By dividing academia into two groups, the so-called defenders of the tradition and their challengers, Searle says he hopes to expose some common core assumptions of each side...by stating navely, the traditionalists' view of higher education and equally navely, the most obvious of the challengers' objections to it. According to the traditionalists, there is a body of works of philosophy, literature, history, and art that goes from the Greeks right up to the present day...[w]e call this the Western intellectual tradition. By dismissing the "encouragement of self-definition" approach to education in favor of what hooks calls the "informationbased" approach, Searle fails to appreciate how this serves to reinforce dominate/submissive roles that have plagued us for centuries.10 Students from minority groups (ethnic, racial, class, and gender) have been told time and time again, implicitly and explicitly, that they are not worthy of education.
Personal Perspective A Reply to John Searle and Other Traditionalists Robert Greenleaf Brice In an article entitled Traditionalists education. The threat comes in many dif- were the very reasons people were denied & Their Challengers,1 John Searle says ferent forms; Searle lists seven: an education. there is “supposed to be a major debate” “Encourag[ing] self-definition by eth- 1. Too much emphasis is placed on sub- in the universities as to whether liberal groups and culture. This comes at the nicity, race, gender, or class,” says Searle, education should be replaced with mul- expense of “standard” interpretations of “has not been part of the theory of what the ticulturalism.2 He finds this debate “puz- history, social/political movements, etc. university was trying to do.”7 But Searle zling,” “disappointing,” even “depressing.” either overlooks or simply ignores the fact 2. There is the threat that if we accept By dividing academia into two groups, the that “encouragement of self-definition” all cultures as equal we shall slip into so-called “defenders of the tradition” and “cultural relativism.” may be necessary in places where simply their “challengers,” Searle says he hopes teaching information is not enough.8 In to “expose some common core assump- 3. The belief that every culture must be Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks re- tions of each side…by stating naïvely, the represented. counts how she “lost her love of school” traditionalists’ view of higher education 4. Education is political. It is an attempt when encouragement of self-definition was and equally naïvely, the most obvious of to make students share the same political removed. the challengers’ objections to it.”3 Despite views as those of the instructor. School changed utterly with racial inte- such claims to offer an even-handed ap- 5. Challengers have no objective standards. gration. Gone was the messianic zeal to proach to the debate, Searle unfairly and (Another threat posed by relativism.) transform our minds and beings that had inaccurately represents challengers’ as- characterized teachers and their peda- sumptions. 6. In the academy, a marriage exists gogical practices in our all-Black schools. between left-wing politics and anti-ra- Knowledge was suddenly about informa- Like other traditionalists, Searle tionalism. tion only. It had no relation to how one believes something will be lost if changes are made to the canon. A “standard” will And finally, lived, behaved. It was no longer connected to anti-racist struggle. Bussed to White be lowered, or worse—eliminated, if we 7. The belief that Western civilization is schools, we soon learned that obedience, make adjustments here. According to the oppressive. and not a zealous will to learn, was what traditionalists, there is a “body of works of was expected of us. Too much eagerness philosophy, literature, history, and art that I’d like to consider many of these as- to learn could easily be seen as a threat goes from the Greeks right up to the present sumptions/threats in some detail and show to white authority…Now, we were mainly day…[w]e call this the Western intellectual where traditionalists like Searle are in taught by White teachers whose lessons tradition.”4 The debate turns on an objection error. reinforced racist stereotypes. For Black to this “tradition”; challengers argue that it children, education was no longer about Subgroup Matters the practice of freedom. Realizing this, I is too restrictive, too exclusive, and not open lost my love of school.9 to new membership. When you look closely 1. The subgroup into which you were at the canon, you immediately notice that born—your ethnic, racial, class, and gen- Searle also overlooks the obvious fact it is comprised of almost nothing but dead, der background—matters enormously; it that “encouragement of self-definition” White, European males. is important for education.6 was never promoted in the universities For all his “best efforts,” 5 Searle because an implicit framework was al- Searle is correct, challengers do presents the challengers’ position in such ready in place. Historically, students who believe the subgroup you were born a weak way that no sane person would attended the academy were predominantly into matters, it may even “matter enor- accept it. While some errors are more White males; their encouragement, if they mously,” but only to the extent that it has egregious than others, Searle’s list of chal- needed any, was simply by being around previously been excluded from discussion lengers’ assumptions expose a misplaced other White males. and consideration. Searle succeeds in dis- belief that he and other traditionalists By dismissing the “encouragement of torting the challengers’ assumption here share: challengers pose a threat to higher self-definition” approach to education in by not fully explaining why it matters. It
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