Friday, July 11, 2003

Nickel and Dimed, Drawn and Quartered 

TongueTied links to an article in the Raleigh News and Observer on how some North Carolina legislators are unhappy over the use of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickeled and Dimed as a required reading for incoming freshmen at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Committee for a Better Carolina, a student group formed this year to promote "balance and fairness in education at UNC-Chapel Hill," took out full-page newspaper ads criticizing the book. In an ad in The News & Observer, the students called the book "a classic Marxist rant" that portrays business people as exploiters of working-class Americans.

The students said they would create their own Web site with alternative readings to the Ehrenreich book.

Michael McKnight, a UNC-CH senior and founder of the group, said he wants to expose students to other viewpoints. "It's easy to say that freshmen will research on their own, but the university is presenting one point of view," he said. "You tend to think what your teachers and professors tell you is correct, especially coming out of high school."

I hope they do so, though the Carolina Review has already covered this with a link to Larry Schweikart's review in Ideas on Liberty (the successor to The Freeman, a journal that changed me politically.) It is a bad book for many reasons.

My first reaction was to shrug this off, or perhaps get a little peevish about the Right practicing the type of censorship that the Left has done so well for the last twenty years. But if you want to see the thought process that went into the selection of this book, take a look at the discussion questions. "Who should take the lead in solving the problems of low-wage work in America?" assumes that it's a problem. As Schweikart points out, it isn't a problem: My own teen needs to learn basic skills of work and minimum wage jobs are the right place for him to learn them. All teens do. Take a visit to a former Soviet country, where there was no incentive to learn these skills because they were irrelevant to whether or not you had work, and tell me what the level of customer service in these countries is like today.

5. Ehrenreich's account is a reflection of her own experience. How might her experience have been different if she were male? If she were a person of color? If she had little education? How do issues of race, class, or gender connect with low-wage work?
Sheesh. If she couldn't answer that question, how the heck would incoming students to UNC? This is no doubt part of the "works program" for multi-culti education at UNC.

Seeing this and the additional readings (which deserve more of the opprobrium leveled by the legislators than Ehrenreich herself) I'd say the Committee has a point. There is no attempt to provide any balance within the whole course itself.

Add to this comments made by Eric Muller, a UNC law professor and author of the good Is That Legal? blog on the lack of balance in last year's book selection on the Qu'ran. He is more sanguine that students will suss out the bias in this year's selection. I hope so, but as one of the commenters on his site suggests, it's more likely they'll parrot the answer they believe is expected of them.