Identity Politics, Ideology, Students and Selfishneess
Saturday, July 4, 2009 at 4:41PM
Sean Wilson in e-mail discussion, identity politics, politicology

(sent to law courts in response to a question about whether students get charged up over affirmative action and other kinds of race issues. The original poster said his classes have seen lessened interest) 

I have had an opposite experience.

I taught 90 kids a pop at Penn State for 3 years in a class that tackled all of these sorts of issues. In fact, I created the class. One of the pedagogical approaches I used was to be critical of all positions (left or right0. In other words, to challenge all the views on the subject. I found it exceedingly difficult to reach common ground. Not only would barriers exist along the lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and so forth, but also across ideological grounds that existed for the very purpose of roping groups or interests together. In fact, if you set about in the class to go for "the center" -- as in, judge people as individuals, not as groups --  that alone was seen as mischief  by those indulged with what you call "identity politics." The situation here in Dayton is very, very different -- but not at all "better" (and for reasons I don't want to get into).

From my perspective, this IS a generational issue, but not as you suspect. I sense that kids construct ideologies about these things based on whether it suits their interests. If you are heading out of college and into the job market, you will like preferences that help you but not those that hinder. This would be consistent with a youth culture that has everything, right-now, instantaneously -- and that frequently uses the word "bias" to mean "I didn't get what I wanted." It doesn't help professors inculcate students with a world view defined by "politics, selfishness, passions and ideology" rather than things like ethics, character, rule, virtue, justification and so forth. In fact, if the professors don't think these things exist, why on earth would students not be simply bratty and self-centered about how to stand in line for jobs?

If you look at the exchange between Paul and Scott, all that really existed was a battle of world views. One view says there must be discrimination if a pool doesn't look right; another might say "not unless we have it under a microscope." 

Somewhere down the line, people have to lay down their arms (including professors). I don't think "identity politics" helps us do that. We have to see inside of individuals. We have to transcend cultural form. We should be letting students see the age they live in and that they are existing within a constructed cultural existence. If they could get a bird's eye perspective -- be more philosophical and less combative -- the situation could be approached with more of a level head.  We also have to listen to them when they talk of unfairness, no matter what it is. And we have to be more Rortarian in terms of getting others to see what another's life is like.  And I think we also have to make sure that everyone -- from Appalachians to those in south-side Chicago -- get a fair chance to be judged for what they offer.   
Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.
Assistant Professor
Wright State University
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