PICK up an article by Camille Paglia, attend one of her
lectures, or just sit across a table and have a conversation with
her, and the topic of sex will come up - imaginative, arcane,
pagan, sizzling sex. Count on it. The subject infuses her thought
like histrionics in a Puccini opera.
Next on on her list of priorities, however, (and more suitable
for a family newspaper) is education reform. From kindergarten
through postdoctoral studies, she rails against what ails the
current state of scholarship. "I am the '60s come back to haunt the
'90s," she says. She challenges current liberal orthodoxies in
teaching art, religion, teacher preparation, and women's studies.
Following a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
in Cambridge, Mass., on reforms in academia, which she performed as
much as delivered, Ms. Paglia spoke with the Monitor, zeroing in on
her views about education. Petite in stature, fiery in delivery,
she is a fervent believer in classical education, scholarly
academic standards, and rigorous discipline. Contrastingly, and
this is a woman of contrasts, she revels in pop culture and places
rock-and-roll and cinema at the pinnacle of Western civilization
for this century.
Never in the mainstream academically, Paglia (pronounced PAHlia)
is a professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in
Philadelpia. Her book "Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from
Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson," is on the threshold of a breakout, a
must read on college campuses. Vintage Books bought the paperback
rights from Yale University Press. Sales are brisk.
Identifying herself as an anti-feminist feminist, she is widely
recognized as the leading critic of the way Women's Studies
programs are taught. If she had her way, she would end such
programs as presently constituted, she says.
"Homer is flourishing in 700 BC. The idea that in the last 20
years feminism has made some radical changes in human nature is
absurd," she says. One of her quips wryly posits, "Leaving women's
studies to the feminists is like leaving your dog at the
taxidermist's," followed by, "Gender on campus has become a code
word for social prussianism."
When asked to appear on the Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey shows
to debate feminist issues with other authors, Paglia couched her
refusal with typical chutzpah: "Would Caruso appear on the same
stage as Tiny Tim?" she said.
Her students come from low-income, minority backgrounds. Daily,
she sees the "very bad consequences of America's two-tier education
system," where the few are educated well and the rest poorly, she
"Schools must be the preservers of the rational, Apollonian,
logo-centric tradition," she says, characteristically compressing
three great, Western intellectual traditions into one sentence. "My
own writing style is influenced by rock music," she says. "It goes
wham, bam." Hence the machine-gun tempo of her speaking.
Children bring unformed, irrational minds with them when they
first walk through the schoolhouse door, says Paglia. What is
needed, especially given the sensory barrage of electronic media in
American society today - Dionysian energy as she would categorize
it - is for schools to go back to the mastery of facts. "Rote
learning has a bad press," she says.
She agrees with Neil Postman, author, educator, and media
critic, that schools should not appeal to the television needs of
students by being "television friendly." "Children are produced by
televison," she says. It feeds the Dionysian side of the mind where
emotive, impulsive appetites in human nature reside. …