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A Manufactured Controversy about Master’s Degrees

Despite the off-putting title of this Chronicle article by Leonard Cassuto (i.e. “The Degree for Quitters and Failures: A look at the melancholy history of the master’s degree”), I really wanted to be engaged by it. Instead, I found myself questioning and arguing with it almost immediately. By the end I found it nearly useless—except as a potential provocation for better future analyses by frustrated readers like me. My disagreements began here: Read more…

The Privatization of Controversy

I enjoyed this piece by my friend and colleague, Andrew Hartman. I disagree, however, with the thesis that is mostly represented in the title, “How Austerity Killed the Humanities.”

To me, it’s not so much austerity or conservatives that have been trying kill the humanities, but rather privatization.

The humanities have been reduced to a “subject” or discipline that has been, according to some, corrupted by lefties and radicals in public education institutions (whether higher or K-12). The current conservative and liberal solution is remove the study of “controversial” topics from those institutions. That means privatization. Controversy, in that narrative, is best handled at home (liked sex education).

This is why President Obama, conservatives, and liberals alike are fine with career and career “readiness” as the ruling criteria for their myopic version of “education.” If we can reduce controversy in education, they believe, then we’ll have centered the endeavor on a so-called objective “common” core that can be supported by all.

The mistake is to think that eliminating controversy is good for either democratic or republican philosophies of government. Teaching controversial subjects trains the mind to better navigate controversy later. Subjectivity can’t be eliminated if you believe in the uniqueness of individuals and individualism. Controversy can’t be privatized in a democracy. – TL

Where Are Today’s Fr. Ouellets?

Paul Murray, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, remembers the Catholics that marched in Selma on March 7, 1965. A prominent character in Murray’s narrative is Fr. Maurice Ouellet, pastor of St. Elizabeth’s African-American mission in Selma. Against the wishes of his archbishop, Thomas Toolen, Ouellet helped register voters, as well as support and organize Selma-ins for the march to Montgomery.

Who are today’s Fr. Ouellets? And what are they doing? I don’t know for sure, but here’s my top ten for what they could be doing: Read more…

FYI: Newberry Library Event


Chicago-area Friends: The Newberry Library has invited me to present for its “Meet The Author” series. This open event is next Tues, 1/27, at 6 pm. Come hear a LWEM (Live, White Male of European descent) reflect on the discoveries I made during research and writing, as well as my personal relationship to this topic and plans for future research/writing. You will benefit from the fact that I sort of test-ran the opening of my NL talk during another panel this past weekend. – TL

No, Anti-Intellectualism is Not Suddenly Taking Over the United States

An intervention: I’ve been watching this 2.5 year old piece, from May 2012, recirculate over the past week. I find the article annoyingly alarmist.

First, there’s the scary, over-generalized title. Anti-intellectualism is not suddenly taking over the U.S. Extrapolating national trends from Arizona, of all places, is a hazardous business. That state has been a hotbed of reactionary, odd politics for fifty-plus years since Goldwater.

Second, one should never generalize about anti-intellectualism at large from our political discourse. American politicians and would-be activists are famous for uttering crowd-pleasing, nonsensical, and offensive things.

Third, Americans have been arguing about school curricula, in public settings since, well, public schools were created. Those arguments became more heated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, becoming especially hot in the 1930s and through the 1950s.

Fourth, our public libraries have been targets of would-be censors since public libraries became a wider presence in the early twentieth century.

Fifth and finally (for now), on concerns about higher edu curricula, scholarship, and professorial utterances, well, David Horowitz has been raising the the alarm on those topics since the 1980s. Nothing particularly alarming on higher education anti-intellectualism has occurred over the past five years.

In sum, let’s not get scared about a 2.5 year old article by a Columbia law professor, published in a British periodical, underscoring historical trends that have seen higher heat levels in the last century. Americans have been and should always be aware of our special brand of anti-intellectualism. But I was more worried in 2008 than I am now or was in 2012. – TL

Taking Up The #Historiannchallenge: Interviewing Myself

Here’s the Ann Little post that inspired what follows below.
Tim Lacy: The New York Times Book Review Interview

What books are currently on your night stand?

A number—too many—and literally on the night-stand/bookshelf next to my bed. I’m in the middle an annual reread of Lord of the Rings, but after that I’ll take up Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Christopher Beha’s The Whole Five Feet, and Jacques Maritain’s The Peasant of the Garonne.

What was the last truly great book you read?

I’m reading Balzac’s Cousin Bette. I’m almost done with Kenneth Burke’s much-referenced, Attitudes Toward History. Prior to Balzac I finished Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.

Who are the best historians writing today?

Good question. I read for topics more than prose, and more short pieces than books. That said, I really enjoy the work of Read more…

Great Books and “The Modern Conservative Tradition”

I was recently asked the following question: “Is there a simple way to explain how the Great Books/Classics became part of the modern CONSERVATIVE tradition, both educationally and politically?” My short answer is “No!”—replying to the “simple way” part of the inquiry. But my longer, more considered, and more polite reply follows.

Before answering, I must make two clarifications. First, if we think of the “modern conservative tradition” as existing in the post-World War II time frame, you might divide conservatives’ relationship with the great books idea into three periods—two of which primarily involve affinity, and one which is mixed, or maybe even leans toward skepticism. Of course these three periods are somewhat arbitrarily constructed. Each involves intersections with notions of ‘dignity’, ‘tradition’, ‘individualism’, ‘fear’, ‘the common good’, ‘relativism’, and ‘identity’. Second, for the purposes of this essay and in my other work, I use ‘great books’ as distinct from ‘the classics’. The latter, to me, focuses on ancient Greek and Roman texts, as well as Medieval and some Early Modern works (Descartes even up to Locke). The former includes moderns and recent works—think Emerson and Whitman on up to Freud, Hemingway, and Woolf (though we could push that up to the 1980s, if wanted). Of course conservatives and liberals view these chronological boundaries differently, and use the terms without nuance (e.g. to conservatives Tocqueville is a “classic” author). Anyway, I’ll avoid using “the classics” or “classics” for the most part.

The first period of the “modern conservative tradition,” which existed from the 1940s until the 1960s, involved what historian George Nash called the “paleoconservatives.” Read more…


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