In Boston, an English professor is trying to sell his class on society’s collective guilt when said students are already believers in personal responsibility. “We must encourage students to access the antagonist class positions of texts in order to demonstrate how the oppositional voices contained in them identify evidence of class struggle,” Christopher Craig writes in the December 2009 issue of Radical Teacher, “a socialist, feminist and anti-racist journal on the theory and practice of teaching.” “Through this critical process, we can show how the values and interests of the dominant class are not universal but repressive, intended to keep the power relations between the ruling and working class one-sided.”
“For most of us, learning to read texts this way helps us to see through the ruling class ideology that exists in everything from literature to the nightly news.” Craig teaches at Emmanuel College, a Catholic institution of higher learning.
“Hence, our ability to grasp and practice this kind of criticism provides us and our students with the tools necessary to understand literature from a class-based perspective and to acknowledge the ideological forces that attempt to shape our lives,” Craig argues.
Radical Teacher is published by the board of trustees of the University of Illinois.
“They had been encouraged to understand homelessness, unemployment, and crime, for example, as the result of various levels of personal responsibility or just bad luck,” Craig writes of his students. Craig teaches a course on the Political Novel.
“They are respectful, hard working and open-minded,” Craig writes of his students. “But their liberalism is rooted strongly in the idea of American individualism.”
“They see helping the homeless as an opportunity to integrate people back into an economic system where possibility flourishes. One needs only to learn the skills necessary for success.”
As you may have guessed, Craig has a problem with this view. “Most of them have not considered thoroughly how political policies contribute to creating inequitable conditions,” Craig states. “They correctly link the horrific consequences of Hurricane Katrina to the Bush administration’s failure to respond (pro)actively to the catastrophe, for instance.”
“But they have difficulty theorizing how the economic inequalities that existed in New Orleans before Katrina result from ruling class policies.” Craig fails to note that few characterized the pre-Katrina New Orleans as a free market mecca, at least for legal industries.
“They are unaware of Clinton’s assault on welfare in the 1990s,” Craig claims. “They have not heard about Bush’s deep budget cuts to social programs, his attempts to cut Medicaid, food stamps, and public housing, how his ‘Ownership Society’ allowed the wealthy to own more and be taxed less, or how the poverty rate increased to 12.7 percent of the American population under his administration (The Nation September 26, 2005),” Craig says of his sophomore classes.
“I suspect that my impassioned expression of these conditions offends students who are active in service learning,” he laments.
One hopes that it also unnerves those who double check his sources. As we have reported before, the Clinton assault on welfare consisted of renaming it Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), adding requirements that public assistance recipients seek employment and moving millions of cases to other federal programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). “Differences between TANF and SSI benefits are substantial, and the transition from [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] AFDC to TANF may have increased incentives for recipients who were potentially eligible for SSI to apply for benefits and for states to encourage such efforts,” the Social Security Administration reports. “Between December 1996 and December 2003, the nonelderly SSI caseload increased by 8.6 percent (SSA 2004b, 21).”
Moreover, if President George W. Bush made such an attack on domestic spending, why did it balloon when his party controlled the executive and legislative branches of government? By the way, on those 2005 poverty numbers, the U. S. Census bureau reported in 2007 that, “the nation’s official poverty rate declined for the first time this decade, from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. There were 36.5 million people in poverty in 2006, not statistically different from 2005.”
Despite his pessimism about getting his message across to his charges, Dr. Craig’s ratemyprofessors.com ratings indicate he is making some headway. His reviews are mostly favorable.
“An awesome, awesome man who makes you think every time you go to class,” one reviewer wrote. “In the semester I had him I’ve never thought so much about American Society. Very depressing, but soul searching is good. He is beauuutiful.”
“Taking a class with him is life changing, literally,” another reviewer wrote. “He’s brilliant.”
“This man keeps it real,” another reviewer claimed. “The class I had with him was a[n] 8 A.M. class and I looked forward to it. Will talk about the real things in life.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.