expertise

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Mon Jan 30 12:29:07 MST 1995


On Mon, 30 Jan 1995, Jon Beasley-Murray wrote:

> On Mon, 30 Jan 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:
>
> > Changing the subject, Jon Beaseley-Murray complains that my recent posts
> > have involved a regrettably elitist element, aspect, or tone. I presume
> > that this refers to my claim that there a place in a revolutionary
> > movement for extremely abstruse, technical, and specialized inquiries
> > which require professional training or long study to master or to
> > contribute something worthwhile to.
>
> No, I've been misunderstood here.  I was referring to your
> characterization of the working class as unwilling to learn,

Did I say that?

and some of
> your comments generated by your experience at OSU.  I'd call this the
> "exasperated elitism" of the progressive pedagogue... but unfortunately
> this is still an elitism, function of too-great an identification with
> the educational system, though the latter is, I think, essential to the
> activity of teaching, which is impossible without this kind of bad faith
> (here cf. Bourdieu and Passeron's _Reproduction_).
>
But look, whatever the goals of the educational system, I faced, and
teachers thoughout the country face, students who cannot and will not
read, who cannot follow, much less create, a simple argument, who do not
understand the concept of replying to an objection, who are, in a word,
intellectually helpless and prey to any cheap Newtagogue or demobaugh who
comes along. That's a reality, and it has little to do with the potential
or capacity these students might have. After 12 years of public education
and thousands of hours of TV, these students have been crippled. I don't
know what a non-elitist response to this situation is supposed to be. Is
it elistist in some bad sense to try to convey some sense of what
intellectual rigor might be, to teach the delight in the play of argument,
to help students grasp so they can grapple with difficult texts?

But the problem isn't just students. After all, the students are just a
relatively privileged subclass of workers, and the problem I raised was
that if the relatively privileged are thus baffled by even simple and
popular expositions of difficult ideas (sometimes difficuly because
counter-hegemonic  rather than complex), the role and task of those of
trained to do the technical work, much less those of us who also want to
popularize, is very problematic. I wish I knew what to do. I will continue
my theoretical work as best I can in law school and as a lawyer (with
luck, as a law professor), but I feel desperately isolated. Any ideas?

> Broadly I agree with your "defense of expertise."  This is why I can't
> agree that Marxism (or any other liberatory movement) can reduce itself
> to popularization.

Good.

  What is necessary is to expand the sphere of
> education, and equalize the differential possibilities of access, so all can
> achieve similar levels of expertise, should they want to do so.

How?

 Louis'
> call for popularization curiously seems to imply letting the present
> educational system be--abandoning it to the hands of capital?

So what to do?
>
> > --Justin
>
>
> Jon Beasley-Murray
> Literature Program
> Duke University
> jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
> http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons



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