U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Stanley Fish, Save the World on Your Own Time

Stanley Fish has a new book out from OUP that draws upon many of his more controversial arguments about the purpose of higher education and the role of the professor that we have discussed on this blog. Here’s the summary from Oxford’s website:

“What should be the role of our institutions of higher education? To promote good moral character? To bring an end to racism, sexism, economic oppression, and other social ills? To foster diversity and democracy and produce responsible citizens? In Save the World On Your Own Time , Stanley Fish argues that, however laudable these goals might be, there is but one proper role for the academe in society: to advance bodies of knowledge and to equip students for doing the same. When teachers offer themselves as moralists, political activists, or agents of social change rather than as credentialed experts in a particular subject and the methods used to analyze it, they abdicate their true purpose. And yet professors now routinely bring their political views into the classroom and seek to influence the political views of their students. Those who do this will often invoke academic freedom, but Fish argues that academic freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to do the academic job, not the freedom to do any job that comes into the professor’s mind. He insists that a professor’s only obligation is “to present the material in the syllabus and introduce students to state-of-the-art methods of analysis. Not to practice politics, but to study it; not to proselytize for or against religious doctrines, but to describe them; not to affirm or condemn Intelligent Design, but to explain what it is and analyze its appeal.” Given that hot-button issues such as Holocaust denial, free speech, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are regularly debated in classrooms across the nation, Save the World On Your Own Time is certain to spark fresh debate-and to incense both liberals and conservatives-about the true purpose of higher education in America.”

There is also a review of the book, along with another more conservative one that makes a plug for the Great Books from a Bloomian ideological perspective, in the New York Times. -DS

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. The other book is Real Education by Charles Murray, of Bell Curve and Losing Ground fame. “Bloomian” might describe his latest book in general terms: Murray apparently argues that college should focus on teaching the most intelligent 20% of the population the great books to train them to lead the less intelligent 80% who shouldn’t go to college at all.

    But unlike Bloom, Murray isn’t a Straussian. He’s a libertarian conservative, whose otherwise fairly conventional right-wing views are leavened by a dose of “scientific” racism. The great threat for Bloom is the triumph of Heideggerian philosophy; Murray is more worried about our focusing our resources on the (for lack of a better term) unfit.

    And Bloom, for his part, always insisted that he was a liberal, though I don’t think anyone (other than a few fellow Straussians) ever agreed with this claim.

  2. Ben,
    Thanks for pointing out what was probably an unfair (to Harold Bloom) appellation of the label “Bloomian.” I was focused on Murray’s promotion of the Great Books and elitist conservatism, which fairly or not I tend to associate with Bloom after having read The Closing of the American Mind about ten years ago. -DS

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