Pedagogy at it's Best


It all started when…

As a Humanities student I’m well accustomed to the rivalry that exists between McMaster’s Engineers-to-be and the art majors. Between students, the rivalry is light hearted – they mock us for not being able to do “anything” with our degree once we’re finished, we respond in kind with a pseudo sense of intellectual superiority. But this light hearted feud represents an actual problem; what is the role of the university? Is it a place for an education or is it a training ground for a career?

In my time at McMaster, I’ve seen a career-focused education become more valued. In the Humanities I’ve seen the Women Studies program be reduced, the Art History program come under attack, and Comparative Literature be discontinued as a major. This is a phenomenon happening all over North America. Even our Theatre and Film program has switched focus to a type of theatre called “devised theatre” because it is viewed as the only way students will ever be able to make money in that field. There’s even a rumor that the Humanities should be merged with the Social Sciences, just because the Social Science budget would benefit from it. The University seems to be changing - the focus is falling away from being about education and more about maximizing profits. It is becoming more corporate. The Humanities are slowly being left behind because they do not produce money for the University and because others aren’t willing to invest in it because it doesn’t provide “results”.

But really, here’s what the University is – the University is the last public sphere that can develop intellectuals, who have that capacity to critically appraise the problems of society and say “It does not have to be this way.”

But in the conservative media, the University comes under attack as a pool of radical left-wing extremists, and there are outcries for more regulation. This is more notable in the United States, where the anti-corporate or anti-Republican is seen as anti-American. Comedian Jon Stewart came under attack by Fox News’ Chris Wallace for criticism that Fox News viewers are constantly misinformed. Wallace accused Stewart of a liberal bias which immediately meant he was against. During the exchange Stewart noted that Fox News’ stance seemed to be that “any editorial judgment in news, or schools, or movies that doesn’t favour the conservative view is elitism and is evidence of liberal bias...any editorial judgment that favours the conservative view is evidence, merely, of fairness — and done to protect them from liberal bias.”

The attack on Stewart is a prime example of how the conservative media vilifies any sort of attack on itself, or anything that strays from their ideaology – like the university. Professors are attacked because of what they assign in courses, accused of trying to impart their own political beliefs onto the minds of students. . With corporatization and censorship, there is more “control” over what can be taught and less chance of us becoming dissidents like the protestors in the eyes of the conservative media.

I need to stress that I am not against departments that aren’t the Humanities – everyone has the right to study whatever they want in University, be it in Humanities, Science, Engineering or anything else. I only focus on the arts because their primary goal is to give students an education, not a career. What I’m against is the university becoming a corporate training ground. That should not be the place of the university in our society. I think McMaster’s own Henry Giroux summarized it best in his article The New Right Wing Assault on Higher Education; “Pedagogy at its best is about neither training nor political indoctrination; instead it is about a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relation that  enable students to expand the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens”. That is the role the University needs to play. It needs to be a place where we can learn, where we have academic freedom, where we can hope to change the world. It cannot be a place where we are regulated and trained.