Public education is under attack, the forces on the left outgunned and outmaneuvered by a well-financed campaign on the right, says English professor Michael Keefer. Across North America, conservatives are trying to starve universities into submission. Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars comes to us from Keefer’s foxhole at the University of Guelph, Ontario.
Paranoia? Ontario Education Minister John Snobelen has declared his intention to “bankrupt the actions and activities that aren’t consistent with the future we’re committed to.” Snobelen thinks public education should be run like a private business, and encourages corporate involvement, even though he claims to have read Jane Jacobs’ Systems of Survival.
Keefer disputes the conclusion of the 1991 Report on University Education that “teaching is seriously undervalued at Canadian universities.” However, Canada’s most famous English teacher, Northrop Frye, pointed out in his 1988 book, On Education, that neither he nor E.J. Pratt would have been considered for teaching positions at the University of Toronto under the current ‘publish or perish’ policy. Pratt had only poems in print; Frye thought and taught long and hard before publishing his ideas.
Lunar Perspectives is a series of rambling reflections on culture, politics, the role of the university, the literary canon, and literary criticism. Equating cuts to health care with cuts to higher education, Keefer says that in large part he wrote this book for the people he saw in the emergency waiting room of a hospital. It may have been written on behalf of the average citizen, but not for the average citizen to read. With repeated references to interpretive methodologies like deconstruction and cultural materialism, without the slightest attempt to define them or explain their importance, it could only have been written for like-minded academics.
When it comes to curriculum, professors more interested in literary criticism than in literature tend to discard texts that speak for themselves in favour of inferior works that provide better fodder for the critic’s art: Tristram Shandy instead of A Sentimental Journey, if they study Sterne at all. In his canon of literary classics Keefer includes Toni Morrison, forgetting that canonization is for future generations to decide. Only time will tell which authors possess the wisdom of the ages, and which are fashion victims.
Lunar Perspectives refutes the claim that the groves of academe are hotbeds of sedition, but reinforces the suspicion that they are hotbeds of silliness.