Don’t send your children to college, Mrs. Worthington, don’t send your children to college.
I recently stumbled across some articles about a professor at American University in Washington, DC named Asao Inoue. His official title is Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences and Director of University Writing. According to his own writing and a podcast interview I listened to, he identifies as a person of color, though in one of his “books” (I would have called it an academic monograph) he describes himself alternately as either Japanese-American or Asian-American. He claims to have come from an extremely impoverished working-class background and to have been subjected to unrelenting racism from white neighbors as a child because he was mistaken for Mexican-American, “a beaner,” (his words).
Professor Inoue has received some attention lately for advocating the promotion of social justice and “anti-racism” in creative writing classrooms by no longer grading compositions based on quality, but rather on the labor involved on the part of the student. Professor Inoue believes traditional writing standards are “subconsciously racist.” He uses the phrase “white language supremacy,” to describe the subconscious racism of traditional university classroom instruction:
“We all come from and work in hegemonic systems with particular biases and that means if you are a teacher today, that means you came out of a white supremacy system [therefore] you have those biases…[snip]…any denial of racism in our writing assessment is a white illusion that upholds a white hegemonic set of power relations that is the status quo…”
He goes on to state this is not the result of bad individuals (meaning individual teachers and professors) but rather bad systems.
Professor Inoue apparently currently grades his students on a negotiated system (meaning negotiated by him and the individual student) that designates one third of the grade to the student’s “labor” (it appears he means effort), which is in turn predicated on a mutually agreed upon “labor-based contract” between the student and himself, a contract that may be changed by the student if he (the student) comes to feel the contract places onerous demands on him, demands such as having his assignment done on time.
Another third of the grade is determined by something Professor Inoue calls “classroom ecology.” Apparently, as I understand it, a class taught on Monday morning will differ in its effects and unconscious biases from the identical lecture taught on Tuesday afternoon. Who knew?
The final third of the grade is predicated on the “disposition of the teacher, what’s in his life when he reads the paper. Is he well-rested, is he well-fed?”
Professor Inoue would prefer, however, dispensing with grading altogether.
While Professor Inoue may be steeped to the gills in good intentions (not to mention his own unconscious biases) it would be very easy to ridicule him and his social justice crusade, but I have some very real objections to what he is advocating.
First, it costs over $50,000 a year to send a kid to American University. For that, I expect my child to be taught to a standard, and a goddamned high standard at that, not to be pumped full of progressive social justice concepts. I expect my child to receive something more and better for my money.
Don’t send your children to college, Mrs. Worthington.
My second objection is that there is a basic law that applies to all artistic endeavors, from to writing to painting to musical composition, and that is that first you must master the fundamentals before you can ignore them. For example, if you wish to be acclaimed as the next great artist, you first need to be able to master basic drafting and be able to draw an egg before you can throw those fundamentals out the window. It’s why one used to see young artists tediously copying the Old Masters in museums all over the world; if you can’t copy Rembrandt’s techniques, you will certainly never surpass them. And if you can’t write a coherent sentence based upon society’s mutually agreed upon rules intended to aid communication and coherence and comprehension, you’ll never have much of an audience. Try reading Finnegan’s Wake; write me when you get through the thing. And that was written by a genuine genius who had mastered all the rules.
Don’t send your children to college, Mrs. Worthington.
And finally, I would like to point out that nothing I have done well in my entire life, be it acting, writing, different competitive athletic activities, or anything else, has not been done far better by a multitude of minorities. In other words, if I were a black person (I am specifically referring to blacks because in his monograph, Professor Inoue cites a study showing black students having lower verbal and writing skills than white students) contemplating racking up a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of debt attending American University, I would be deeply offended by the tacit assumption that I need a lowered bar because I’m just not smart enough to compete with all those privileged white students. I do wonder what James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, J.C. Watts, Maya Angelou, Colin Powell, Lorraine Hansberry, Charles Payne, Zora Neale Hurston, Benjamin Carson, Richard Wright, August Wilson, Denzel Washington, Alex Haley, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, James Earl Jones, and so many others would have made of that. I do believe they all mastered the English language tolerably well.
Don’t send your children to college, Mrs. Worthington, don’t send your children to college. Save your money instead. Hell, blow it all on that dream vacation you’ve always wanted, or redecorating the house; you’ll get more bang for your buck.