“How Not to Defend the Liberal Arts”

Over at The American Conservative, Samuel Goldman has a sharp response to the National Association of Scholars’ Bowdoin report:

The authors’ tin ear for readers’ sensibilities is in evidence throughout the report. In particular, the report shows no sympathy for students who doubt, with some justification, that old Bowdoin had room for them. Acknowledging such doubts does not mean agreeing that cheerleading for “difference” is the best remedy. Rather, it should be the starting point for the argument that traditional liberal arts education has something to offer all serious students.
A small, but telling example of this failure is the report’s self-description as an “an ethnography of an academic culture, its worldview, customs, and values.” It’s actually nothing of the kind. The report is based on considerable research in public documents and some interviews with students. But it includes none of the direct observation or explicit reflection on the way that observation can influence outcomes that characterizes academic ethnography. There is no more effective way to tick off professors than to misuse a technical concept. That’s especially true when that concept is supposed to describe the study’s relationship to the faculty itself.
More importantly, the report tends to conflate interest in traditional subjects and teaching styles with political conservatism. It also associates conservatism with support for the Republican party. That’s precisely the opposite of the argument that defenders of a traditional curriculum ought to make.
Read the whole thing here.  

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