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Save the World on Your Own Time [Hardcover]

by Stanley Fish
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 11, 2008 0195369025 978-0195369021 Second Edition
What should be the role of our institutions of higher education? To promote good moral character? To bring an end to racism, sexism, economic oppression, and other social ills? To foster diversity and democracy and produce responsible citizens?

In Save the World On Your Own Time, Stanley Fish argues that, however laudable these goals might be, there is but one proper role for the academe in society: to advance bodies of knowledge and to equip students for doing the same. When teachers offer themselves as moralists, political activists, or agents of social change rather than as credentialed experts in a particular subject and the methods used to analyze it, they abdicate their true purpose. And yet professors now routinely bring their political views into the classroom and seek to influence the political views of their students. Those who do this will often invoke academic freedom, but Fish argues that academic freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to do the academic job, not the freedom to do any job that comes into the professor's mind. He insists that a professor's only obligation is "to present the material in the syllabus and introduce students to state-of-the-art methods of analysis. Not to practice politics, but to study it; not to proselytize for or against religious doctrines, but to describe them; not to affirm or condemn Intelligent Design, but to explain what it is and analyze its appeal."

Given that hot-button issues such as Holocaust denial, free speech, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are regularly debated in classrooms across the nation, Save the World On Your Own Time is certain to spark fresh debate-and to incense both liberals and conservatives-about the true purpose of higher education in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fish's lively polemic skewers the popular perspective that universities have an obligation to foster ethical, social, and political virtues, arguing that academic institutions are best served by admitting to the distinct (and limited) nature of their task: [to] introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry... and equip [them] with the analytical skills that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research. To professors using their podium to politically influence or engage with their students, the author chides: Do your job, Don't try to do someone else's job and Don't let anyone else do your job—and offers refreshing takes on Ward Churchill, Bob Newhart and how writing ought to be taught. Despite the repetitive reiteration of initial premises and a few rhetorical inconsistencies, Fish's penultimate chapter shows off his unconventional style in its most personable guise; he lays out a simple strategy by which academics and administrators may fight (not work with) those who demand that academia justify itself; he writes, The only honest thing to do when someone from outside asks, 'what use is this venture anyway?' is to answer 'none whatsoever.' (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A college teacher has just two professional responsibilities, Fish says: (1) “introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry” and (2) “equip those students with the analytical skills” needed to absorb those traditions and perform independent research. Those should take up all a teacher’s professional time. Political advocacy, religious instruction, and pet causes should be prosecuted outside the classroom. To show that conscientiously pursued teaching can take all one’s work time, he sketches his own way of teaching English composition, intriguingly enough to make one wish to have been in his classroom. He is trenchant and cogent on the dangers of trying to do someone else’s work and of allowing someone else to do yours, and the particulars in his argument include his defense of academic work (it is not good for something but good in itself), his experienced administrator’s revelation that public (i.e., tax) support of higher education has plummeted throughout the U.S., and his evisceration of the activist maxim everything is political. All who care about higher education should read this book. --Ray Olson

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Second Edition edition (August 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195369025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195369021
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University. He has previously taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He has received many honors and awards, including being named the Chicagoan of the Year for Culture. He is the author of twelve books and is now a weekly columnist for the New York Times. He resides in Andes, New York; New York City; and Delray Beach, Florida; with his wife, Jane Tompkins.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Divesting the Academy of Left and Right September 13, 2008
Format:Hardcover
*Save the World on Your Own Time* is an incisive, engaging, and I daresay inspiring polemic on major issues in higher education today. Stanley Fish does not mince words; the argument he repeats throughout this book is that academics should stick to "doing their jobs": "introduce students to disciplinary materials and equip them with the necessary analytic skills" to engage in disciplinary methods of research (p. 153). Yet proceeding from this modest thesis, Fish outlines a series of logical consequences which expose the folly of the way partisans of the left and the right tackle issues ranging from academic freedom and faculty hiring to deconstruction and Intelligent Design.

How does the humble work of academic inquiry manage to take on these diverse hot-button issues? For starters, Fish pulls the rug out from under all those who see the university classroom as a site to do something other than teach disciplinary methods of research and analysis. Despite the lofty rhetoric of professors who aim to teach their students "civic responsibility" and "tolerance for others," it is Fish's contention that doing something other than engaging in academic study in the university is dangerous. Politics, Fish surmises, has no place in the classroom unless it's the object of academic inquiry in a political science seminar. That is, politics should be something professors analyze, not something they demand allegiance to.

Fish's position may strike many in the academy as deeply conservative, but what emerges from *Save the World* is a deeply committed defense of the academic enterprise itself.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I'm a teacher, not a..." December 11, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In The Trouble with Principle, Stanley Fish argues against Principles. The values he attacks vary, but the methodology is always the same, and can be summed thus: every value no matter how important, must be balanced against other considerations, which means that for every principle, there would be circumstances when that principle would be violated. Therefore, Fish argues, there are no principles.

My view was that Fish took a far too stringent view of principles. If principles are taken as good generalizations or rules of thumb (i.e. "In principle, I agree that..."), they can be very useful. Only when conceived as eternal, unchanging, and always correct, is there a "trouble with principles"; Otherwise, they would do just fine.

So it is a little of a shock to find Fish does the very thing he argued against in his previous book in this one - that is, declaring a principle. Taken in my sense, that of a rule of thumb, Fish's principle is solid: the prime objective of an academic is to engage in academic pursuits, that is mostly in the teaching of the "current state of disciplinary knowledge" (p. 13), and doing research.

This is surely a good idea; We don't need professors to be preachers or pundits; That's not where their comparative advantage lies. But it is over simplistic; Reality is more complicated that Fish is willing to acknowledge, and the generally good rule must be tweaked to acknowledge that.

For example, Fish criticizes the professors who opposed the housing of the George W. Bush presidential library at Southern Methodist University.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Against "Practicing Without a License" January 22, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In "Save the World on Your Own Time," former professor and dean Stanley Fish is quite clear on what he wants: "I want a university infected by no one's politics, but by the nitty-gritty obligations of teaching and research." (p. 16) Fish draws on his own experience in academia, as well as the usual highly publicized examples a la Ward Churchill, to argue that the academy is focusing less on teaching and more on preaching. And unlike those like David Horowitz and Dinesh D'Souza, Fish does not simply want to make political discourse by university faculty more "balanced," but to remove it all together. As Fish writes repeatedly, teaching political ideas (how to think about them, the history of them, etc) is different from preaching political ideas.

That the latter is happening on a pretty large scale is not much in dispute. From Ward Churchill being removed from the U of Colorado for comments made after 9/11, to universities taking collective stands on policy issues, to the "speech codes" that several universities have experimented with over the past decade, Fish documents this trend quite well.

But what to do about it? Fish wants us to "return" to the "proper" job of universities: to teach students how to think, rather than what to think. Teach about ideas, rather than endorse ideas. Let's avoid the rhetoric, contra Derek Bok and Martha Nussbaum, about the universities' responsibility to promkote tolerance, democracy, pluralism, or any other value and accept the fact that universities are not in the "making good citizens" business, but in the "making educated citizens" business.

Does this mean that universities should not talk about values, politics, literary ideas, etc? No. "You can probe [a] policy's history,...explore its philosophical lineage...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Arrogant account of what education should be
Stanley Fish in this book makes the simple argument that education is about providing knowledge and how to use it. But a truly educated person is more than that. Read more
Published 7 months ago by John Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Desperately needed voice of reason in Academia
Fish is fantastic--he brings a scathing and heavily needed argument to the issue of what, exactly, an academic is supposed to be doing, and what an academic is not supposed to be... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Erin Hastey
4.0 out of 5 stars Short and to the Point
This is a perfectly reasonable book which has attracted some brickbats as well as more reasoned criticism. The argument is summarized at several points in the book. Read more
Published on November 3, 2011 by Richard B. Schwartz
2.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre
There are some fairly decent points in this slender review, but once again, the pedant within shines through Mr. Fish's measured objections to the polemical academy. Read more
Published on December 14, 2010 by GlobalChangeSupercenter5
4.0 out of 5 stars Too Little, and a Little Too Late
Stanley Fish's position can be understood with a quote on page 131 of this book where he writes:

"The mistake, and it is one made by some postmodern thinkers and seized... Read more
Published on March 10, 2010 by Tojagi
2.0 out of 5 stars We need more values in academia, not less
I certainly agree with professor Fish that there is a world of difference between discussing a political issue politically, namely by taking a stand on it, and discussing it... Read more
Published on July 6, 2009 by T. Aviran
2.0 out of 5 stars Universities can't save themselves
Mr. Fish is correct in his emphasis on universities teaching fundamentals, but using themselves as political touchstones is nothing compared to their operational incompetence. Read more
Published on May 4, 2009 by Robert N. Britcher
1.0 out of 5 stars drivel
Fish is still fighting the sixties wars, in this book that is lacking in theoretical sophistication and becomes a rant of the sort that he decries. Read more
Published on April 4, 2009 by Labor defense
3.0 out of 5 stars Higher Education Should Focus on Its Own Job
The mission statement of almost any college or university has claims and ambitions that lead you to think its their job to cure every evil the world has ever known. Read more
Published on January 25, 2009 by Loyd E. Eskildson
1.0 out of 5 stars Rationalizing Inaction
Fish is rightly against the over-generalized and ultimately meaningless political correctness in the way Universities' define their educational goals - but his answer is to... Read more
Published on January 24, 2009 by John A. Kantor
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