Thought-provoking essay here* by UC Berkeley's Elizabeth Segran critiquing standard pedagogy in Women and Gender Studies courses. She makes a kind of left wing usage of some of the tropes* that accompanied the slow death of theory (and ascendancy of new historicism and now digital humanities/surface reading) from the mid 90's through now.
From my friends who teach these classes, I don't think that Seagran's piece actually works that well as a critique of what is being taught in WGS classes. This being said, it is interesting to think of it in light of the kinds of issues we might teach in practical ethics classes. Too often we either stick to hot button political issues or issues of professional ethics, and ignore some of the most pressing issues that students face, such as hook-up culture, slut shaming, campus sexual assault, the Greek system, college athletics, etc.
I think there's also something to her point that it's just much easier for all sorts of reasons (involving both students and administrators) to teach broader theoretical/jargony issues that people are less antecedently psychologically invested in. A friend of mine who researches and teaches about hook up culture often has to deal with Beavis and Butt-Head types who half the time are mocking him and the other students and who are usually a priori convinced that anything short of an A+ is evidence that they are being graded for their rebarbative views rather than inability to learn the material. It can be a real drag and I doubt that I would have the courage to put myself in his position. Far easier to swim in the Wide Sargasso Sea of the various neologisms that at this point aren't really new anymore. It's relaxing. The water is warm. You get a nice tan.
**Tangentially related to my post a few days ago about the near absolute futility of trying to in some manner ground an emancipatory politics in post Hegelian thinking about identity and difference.
I should probably note that I'm extraordinarily uncomfortable with overly politicizing either theory or the classroom (and my discomfort is both political and theoretical). One of the nice things about reading Badiou and the French historical epistemological tradition this week in Pittsburgh has been to see how important it was to a wide swath of thinkers to make space for relative autonomy of the non-political. Given the sometimes near hegemony of Frankfurt school style politicization of everything (which reached its nadir only a few years ago with Alexander Galloway's article on Graham Harman; Levi Bryant got the last word, exposing Galloway's Pythonesque*** logic here), it was extraordinarily refreshing to explore different avenues that are both central to the continental tradition and that take the project of critique seriously.
This being said, part of our job is to help our students be more virtuous in certain ways, and it is some work (albeit not impossible) to square that with the autonomy of the political.