Alison Fisch Katz
Don't ask why something happened; ask what for

Out of Context: The Academy, PC, and CrossFit

I would like to respond to a book just published by Professor and Dr. Almog, “Lies of Academia” (my translation), Yedioth Books: 2020. I read a review of it over the weekend, but it wasn’t until an interview with them aired on Israel Channel 13 that I had real reservations.

The Almogs hotly criticize the adjunct system in academia which keeps excellent lecturers on an hourly wage without possibility of promotion. They also vent about the absurd amount of time and energy it takes to obtain a full-time position and rise through the academic ranks. I have no argument with any of this and I’m sure practically the entire establishment agrees. However, they also claim that there is no need for an academic degree at all because industry is now determining the greater need for pragmatic skills that have nothing to do with the myriad courses that a student learns along the academic track.

Such an observation is not new. There has always been a gap between what is learned in higher education and what is practiced in the workplace. But the statement that higher education is obsolete is fundamentally flawed – especially for humanities subjects that that require participation in formal discourse and yet seem to have no practical usefulness.

As a result of a lack of the education that the Almogs are quite willing to turn their backs on, we are currently seeing a complete misunderstanding of social and historical issues that are leading to absurd conclusions and are affecting the decision-making process. Take for example the recent wave of protests against racism throughout the western world generated by the murder of George Floyd in the U.S. An arresting police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck until he choked to death. This has been judged a premeditated murder and there is no argument against the ruling. But should Floyd be elevated to martyr status and the new symbol of racism in black America? Certainly not. He was after all a violent career criminal with an unending wrap sheet who was also on drugs at the time of the arrest.

The killing caused IHME health research group to conflate racism and the Covid epidemic in one dazzling analogy: “Racism is a public health issue”. That statement triggered a knee-jerk response from CrossFit founder and CEO, Greg Glassman to tweet: “It’s FLOYD 19.” Glassman is an anti-lockdown proponent and took the analogy even further to assert that position – lockdown is not acceptable in all its forms. However, many saw his response as insensitive and Glassman’s tweet caused an uproar amongst CrossFit affiliates. Thousands relinquished their franchise and Reebok decided to end its sponsorship of the brand. In the face of the backlash he was then forced to add some context: “Your failed model quarantined us and now you’re going to model a solution to racism?” It didn’t help, and Glassman was forced to resign from his position with the largest fitness brand in recent history which has 15,000 affiliate gyms around the world in 150 countries, generating $4 billion in annual revenue. The original tweet was clumsy and tactless, but to my mind the problem isn’t Glassman. The problem lies at the feet of those who do not understand the context in which it was written. They took his “FLOYD 19” out of context that was written in response to an analogy created by the IMHE. Perhaps the greatest blame lies with the Twitter platform itself whose whole point is to encourage byte-sized posts without context.

Permission for out-of-context thinking has also had repercussions in the academy with the call to destroy all statues of central figures in European history whose fortunes (and philanthropic endeavors) were achieved on the backs of slaves centuries ago. Yet again historical facts are being taken out of context on behalf of historical revisionism. If you want to destroy the statue of Cecil Rhodes for example, then why not Hadrian’s Wall in England that was built to control the entry of the Picts into Roman Britain? Or the Great Wall of China, or the Colosseum in Rome? These were, after all, built on the backs of slaves in the name of empire building – a concept that is anathema to modern-day liberals. There is even a plaque at the entrance to the Colosseum explaining that the monolith was financed by the treasures snatched from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, sacked by Rome in 70 AD. For those of us who care about the preservation of factual history, we should count ourselves lucky that the destruction of these ancient feats of engineering hasn’t yet been suggested.

Back to my first point: Do we not need higher education as part of a comprehensive first degree where other courses are taught apart from those directly related to the chosen profession? Is it not necessary to learn that every social, historical, and moral value (ethical or not, as the case may be) has emerged from another place and another time – and that is how they should be judged? Is it not necessary to learn that ‘context’ is the basis for all meaning? It seems to me not only necessary, but vital.

About the Author
Dr. Alison Fisch Katz hails from England. She has lived in Israel for 35 years and is Head of Academic Studies in English at the Azrieli College of Engineering Jerusalem. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Leeds, UK.