Friday, July 27, 2007

Kevin Barrett rejected. and now a fountain of tears.

"Our students are not blank slates. They are capable of exercising good judgment, critical analysis and speaking their minds. Instructors do not hand over knowledge wrapped up in neat packages. Knowledge grows from challenging ideas in a setting that encourages dialogue and disagreement. That's what builds the kind of sophisticated, critical thinking we expect from our graduates."

-Patrick Ferrell

Turn to Kevin Barrett, the pariah of the UW system. This week, administrators validated his parking and sent him on his way as his request to teach a class on the Canterbury Tales was rejected. What was Barrett doing applying for a job in the English department when he has a PhD in African languages and a minor in folklore? Who knows. You could ask him, but most journalists seem to greet Barrett with guffaws, not questions.

And why? Because of his belief that 9/11 was an inside job. Yes, he believes this government was behind the attacks on 9/11. Whether directly involved or by creating Al-Qaeda to fuel a proxy war against the nation it allegedly protects, who can tell what he means (although, from those who took the class, the latter sounds closer to his belief, and a bit more down to earth than the "moonbat" assertions of some 9/11 conspiracy theorists.) Yes, it's sounds insane, but to condemn a person's ability to teach because of one theory is short-sighted.

After all, what evidence do we have of inappropriate classroom behavior? Well, ratemyprofessor doesn't tell us much, as there are only 8 reviews. Yet, what comments are left seem to be positive:

Kevin was very helpful in and out of class, and was knowledgeable about his subject. He never brought his controversial beliefs up in class as truth, but only as an alternative viewpoint that could be agreed or disagreed with. An excellent course
who ever just wrote that comment about 911 &country hating obviously didn't take the course (since he listed it as Islam 1) but also Barrett didn't even mention his book in class. This class was awesome, I would take any of his courses, he is really passionate about teaching and every topic. His exams and papers were fair and reflected the course

The biggest criticism? He reads out of the book too much and was unorganized at times. Certainly a criticism I could lob at some of my past professors here, but at least he's teaching the material and the students got a lot out of it.

Can students get a lot out of the Islam class without Barrett? Of course, perhaps more. However, will as many students take it now as with Barrett? Maybe not. The controversy drew students to the class, perhaps some who wouldn't have taken a glance at the Qu'ran or considered a varied perspective on Islam. Simply because of one professor deemed "crazy" by nearly anyone who heard his name. They came for the straight jacket, but left with a different side and more knowledge.

I don't defend Kevin Barrett's opinion, which I still find illogical, not crazy. Yet, I do support the idea of him teaching that class again. If there is one section in the historical record that Americans need education and experience with, especially now, it's Islam. With such a misunderstanding already present, it took a $8,500 lecturer with an absurd statement to examine a culture far too misunderstood to address as a nation. If it took insanity to spur on examination, then maybe we could use more radical conspiracy theorists. Maybe in disproving all their theories, we'll step across relevant points to our own problems.

Of course, I could be wrong. I guess we'll just have to wait until the next controversy sparks the classroom. When someone either says or does something appalling, abhorent or controversial to skewer. The question this time won't be whether they're correct or deluded, it will be whether we have the nerve as an instution of learning to react with logical examination rather than overblown surface criticism. I sincerely hope we can keep our heads on tight next time. Otherwise, we may avoid insanity, but not foolish.

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