help, and did pretty well. Nice when things work out that way, when someone who needs help gets pointed in the right direction and then gets the help s/he needs. Too often, it seems that there's either a lag in getting the student pointed in the right direction or in the follow through.


I finished Berube's book. I found the final section more satisfying than the rest.

There's a conflict (well, many conflicts) among the left, a sort of more leftist than thou competition that some folks get into. One of my colleagues disdains Berube because he's too "liberal" and not far enough left.

I'm pretty far left, but I don't have a lot of admiration for people who think that violence is a good way to accomplish political work (either for the left or the right). I don't like the way some folks romanticize Guevara, for example (though I'm willing to joke about things enough to buy a leftist friend's new baby a Che onesie, so I'm warped).

Let's face it, I grew up pretty much petty bourgeoisie. My father's family had a small business for several generations, employing a small group of working men in physical labor (reasonably paid, thanks to the strong unions in the area). So if we're talking about a violent overthrow of the merchant class, my family would be right in line of the firing squad. (The ultra-rich, of course, would escape.) Knowing that has long tempered my revolutionary leanings.

At the same time, I've seen real poverty, and sympathize with folks who are absolutely desperate. I think the basic economic principle that resources are limited means that those of us who are relatively wealthy (and I'm one, compared to the folks I knew in the Peace Corps, and indeed, compared to some folks right here in the Northwoods) are going to have to work through better redistribution. I don't have illusions that the whole world can live economically like middle class US people.

Which brings me to my reaction to Berube's book. I think his biggest strength in the book comes through his willingness to embrace real disagreement, and to think hard about what it takes to deal with incompatible positions. He seems to be able to get students (and me) to think hard about the ways we deal with incompatible positions, with deep disagreements, and I deeply respect that. Berube seems very much on the mark when he argues that liberal education really is about engaging other people and their arguments on a respectful, rigorous level.

He seems able to understand that violence from the right (or left) may need to be met with violence, but to see a violent response as a later resort rather than a first resort.


Next up: Shakespeare Without Fear by Mary Janell Metzger.


  1. Anonymous3:40 PM

    Hi Bardiac,

    I don't know where I stand politically anymore... I just know I'm always right. :)

    (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.)

    I read through many of your posts for the first time today and I really enjoyed your writing. I was
    especially touched by the one entitled, "May's Sad Thoughts." I recently had to bury a favorite cat because she was poisened by the tainted cat food that's been in the news lately. She was such a
    sweetheart and didn't deserve to die that way. I will miss her for a long time... so I can totally
    appreciate how you felt about losing your dog.

    I'm going to add you to my blogroll. I hope you don't mind the heading I'm putting you under. I will probably move it later to a section dedicated just to fellow writers.

    - Dean

  2. One of my colleagues disdains Berube because he's too "liberal" and not far enough left.

    Yeah, it's funny -- I get a lot of that these days. I think it's that the word "liberal" is such a red flag in some quarters of the left; even though I'm actually a democratic socialist when it comes to economics and just short of Chalmers Johnson on foreign policy, I'm somehow not "left" enough for some of my colleagues. Maybe they're trying to revive the Third International, in which mere socialists were as much of an enemy as fascists?

    Thanks so much for reading (and blogging about!) my book, though. I truly appreciate it.

  3. Reading Berube's book over last winter's break transformed my teaching this spring semester (my second as a TT). I teach in a fundamentally fundamentalist part of the country and have tended to shy away from political discussions, or, worse, overcompensated for my political leanings by letting the conservative voice speak louder and more often. This last semester, armed with the tool of "the rhetorical is the political," I made it a point to investigate the construction of that voice.
    Even as I teach creative writing (or, perhaps after the Virginia Tech shooting, especially), knowing how to shift the conversation from the topical to the structural has been an empowering experience. Thanks to the book, I decided it was more important to embrace my political position than to teach the rest of my life afraid of getting fired. Being reminded that a liberal arts education is supposed to be liberal (though, conceivably, not leftist) emboldened me.
    I did wonder while reading about Berube's resistance to the idea of "situational" ethics. I agree with Stanley Fish's argument post 9-11 that liberals aren't moral relativists, they're invested in understanding how morals are constructed and viewed. By putting oneself in someone else's shoes to understand where they're coming from seems integral to the liberal (or leftist?) perspective. But perhaps I missed something in Berube's definition of "situation."
    Thanks for reminding me how much I liked the book.