Fall 2014 Academic Questions Highlights Western Culture and Tradition

National Association of Scholars

The fall 2014 issue of Academic Questions does not have a special section, but instead offers special features that illuminate and affirm the foundations of our culture and tradition. John M. Gist, professor of itinerant literature, philosophy, and creative writing, recounts his journey as a nomadic college professor in “Tracking Tenure by U-Haul.” This is the first time that Academic Questions has published a lengthy career retrospective, and many parts of the story will resonate with readers who have encountered Nietzsche in academia.

NAS members will receive printed copies of this issue in the mail. (NAS members, click here for instructions on how to get full online access to all AQ articles.)

The featured articles from the fall 2014 AQ are listed below.

This issue also includes poetry and book reviews not listed here, as well as "Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest" by Peter Wood. Two of this issue’s articles (Duke Pesta’s “Acknowledging Things of Darkness: Postcolonial Criticism of The Tempest” and Bruce S. Thornton’s “Small Latin, and Less Greek”) are available for free through www.nas.org.

The Issue at a Glance

Tracking Tenure by U-Haul 

John M. Gist, Western New Mexico University

John M. Gist has spent most of his academic career on the move, “escaping,” as he describes it, “from tenure”—haunted by an “unsupervised” reading of Nietzsche that caused him to drop out of high school and later enroll in college “to plumb the depths of German philosophy.” Gist reflects on his academic journey from the vantage point of having made peace with himself and his role as tenured professor.

Acknowledging Things of Darkness: Postcolonial Criticism of The Tempest 

Duke Pesta, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

Postcolonial criticism has become a dominant voice in literary studies over the past forty years, and few works have been as “assigned, deconstructed, interdisciplinized, revisioned, trivialized, and ventriloquized” as Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which, together with the character Caliban, have become “the most recognizable, and least complicated examples” of Western colonialism. But is The Tempest about colonialism? Duke Pesta uses the longstanding method of close reading and accurate historical review to dismantle anti-Western postcolonial analyses of the play.

The “Eastern” Origins of Western Civilization? 

Toby Huff, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Building on a Fall 2009 Academic Questions essay, “What the West Doesn’t Owe Islam,” Toby Huff offers further evidence that scholarly claims that the West’s rise “started in the eighteenth century, and though powered by a variety of scientific and technological breakthroughs, was either a lucky outcome of random historical forces, or the result of borrowings from the ‘East,’” are based on historical fallacies. These scholars, Huff argues, concentrate on “economic factors” and ignore “the unique Western origins of modern science” and the “legal and institutional foundations” that fostered Western civilization’s ascendance.

Rationalism and Teaching the Constitution 

Elizabeth Corey, Baylor University

How should the American constitutional tradition be taught to college students? In examining the possible approaches, Elizabeth Corey acknowledges the ambiguities and recommends “a moderate course between excessive reverence for the words on the page and complete disregard for their historical context in the name of evolving values.”

Monologues of Learning 

Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Virginia Commonwealth University

Can Massive Open Online Courses—MOOCs—transform higher education? AQ presents short pro and con takes in “Massive Possibilities? A Forum on MOOCs.” In the first entry, Mohamed Gad-el-Hak acknowledges: “Technology made the MOOC, but the prohibitive cost and extreme selectivity of top universities are what fostered its flourishing.” Nonetheless, people “are social beings and learning is a social process.” And while “the Internet has changed our world, for the better for the most part,” Gad-el-Hak believes teachers cannot and “should not be replaced by machines.”

MOOCs on the March 

Herbert I. London, London Center for Policy Research, Manhattan Institute

Herbert I. London agrees with Mohamed-el-Gak to some extent, but points out that MOOCs “are a corrective for a system that has ossified behind a shield of social exchange.” While admitting that the MOOC option is not universally viable, London argues that “MOOCs are gaining traction precisely because the deficiencies in the present higher education system are so apparent and the cost for courses exceeds the value they produce.”

MOOC Fizzles 

Rachelle DeJong Peterson, National Association of Scholars

Rachelle DeJong Peterson doesn’t argue higher education’s problems as Herbert London presents them, but avers that MOOCs “neither replicate nor rival traditional undergraduate education,” nor “pressure higher education to reform its profligate ways.” What MOOCs do provide is a “technical audio textbook that disseminates information to a widespread audience.” Peterson documents some scholarship and statistics on institutional and student participation in MOOC education.

A Middle Path 

Thomas K. Lindsay, Center for Higher Education, Texas Public Policy Foundation

Where does the MOOCs movement leave us? Thomas K. Lindsay believes that “the online-learning-as-panacea-or-pariah dichotomy…misses the possibilities” and “limitations of the online learning movement,” because both camps “claim to know more than they probably can at this point.” There may be a middle path: “American higher education today has become so bankrupt” that despite its limitations online education “may come to provide a better opportunity under our present constraints to found separate islands of learning, where seeds may be planted from which liberal education might again flourish.”

Image: "Piazza Navona" by Lorenzoclick // CC BY-SA

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