Perusall is a “digital learning platform” that allows students to “share” marginalia from the virtual margins of their virtual textbooks. Thus, a student can peruse not only the textbook, but also his peer’s paratext of questions, reflections and objections. Perusall also allows students to see the passages that their peers have highlighted, a feature that suggests Perusenomore might have been a more appropriate name. To peruse is to read closely, and this feature clearly permits lazy students to skim the text by skipping from one peer-highlighted passage to the next.
It is often beneficial to discuss a book after you have read it, but reading should be a private activity. A student should first wrestle with the author alone, and only then inquire how his classmates fared when they were likewise wrestling. By turning reading into a social activity, Perusall will obviously enforce intellectual conformity through peer pressure. Eccentric and deviant readers will be corrected the instant they stray from the beaten trail of the class consensus, and those who persist in their eccentricity and deviance will of course leave a permanent record of their problematic highlights and offensive marginalia.
We are told that people have been fired because a photograph revealed a problematic or offensive title in their bookcase. Imagine if a hostile heresy-sniffer could digitally search every underline and annotation you have made since you first learned to read with a pencil in one hand. People have been fired for “liking” a Tweet. Soon they will be fired for highlighting a sentence or placing a question mark against a line. Perusall means peruseyou.
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An archivist cannot save everything, and cultural prejudices influence the way archived material is catalogued and stored, so a collection of documents is always in some degree an interpretation of those documents. The fact that a dead man’s letters have been saved suggests that there was something special about the dead man, as does the fact that they are filed under his name. But in spite of all this, the primary mission of an archivist was until recently the preservation and efficient retrieval of documents. It was not the archivist’s place to tell a scholar what a document meant before the scholar had chance to read the document.
This has changed because we now have social justice archivists. Their primary mission is to preserve documents as evidence of racism and sexism in a way that clearly identifies the documents as evidence of such. Thus, an old yearbook photograph of students in blackface is no longer open to interpretation, but comes pre-interpreted as evidence of a past crime.
Archivists for social justice thus accomplish two things. First, they ensure speedy retrieval of incriminatory evidence that can be used to browbeat people and extort resources. Second, they ensure that even dim and dusty archives provide provide plenty of “teachable moments” for these odious moralists to wag their fingers and share their wretched gospel of inexpiable sin.
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My department yesterday voted by a large majority to remove the GRE requirement from applications to our graduate program. The GRE has been for many years the graduate-school equivalent to the undergraduate SAT or ACT. Like the SAT and ACT, the GRE was first adopted to break down the “good old boys network” whereby well-connected professors could place their protégés in the most prestigious graduate programs. It was the one way a bright graduate of Podunk State University could get into graduate school ahead of some numbskull with good letters of recommendation from Harvard.
Now all of that is gone. The reason, as one of my colleagues put it, is that “the GRE predicts nothing but race.” This is false, of course, but it persuaded a large majority of my colleagues. Three out of four, as a matter of fact. I was tempted to ask which of them had done so very poorly on the GRE, and yet gone on to falsify this insulting prediction.
Under the cover of racial justice, this shameful vote accomplished several sinister ends. It obviously restores what is now a “good old boys and girls network” and gives a great advantage to sycophantic students of Great and Good Professors. It slams the door on any bright white males from Podunk U. It puts an end to the Asian invasion without curtailing the intake of international students who “test poorly” but look good under “holistic assessment.” And it of course dooms anyone who shames his undergraduate professors by superior intelligence, or annoys them with dissident opinions.