One week from tomorrow I’ll be presenting a paper titled “The Rhetoric of Reactionaries: The Stanford Debates, the Great Books Idea, and the Culture Wars.” This presentation will take place at the 51st annual meeting of the History of Education Society in Chicago. I’ll be on a panel with Andrew Hartman and Christopher Hickman, chaired by Martha Biondi, titled “RETHINKING LEFT AND RIGHT IN THE EDUCATIONAL CULTURE WARS.”
I’ve written the paper. Hopefully it’ll go over well. I’m drawing your attention to it today because there two issues that came up in writing on which I’d like some feedback:
(1) Thanks to Andrew, we’ve discussed a definition of the “Culture Wars” here before (yes, I elect to capitalize the phrase). And there was at least one follow-up post. But, in the interest of being an independent thinker, I’ve decided to use a new one for my paper. Mine was inspired by a recent reading of Daniel Bell’s 1992 Wilson Quarterly essay titled “The Cultural Wars: American Intellectual Life, 1965-1992.” Here’s my definition:
Beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the present, the Culture Wars are the sometimes public fights over the symbolism and meanings attached to cultural, social, political, and economic events by varieties of ‘institutional’ intellectuals—purposely and accidentally separated from each other—and non-intellectuals—the latter often using religion as their bridge back into cultural, social, political, philosophical, and economic terrain.
Thoughts? What have I left out? What’s missing?
(2) In the course of reviewing the literature on the Stanford Debates I learned that there was neither a normalized term for the event—or series of events—nor a short-hand definition of those debates. So here’s what I wrote on both topics:
What were the “Stanford Debates”? The phrase is short-hand for a series of discussions, both at Stanford University and beyond, about the nature, necessity, and required readings of a standardized, first-year course sequence called “Western Culture.” These discussions began in 1986 and culminated in a spring 1988 decision to replace “Western Culture” with something called “Culture, Institutions, and Values,” or CIV, in the fall of 1989. During the spring of 1988 those discussions reached a fever pitch. Secretary of Education William Bennett came to Stanford to debate the changes with President Donald Kennedy. There is no agreed upon name for this series of historical events; I have seen them called the “Stanford Debate” (singular), “Stanford Affair,” and “Stanford Canon Debate.” As I see it, however, those debates were about three things: (1) multiculturalism in education (diversity and/or rigor, or excellence); (2) the failings of curricula anchored in Western civilization or culture; and (3) the types of books used in those curricula (i.e. great, good, representative, etc.).
What do you think? What have I missed or neglected? – TL