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.)
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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