On Teaching Politics Today
MY RELATIVES and other worthy people who still maintain a certain awe, tempered with skepticism, about higher education, are given to asking me what one can do with an advanced degree in political science. It’s a good question. Most government jobs go to lawyers, not to those with Ph.D.’s in government. There’s the foreign service, of course, but the glamor of “going into” government is over for the moment-perhaps never to return. Mostly what we in the political-science faculty do, of course, is to teach people to teach people to teach-which was all very well until it was discovered that there were very few openings left for teachers. What then is the point of perpetuating the study of political science altogether?
The radicals of the 60′s came up with a simple answer to this hard question when they invoked-and perhaps forever discredited-the term “relevance.” The point of teaching political science was the same as that of teaching anything else-to rectify injustice. They wanted to help the poor, not to understand poverty; they wanted history to be of the ruled, not of the rulers; they wanted philosophy not to interpret the world, but to change it. Ancient disciplines were suddenly exposed as mere fronts and shams-the study of English grammar, for example, was denounced as tyranny, if not actually genocide. That wave is now receding-and boring teachers are back to teaching boring courses. It is forgotten now that the radicals gave the wrong answers to the right questions, and that education should be relevant, but relevant to the right things.
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