- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

Academic ‘veneer’

“To be sure, the overwhelming majority of all American colleges adopt a general distribution requirement. Usually this means that students must take a course or two of their choosing in the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, with perhaps a dollop of fine arts thrown in for good measure. … But this veneer of structure provides students only the most superficial guidance. …

“Take two political science majors at almost any elite college or university: It is quite possible for them to graduate without ever having read the same book or studied the same materials. One student may meet his general distribution requirements by taking classes in geophysics and physiological psychology, the sociology of the urban poor and introduction to economics, and the American novel and Japanese history while concentrating on international relations inside political science and writing a thesis on the dilemmas of transnational governance. Another political science major may fulfill the university distribution requirements by studying biology and astronomy, the sociology of the American West and abnormal psychology, the feminist novel and history of American film while concentrating in comparative politics and writing a thesis on the challenge of integrating autonomous peoples in Canada and Australia. Both students will have learned much of interest but little in common.”

Peter Berkowitz, writing on “Liberal Education, Then and Now,” in the December/January issue of Policy Review

‘Not deaf enough’

“The recent demonstrations at Gallaudet University did more to launch deafness and deaf culture onto the national scene than any event since the release of the 1986 film ‘Children of a Lesser God.’ Media reports of hour-by-hour dramas unfolding on the campus, culminating in a shutdown of the university, evoked in many people’s minds the student revolution of the 60s. But in the hearing world … observers expressed confusion about what the issues really were and why there was so much turmoil and anger over the mere choosing of an upper-level administrator.

“That administrator, Jane K. Fernandes, selected to be president, was quoted widely as saying that one of the reasons she was such a lightning rod for criticism was that deaf students and faculty members perceived her as ‘not deaf enough.’ …

“What does it mean to be ‘not deaf enough’? In Fernandes’s case, the accusation meant that she was not a native signer of American Sign Language (ASL). … In effect, she would be speaking sign language the way that Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or perhaps Borat speak English.”

Lennard J. Davis, writing on “Deafness and the Riddle of Identity,” in the Jan. 12 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

‘Central theme’

“Shocking the morals of the American public — ‘pushing the envelope’ — is a central theme of contemporary entertainment, although the public has become so desensitized that this is becoming increasingly difficult to do. … Madonna made headlines … for her … kiss with Britney Spears on the MTV Video Music Awards show. …

“Britney Spears’s participation in ‘the Kiss’ was significant because of Spears’s status as a pop icon for very young girls. Her audience reaches down to girls as young as 8. Yet parents who bother to listen to the words in her songs are often startled by their content.”

Dinesh D’Sousa, from his new book, “The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11”

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