The Oprahization of Academia

In Feminism and Composition Studies, a volume emblematic of the scholarship that teachers and directors of freshman composition participate in, old assumptions about what students should be taught are replaced. Taking issue with such commonsense notions that writing courses are "firmly grounded in the ‘self' of the writer-student" and "based on the notion of the subject as a rational, coherent individual who, at times, is present to himself," Mas'ud Zavarzadeh and Donald Morton reveal their agenda: "Writing courses ... have become the last bastion of defense of traditional humanism against radical (post)modern critical theory." My former boss at the University of Georgia, the director of the largest freshman composition program in the state, provides her own contribution to this volume in an essay advocating "a pedagogy based on a feminist politics of friendship"; for support, she cites such theories as bell hooks's rejection of "phallic logic."

In the years around and after 1991, when this volume was published, fluid, emotive group experiences, facilitated by the teacher, have become the standard mode. Perhaps, most females, by nature, thrive in such environments. And there is a place for such interaction -- the nursery or kindergarten classroom.

The feminist imperative, not to exclude anyone from the playground, however, applies only to those who play by their -- new -- rules.

Consider this description in The Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Writing of an article in the prestigious journal College English:

Students frequently attack a teacher's feminist perspective as something personal that does not belong in the classroom. ... Feminist teachers should recognize that teaching these students will be a form of persuasion, in which they need to adopt an authoritative but not authoritarian position in setting the course's ethical agenda. ... In seeking to persuade students to feminism, teachers should aim to provoke not only resistance to sexism but also identification ... with feminism's egalitarian vision of the social order.

What about those who resist "feminism's egalitarian vision of the social order"? Our rapidly dwindling number of male college students, especially in the humanities, may evidence that this new feminine "social order" is smothering to them. At departmental meetings as a temporary assistant professor at one of the low-rung state universities in Georgia, I felt smothered by the preponderance of women, all feminist, in attendance. The fact that I was served cookies by the department head did not ease the pain of watching an older gentlemanly "man of letters," a Shakespeare scholar, steamrollered over with the ideas of these women as they assertively proposed and incorporated such nonsense as the study of ladies' undergarments and rap lyrics into the curriculum.

It makes me wonder if women as a group are simply not as suited to the academic or intellectual life. Contrary to the propaganda about the bad old 1950s, women scholars were working alongside men, though not in as large a number. Their scholarship stands head and shoulders above the nonsensical babbling of today's feminist. And they weren't driving men out of the classroom either, as my thesis director, a former student of the late Marjory Nicolson, attests.

One would expect that the saccharine gushing from Oprah as a commencement speech would have raised an objection at least from those who are not in her fan base, the men. Adam Gorlick of Stanford News Service accurately sums up her speech as another rendition of her standard theme of "feelings, failure, and finding happiness" -- and organized in an associative, fluid manner. According to Jack Hubbard, associate director of news services at Stanford, other than one online letter criticizing the speaker's lack of intellectual accomplishments, Oprah was "very well-received." In fact, my call to ask if formal objections had been raised was greeted with a tone of wonder at the possibility of such a question.

Oprah not only gave the pep talk that believing in yourself is even more important than formal education, but left graduates two gifts on their seats, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth and Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. A whole new mind, indeed. These books are the popular version of the new philosophy reigning in the academy. Only a couple of my fifteen students last semester recognized the reference to "judge not that we be not judged" in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: "It's somewhere in the Bible, isn't it?" they asked.

Need we say more to demonstrate how far our educational system has deteriorated in the hands of women and weak men?