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Strange New Respectability?


Don’t you hate when someone you have safely pigeonholed as a lefty academic jerk turns out be more complicated and thoughtful than seemed apparent?

Stanley Fish, the former head of Duke University’s notoriously post-modern, “anti-foundationalist” (trash the cannon and the dead white guy lit) English Department in the 1990s, had a fascinating column (Times Select warning) on the New York Times blog yesterday. (Which I admit that I read, from time to time.)

The headline that lured me was “Clarence Thomas Is Right.” I assumed, naturally, that that meant the opposite of what it said, and that it would be another, tired “he’s a right wing moron” rant from Professor Fish, who is a scholar of literature and law. But I had something important to avoid, so I clicked on it.  Lo and behold I found a stunningly adamant, articulate defense of Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in the recent Supreme Court case Morse v. Frederick, (Bong Hits 4 Jesus to you).

Professor Fish, a card carrying deconstructionist liberal progressive whatever, made clear that he thought Justice Roberts’ majority opinion did not go far enough in making the crucial case against freedom of speech in public schools. Roberts ruled that the school has the right to preclude speech that advocates the use of illegal drugs. In his concurrence, Thomas rejects the idea that schoolchildren have any First Amendment rights at all, a point he defends both in principle and historically.

Fish writes “If I had a criticism of Thomas, it would be that he does not go far enough. Not only do students not have first amendment rights, they do not have any rights….(Educational institutions)…are pedagogical contexts and the imperatives that rule them are the imperatives of pedagogy — the mastery of materials and the acquiring of analytical skills. “

To be sure, conservatives wrote similar things when the decision came down, and many cited Thomas’s opinion as a classic in the making. But for a lib to write this, seriously, for a New York Times audience is a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish.  As of last night, NYT readers, btw, had provided close to 300 dissenting e-mails, when 20 is a more typical number of responses.

Before we offer Fish a version of the Strange New Respectability award, however, it is worth wondering whether his view stems from true reverence for education, or a desire to have no dissent allowed when lefty faculties ram PC opinion down students’ throats.


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