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Beyond Guilt: Working in "The System" With Intellectual Responsibility

Society & Culture  (tags: activists, americans, children, culture, education, ethics, freedoms, media, philanthropy, politics, rights, society )

- 2068 days ago -
The author argues that as long as some academic freedom exists, public intellectuals - students and teachers - have a responsibility to the public to challenge knowledge production and the system within which it is embedded.

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Past Member (0)
Monday September 24, 2012, 11:24 am
Academic freedom is under assault all over this nation by the very system of which Ms.Giroux would suggest we speak out responsibly. It is not irresponsible to say the system can't be fixed within, because it is the system, itself, that is the problem.

JL A (281)
Monday September 24, 2012, 11:42 am
" recognizes the necessity to assume responsibility for his own actions in the world" and inactions and I would add not to pass the buck because someone else also contributed to results/consequences of the action or failure to act...this may be the core problem of leadership and management and many of those in elected positions of responsibility: the failure to accept responsibility throughout our systems and organizations and institutions.

Kit B (276)
Monday September 24, 2012, 12:44 pm
(Image: Apple, books via Shutterstock)

The author argues that as long as some academic freedom exists, public intellectuals - students and teachers - have a responsibility to the public to challenge knowledge production and the system within which it is embedded.

Reading Susan Searls Giroux's marvelous, and urgent book, "Between Race and Reason: Violence, Intellectual Responsibility, and the University to Come," [1] I was particularly struck by her attention to the idea of responsibility, on the part of both teachers and students. She begins the first chapter of her book by evoking Delmore Schwartz's 1937 short story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities":

"The young Schwartz, heralded as an up-and-coming voice of his generation, penned a narrative describing an epiphanic moment in a young man's life. The protagonist, upon waking from a dream about his parents' disastrous courtship and marriage, recognizes the necessity to assume responsibility for his own actions in the world.... He mapped a normative context that pre-dated him and in the production of which he had no role, yet through and against which his own choices could be made intelligible to himself." [2]

I had heard of Schwartz, but never read him, so spurred on by this reference, I bought his collection of short stories. [3] What immediately caught my eye upon opening the book is that it is graced by a preface by Lou Reed (who was one of Schwartz's students, and who called the story "the greatest story ever written") and an afterword by the critic and Democratic Socialist leader Irving Howe.

Clearly, there is something in Schwartz's writing that spans generations, and in particular, generations in the midst of great historical crisis. Howe's remarks on the short story in question echoed my own sense of how and where the author articulates the ideas of history, responsibility and youth:

When I first read the story, at the age of seventeen or eighteen, I felt my blood rise at the point where the narrator cries out to his parents on the screen: "Don't do it. It's not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous." The helplessness, and as it seemed then, the rightness of the son's lament appealed to my deepest feelings as another son slipping into estrangement. Naturally, this struck me as the high point of the story, the cry against the mistakes of the past.
*****Continue reading at Visit Site *****

By David Palumbo-Liu, Truthout | News Analysis |

Only later, when I would now and again reread the story, did I come to see what I could not yet see in 1937: that its tragic force depends not so much on the impassioned protest of the young narrator as on the moment in the last paragraph when an usher hurries down the aisle of the theatre and says to him: "What are you doing? Don't you know that you can't do whatever you want to do?"

At that powerful moment, the focus shifts from the young man's plea to his parents to stop the narrative that will inevitably lead to his own birth, to his own responsibility to deal with that established and irrevocable fact.

The context of the story - the early part of the 20th century in the United States - locates the personal crisis with a collective one. The parents represent one of the first waves of Jewish immigrants, fleeing the pogroms in Europe, into the newly modern America. Their struggles alone are remarkable as they try to locate themselves in this foreign and disjunctive cultural, social, economic world. Yet their children face what is perhaps an even more daunting task - being born "American" while living in the ethnic enclaves of the United States.

Today, we of course face other challenges, presented by the global financial meltdown, the massive power of the 1 % to pervert the democratic process and steer it toward their further enrichment. On the one hand, students are rightfully anxious to secure means of living in this world, and on the other hand, many are wondering what they can do to change the terms of engagement. One offshoot of this issue is the fact that many feel that taking on responsibility for the latter is compromised by their presence in the university itself. How can they take on, in Giroux's phrasing, "intellectual responsibility," as well as personal responsibility? How can they help fashion not only the "university to come" but also a better world for all?


Talya H (10)
Tuesday September 25, 2012, 4:49 pm
Thanks for the share!~

Kit B (276)
Wednesday September 26, 2012, 7:01 am

I believe John that if we thought about those who are dying in far away lands even a little each day, we might just then bring them home. I do not support wars of choice or wars fought for profit, that said, I do care very deeply about all Americans in harm's way.

Nancy M (197)
Wednesday September 26, 2012, 9:33 am
"Mansbach put it best, saying that she should realize that we are all in "the system" and the idea was to learn and take those tools into the world."

Interesting article and interesting idea here.

Later on there is discussion about being in a place of the elite. The priviledge of being there. At least I can say it was earned.

Great article, Thanks.
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