Wither Goeth that Ivory Tower?

Posted By on October 2, 2011

The Ivory Tower.


From time to time, probably on a predictable cycle like Cicada hatches, we educators go through a paroxysm of doubt over whether we’re doing our job very well and if not, why not.  Naturally being one of these same unfortunates I haven’t a clue as to the answer. But it has occurred to me if we aren’t doing very well — well, in that case,  I think I may have just put my finger on one possible reason. Its probably the least probable reason, but I’d like it to be counted anyway.

It’s this:  Since when does a supposedly respected academician get away with saying, in a public conversation about an intellectual topic of general interest, to another person in the discussion:  “we are done now” as a way to get out of a jam created by the irrationality of his own position?

Isn’t that what “I see your point” or “I’d never thought of it that way” are for?

This is sort of thing Presidents have to do at press conferences.  

But when have you ever heard a self-respecting academician, supposedly dedicated to a life of the mind, with all of the uncertainties that implies for anyone who takes the idea seriously,  say something like that? Maybe I live a sheltered existence, coming from the Pacific Northwest coast and all, but something seems just a little off to me here.

I’m especially bothered that this outburst apparently  occurred in the midst of a discussion in which James Shapiro  was trying to categorically deny the value of circumstantial evidence,  in a manner that can hardly, based on my understanding of what was said,  have convinced very many people of the intellectual soundness of his own position.

On that score, at least, Mark Anderson is so much more persuasive that it is hard to see why he  is not the one teaching at Columbia. He certainly understands the canons of legitimate discussion better than Shapiro does and is willing to defend his own position against all comers and in any context except, perhaps, the toxic environment created by Shapiro’s own ideological obsession with seeing anyone who doesn’t agree with him as some form of sub-human.

The good Professor from Columbia’s  entire posture seems to be based on telling us as many times as needed that something he doesn’t really believe himself absolutely must be true –and that if you doubt it, you must be some kind of under-qualified mental moron or monster.

How does he know, you ask?

Simple. Its so true he doesn’t have to debate it.

I could be wrong myself, but I can’t help but let my  imagination run away with the idea that this line of reasoning could actually have something to do with how wrong our educational system can be. Education begins with honesty of some kind. That seems elusive when these are our role models.

About the author

Roger Stritmatter is a native liberal humorist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Contrary to rumor, he does not live on North Avenue. He does, however, work on North Avenue. A pacifist by inclination, one of his heroes is John Brown. But he thinks that Fredrick Douglass, another of his heroes, made the right decision. Stritmatter's primary areas of interest include the nature of paradigm shifts, the history of ideas, forensic literary studies, MS studies, renaissance literature, and the history of the Shakespearean question, the latter a field in which he has published extensively.


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