Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 13: Public Acceptance of Lying Extends to the Triangle

According to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization based in Washington D.C., public acceptance of lying in academe has increased in recent years. The May-June issue of AEI’s magazine, The American Enterprise, includes several articles that blame postmodern scholarship on this recent trend.

“For decades now, there have been intellectual trends underway which blur truth and encourage lying,” the magazine’s editor, Karl Zinsmeister, writes in the May/June issue of The American Enterprise. The idea that truth is relative, which postmodern theorists hold, “becomes a dangerous license for disruptive propaganda or sociopathic behavior.”

The report was likely sparked by the recent controversy surrounding the book I, Rigoberta Menchu -the autobiography of a poor Guatemalan girl that includes lies about Rigoberta’s personal life and oversimplifications of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. David Stoll, a professor of anthropology at Middlebury College, uncovers many of these lies in his most recent book, Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.

Despite Stoll’s hard evidence that Rigoberta did, in fact, fabricate details surrounding her personal life and the leftist guerilla movement, which fought against the oppressive, Guatemalan government, many people in academe defend the use of her book to teach college courses. Reaction from Triangle professors and students to the Menchu controversy appeared to support the American Enterprise Institute’s claim.

“I really don’t understand what the big deal is,” one student told Clarion, the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy’s magazine. “Just because someone has found a few flaws in her reports does not give them the right to accuse her of lying,” wrote another. Professors seemed more concerned about Menchu’s decision to lie but said they may continue to use her book to teach classes.

“Now it is standard practice [to teach about slavery and the Civil War using Uncle Tom’s Cabin]. Why? Because it’s “true”? Certainly not…. No single piece of writing draws together important global themes like Rigoberta’s testimonial,” James Crawford, who teaches history at UNC, told Clarion Call in January. None of the students or professors questioned addressed the issue of lying in an autobiographical “report.”

For a full report on the controversy surrounding Menchu, including analysis of David Stoll’s book and more reaction from Triangle professors and students, check out the May issue of Clarion.