Stanley Fish – Think Again – A Closing Argument for Now – Opinion – TimesSelect
(note: you may need a subscription for this one)
Fish has achieved notariety within my field of Mass Communication Law for an article titled “There’s no such thing as the First Amendment, and it’s a good thing too.” Much like the above linked post, he argues that politics is tied up in nearly every aspect of life. He argues that the First Amendment is a “political prize” which might get applied differently, depending on who is in power, and because of this fact there is no point in looking for any unifying or underlying principles.
However, Fish makes a surprising clarification here by stating that everything can’t be scrutinized as political. He states that this argument:
…should alert us to the fact that by stretching the notion of the political to include everything, we have fudged distinctions that will return in force the moment some simple questions are posed. Is the political act (if you want to think of it that way) of teaching one author rather than another really the same as the political act of campaigning for one candidate rather than another?
In the context of college education, Fish argues in a previous post that instructors should simply “do their job.” This is simply two things:
1) to introduce students to materials they didnâ€™t know a whole lot about, and 2) to equip them with the skills that will enable them, first, to analyze and evaluate those materials and, second, to perform independent research, should they choose to do so, after the semester is over.
In many ways, I think he’s right. Exposure to new and diverse materials as well as learning critical skills are a large part of the college experience. However, the one thing missing from this picture (which perhaps appears between the lines) is stimulating intellectual and moral development (a la Piaget and Kohlberg). Helping students to critically evaluate materials and to both understand and appreciate different points of view is what college is (academically) all about.
Fish concludes that searching for truth in teaching must be academic truth, rather than truth generally. If I’m reading him correctly, I believe that he is saying that we need to teach the “truths” that I referred to above–research methods and critical skills. The problem with moving away from “academizing” political issues is that it becomes difficult to moderate discussions of controversial issues. While we can’t erase politics (especially in issues of media policy), we can do our best to give all sides a fair explanation to equip students with the tools they need to make up their own minds.