Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education

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W. W. Norton & Company, 1992 - Education - 214 pages
Beyond the Culture Wars is the first major and refreshingly down-to-earth response to the torrent of criticism in recent years, mainly from traditionalists, of American higher education. Gerald Graff, a professor of English and education at the University of Chicago, argues that, far from being a sign of decline and disintegration. recent educational conflicts are actually a sign of the health and intellectual vitality of American higher education - but they need to be used creatively. A culturally richer curriculum and a more diverse student body have brought on the conflicts over multiculturalism, "political correctness," and which books belong in the canon. But we tend not to see these as strengths, the author argues, because we think of conflict as un-American and of education as an idealized conflict-free zone. Higher education should be a battleground of ideas. The real problem is that students are not getting more out of the battle. It is time, Graff argues, that we stopped lamenting the appearance of conflict in education and began turning our controversies to positive account. Drawing on nearly thirty years of experience as a teacher and administrator, the author shows how the conflicts now confusing students have the potential to help them make better sense of their education and the increasingly conflicted society in which they live. By teaching the conflicts even anger and hostility unleashed over the questions of "political correctness" and the humanities canon can be channeled into educationally productive debate. Graff points out that the most neglected party in the culture wars is the one ostensibly being fought over: the student. We tend to become so embroiled in the warfare between opposing lists of books, he argues, that we forget that for most American students the problem has always been books as such, regardless of which faction is drawing up the reading list. In lively accounts of his own teaching of the canon conflicts and a typical debate in a faculty lounge, and with chapters on the question "When Is Something Political?" and his own youthful fear and dislike of reading, Graff shows where the popular critics of higher education have missed the point. By teaching the conflicts themselves, as many schools are already doing, it is possible to revitalize humanities education and give the curriculum the coherence and focus it has lacked.


Chapter 3
Chapter 5
Chapter 9

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About the author (1992)

Gerald Graff, a Professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and 2008 President of the Modern Language Association of America, has had a major impact on teachers through such books as Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, and, most recently, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind.

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