How can we expect to get any politician other than Bush or Cheney or Bloomburg or Spitzer, or Clinton, or Wiener, or Obama, or any other contemporary politico, when we have so little respect, so flaccid a reverence for the language we speak, so little love and passion for speaking and for writing, even less for the literary. To read or not to read is no longer an existential question. With literacy as degraded as it has become, this inquiry could no longer be relevant to the question of freedom, only the loss of it. Literacy is the soul of civilization; this has been true for millennia; it is true today in spite of how we have lost faith. Civilization is now populated in the majority with malcontents who are unable to critique what they so fervently resent.
You cannot tell me that what passes for education in our Public Schools, or what is maintained as the educational standards in many of the institutions of higher learning, especially in the community colleges, has anything to do with the traditions of universita, just as it has only to do with the most topical and relevant in education, a pedagogy that panders to the new student as patron, student as customer, university as store. Yes, Harvard has more in common today with Macy’s than it does with what it was itself fifty years ago. How many students in New York City alone graduate reading below grade level without a trade to use to help support a family. Everyone must be pseudo bourgeois/white-collar at a degraded level; bees in a beehive. And we used to call the Soviet Union the beehive state. What have we come to?
We cannot believe that the loss of liberty or the erosion of civil rights has not one thing to do with waning literacy, the inability to express ourselves in the written word. What can we read? I taught “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in a class in CUNY to the dismay of every black kid in the class that he or she was expected to read something irrelevant to his or her life. And we have lost our power to write effectively in defense of our freedom, one of the reasons the state has the ability to persist in curtailing our civil rights, skirting the areas where human rights are jeopardized. How is it we have come to think we could repeal Roe versus Wade?
To examine what passes for concern or for thinking on the internet, on Twitter or Facebook, can only make the sensitive intellectual cringe; and in America ‘intellectual’ is an ugly word. Even fifty years ago, ‘intellectual’ was a dirty word. There probably has been no culture, no governing force in the history of civilization as hostile to the idea of advanced literacy as our contemporary bourgeois capitalist America; multi-cultural and politically correct as the hegemony has become. The difference today from earlier periods in our history remains in how those whose job it should be to defend intellectualism cannot write well enough to defend it, don’t even have faith enough in the power of literacy to think they need to defend it. We don’t read enough of what we need to read to be able to defend our four freedoms best–and that has more to do with an enculturation that does not see literacy (in the traditional sense) as necessary, not that they can’t and wish they could. The new New Left is as much responsible for an assault against the four freedoms as the right. Anti-intellectualism in America is not only from the popular culture, but from the educated elite.
Of course now the University of learning is the Diversity of appearing to have learned, which in fact is only another form of subdividing the marketplace to increase profits; the profit here for the colleges is enrollment; for the state, an increase of, or a perpetuation of, enough under qualified persons to fill the welfare roles, if not just enough semi-qulified to fit the perfunctory office menialist who will partly administer the state bureaucracy, which will only grow and demand that morons become managers. Pedagogies of failure in our teaching of reading and writing ensure that both of these are either perpetual or maximized; it will insure we have enough people who will prefer bread and circuses to advanced literacy and freedom. I had one run-in after another from Ph.D.s in community colleges in the City of New York, whereby a solution for the degraded literacy that comes out of our high schools, and in the remedial classes in reading and writing at the freshman level in college, was to put students, who had no idea what reading was or writing could be, in groups to read together and discern meaning among each other. My role was to be in the background and to mediate what they were to determine was going to be the driving force of the class. The fact that they had no clue what clues to look for was of no concern; the fact that they were never taught to read or write on grade in high school; the fact that there was no infrastructure for meaning to accrete around was a point uncontested because it was unrecognized as a psycho-linguist rebuttal for what was presented as sound pedagogy. Let’s let students decide what they want to learn, itself a mockery of the democracy it supported by inference.
We are now required to make colleges palatable to the tastes of our students. Again, the student is now a patron of the college, making the college a business first and last, concerned primarily for its profit. The institution must be topical, must be tasteful in the way the students deem. All of this is an attempt at further democratizing the university experience, all deference is on the part of the authority for the students. In fact, there is no authority. In the vein of a government governs best that governs least, an authority authorizes best that authorizes least. The latter is what we have. Authority, in its efforts to avoid becoming what we conceive of as authoritarian, has abdicated its authority and all responsibility to authorizing. The result is intellectual and cultural chaos, not harmony in culture. And harmony in culture does not have to be unity; harmony can handle and maintain dexterity within diversity. That’s the irony. There is no tangible diversity, only the package of it presented with an assumed authentic rainbow-colored bow. The product can be false and faulty in the way of a valent diversity. As long as multicultural identity meets the received notions on diverse identity, then it is okay; so long as it becomes American Bourgeois Capitalist, as long as it submits to the dogmas of the current academic elite, then multiculturalism is acceptable. Any deviation is shunned; it is currently as necessarily multi-colored as it was once white; it is sometimes as female as it once was all male. The coin continues to flip.