Welcome to Part 2 of PUP’s Stanley Fish series,
Fish Food for Thought. All selections are excerpted from Fish’s new book, Think Again.
Fish Food for Thought
Part 2: Reflections on Liberal Arts Education
7.1 Why We Built the Ivory Tower
May 1, 2006
Fish on the difference between the academic and advocacy worlds.
In short, don’t cross the boundary between academic work and partisan advocacy, whether the advocacy is yours or someone else’s. Marx famously said that our job is not to interpret the world, but to change it. In the academy, however, it is exactly the reverse: our job is not to change the world, but to interpret it. (301)
7.4 Devoid of Content
May 31, 2005
Fish on teaching language structure, not content, in the classroom.
Students who take so-called courses in writing . . . are learning how to marshal arguments in ways that will improve their compositional skills. In fact, they will be learning nothing they couldn’t have learned better by sitting around in a dorm room. . . . They will certainly not be learning anything about how language works; and without a knowledge of how language works, they will be unable to either spot the formal breakdown of someone else’s language or to prevent the formal breakdown of their own. (313)
7.6 Will the Humanities Save Us?
January 6, 2008
Fish on the purpose of humanities courses.
To the question, ‘Of what use are the humanities?’, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said . . . diminishes the object of its supposed praise.(323)
7.7 The Uses of the Humanities
January 13, 2008
Fish on why he teaches humanities subjects.
Why do I do it? . . . I don’t do it because it inspires me to do other things, like change my religion or go out and work for the poor. If I had to say, I’d say that I do it because I get something like an athletic satisfaction from the experience of trying to figure out how a remarkable verbal feat has been achieved. . . . [I]t is like solving a puzzle—but the greater satisfaction is the opportunity to marvel at what a few people are able to do with the language we all use. (324–325)
7.10 Deep in the Heart of Texas
June 21, 2010
Fish on recognizing a quality education.
But sometimes (although not always) effective teaching involves the deliberate inducing of confusion, the withholding of clarity, the refusal to provide answers. . . . And sometimes that disappointment, while extremely annoying at the moment, is the sign that you’ve just been the beneficiary of a great course, although you may not realize it for decades. (340)