Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Majoring In Ideology

Aggrieved Victims Studies have been around for awhile, now we have "sustainability":
And now there is a new fad rampaging across the college landscape—sustainability. For the last ten years, this mania has been gathering momentum because, like identity studies, sustainability pushes the hot buttons for leftist academics: environmentalism, anti-capitalism, salvation through liberal activism, and the chance to hector all those wrong-thinking people. It’s almost irresistible.

How far the sustainability movement has spread into American higher education is the subject of a deeply researched study by the National Association of Scholars, Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism. “In less than a decade,” write authors Peter Wood (president of NAS) and Rachelle Peterson (Research Associate at NAS), “the campus sustainability movement has gone from a minor thread of campus activism to a master narrative of what ‘liberal education’ should seek to accomplish for students and for society as a whole"...

Traditionally, academic disciplines conveyed a body of knowledge to students: chemistry, biology, history, literature, foreign languages, philosophy, economics and so on. But (and again like identity studies), there is no body of knowledge regarding “sustainability.” It’s just a farrago of beliefs, attitudes, and grievances centering around the general notion that most humans aren’t living the right way and unless we make drastic changes, we’re doomed.

Wood and Peterson argue that sustainability is not really an academic discipline; rather, it’s an “ideology that unites environmental activism, anti-capitalism, and a progressive vision of social justice.” Like a religion (hence the reference to fundamentalism), sustainability never questions its tenets. It posits them and even has “pledges” for students and school officials to adhere to. And the courses that go into the sustainability curriculum are far more like preaching than teaching.

Consider, for example the “Ethics of Eating” course at Cornell, a school that has gone head over heels for sustainability. Students are required to “either defend your eating habits or change them.” It’s advocacy, not intellectual study. There is nothing wrong in trying to convince people to become vegans, but doing so has no connection with the functions of a higher education institution.

Imagine the outcry if a college sponsored a course where students were expected to defend their religion or change it...

Sustainotopians (as the authors call them) don’t want doubts about their creed seeping in. As the report documents, when students dare to question the beliefs that undergird sustainability, they’re often treated in an uncivil, unscholarly fashion. That’s what happens when true believers take charge of education; a “you’re with us or you’re against us” mindset shoves aside reflective inquiry and discussion.

It’s bad enough that there are openly doctrinaire sustainability courses, but at least students can avoid them. Frequently, however, sustainability precepts are smuggled into other courses, where, Wood and Peterson write, “the unsuspecting student meets it not as a tenet to be discussed, but as a baseline assumption on which all subsequent scholarship and dialogue rests"...

The report concludes with ten recommendations for educational institutions that don’t want to make a Faustian bargain with the sustainability crusaders....
Well worth the time to read.

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