radical talk

University of Texas journalism Professor Robert Jensen was brutally honest about the nature of social science and humanities courses his peers teach across the country in his latest opinion piece, and he wants fellow university-level educators to come clean, too.

Saying “good teaching is living your life honestly in front of students,” something he learned from his late mentor, Jensen said that means “a rejection of the illusory neutrality that some professors claim. From the framing of a course, to the choice of topics for inclusion on the syllabus, to the selection of readings, to the particular way we talk about ideas—teaching in the social sciences and humanities is political, through and through.”

Jensen went on to claim he’s not talking about partisan advocacy of a particular politician, party, or program, offering some academic doublespeak: “Political, in this sense, (means to) assess where real power lies, analyze how that power operates in any given society, and acknowledge the effect of that power on what counts as knowledge.”

Sure, whatever.

At any rate, Jensen goes on to call for academic honestly all around, saying students deserve it:

Every professor’s “politics” in this sense has considerable influence on his/her teaching, and I believe it is my obligation to make clear to students the political judgments behind my decisions. The objective is not to strong-arm students into agreement, but to explain those choices and defend them when challenged by students. At the end of a successful semester, students should be able to identify my assumptions, critique them, and be clearer about their own.

Jensen claims offering students some rabid rhetoric is what they want and expect, anyway:

The first course I taught in the university-wide program called First-Year Seminars, “The Ethics and Politics of Everyday Life,” was straight out of Koplin: I had students read five books that touched on the political, economic, and ecological implications of our choices in our daily lives. Every time I worried that I would be pushing students too far, Jim would tell me that the students were hungry for honest, jargon-free radical talk, and he was right.

Jim Koplin was a former professor, co-founder of the Center for Nonviolence, and a community organizer dedicated to social justice and ecological sustainability. Koplin died in mid-December at age 79, and Jensen wrote his piece on intellectual honesty in honor of Koplin and their friendship.

Jensen’s piece appeared on Koplin’s website as well as the New Left Project website, described as “dedicated to producing high quality comment and analysis on issues of concern to the political left.”

Whatever you think of Jensen (remember he’s the one who recently described Thanksgiving as a “white supremacist holiday”) it’s nice to see he’s willing to call a spade a spade.

Click here to read Jensen’s entire piece.

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