Sunday, November 20, 2011

How College English and AE Go Hand-in-Hand

I recall what it was like to take introductory courses in college English during my undergraduate studies with the University of Georgia. We showed up to class, wrote on various topics, and received minimal grammar instruction--just enough to get by the Regent's Test. We read plenty of literature, we were introduced to MLA format, and we were taught principles of PC discourse. The grad students who taught the courses assured us that if we managed to handle these principles responsibly, avoiding plagiarism through superb parenthetical citations, we would be equipped for critical analysis and logical discourse.

This always struck me as a strange approach to argumentation. I had been much influenced by the more philsophical American Transcendentalists as a teenager, and had taken my first look at Kant during high school. I revisited the Critique of Pure Reason many times during my years at UGA, since I knew the principles of method and argumentation that Kant sketched out were at odds with nearly 99% of what I learned as an English major. By way of Kant I approached Mises, and have since seen what Austrian Economics has to offer both Logic and Literature: 1) Mises provides a brilliant method for a critique of reason (in many ways more like the Scottish Common Sense Realist, Thomas Reid, than Kant), and 2) Austrian Economics provides a safeguard against the erros of Historicism, Socialism, Postmodernism, Lacanian psychobabble, and nearly every other fallacious system of thought promoted by "English" academes.

The amount of time that introductory college courses dedicate to "formatting" is absolutely mind-boggling. Colleges routinely train students in the principles of citation drafted by the Modern (Menshevik) Language Association, yet the formal principles of logic and argumentation have been abandoned for experimentation with the infinitessimals of MS Word's "Paragraph" tab. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I learned nearly everything I learned about grammar and logic outside of the college classroom. After all, my college degree had equipped me with little more than routine indoctrination in multiculturalism (my sophomore year was the year that he college made multiculturalism a mainstay of the curriculum), an ability to arrange a superb Works Cited page, and ninety-nine ways to turn literature into an apology for welfare economics. But while working for a Master's Degree at Georgia State University, I learned pretty quickly that no other student of my generation had received any formal training in the two fields that justify the existence of English Departments: Grammar and Logic.

Anyone can read literature, and anyone can have an opinion concerning meaning. But how do we know where intellectual fallacies lie? Where do interpretive fallacies lie? For these questions, we require logical exercise.

Everything I learned of any lasting value was learned outside the classroom. When teaching my first English courses as a paid teacher, I nearly laughed out loud when looking at the quality of instruction provided by contemporary textbooks. Remedial students received heavy instruction in grammar, and ENGL 1101 students were simply assumed to have the skills necessary to engage in logical argumentation. They were instead given tips on how to develop a "critical attitude" or a "social outlook." Why should students develop any critical or social outlook if they cannot spot a fallacy at first glance or an error in verb agreement or pronoun agreement? What good is a fallacious theory, or a socially-sensitive apology for a fallacy?

I have been working as a teacher over the past couple of years to strike a balance between grammar and logic (working up from the Subject-Predicate standard to Universals/Particulars, and then onward into Bastiat's "That Which is Seen") which lends itself to a method of logic and argumentation fit for the college classroom. It is amazing to see what students are capable of achieiving if you simply place good materials in front of them. Logic, as Mises and Kant repeatedly urged in their works on human action and philosophy, is the only critical apparatus that man possesses to criticize society. And thanks to intellectual bankruptcy of college English departments, legions of literati and would-be college elites are exiting American "Institutes of Higher Learning" completely unarmed.

I would like to think that a new generation of teachers may be on the rise, which is jaded with the failures of the "Sixties" paradigm. My experience with peers tells me this. The daunting scholarship of the Austrian tradition is an assurance that we do not have to start from scratch if we want to make a change.


  1. Nice article. I've recently returned to undergrad to finish an English degree I previously abandoned. I've experienced and witnessed several of the issues you've noted. Furthermore, Cantor's book has been immensely helpful in allowing me to fill in some of the "gaps" of literary criticism.

  2. I'm a guy from the '60s who, like you, learned most of what I know about grammar and logic outside the classroom. When I taught English Composition as an adjunct at an art college in San Francisco in the '90s, I became notorious on campus because of my emphasis on grammar and logic and was widely described by my fellow faculty members as "of the old school."