I'm a-flutter (really, I am!).
Jerry Coyne gives mention to my criticism of his take on the Jersey Shore conference. In his response, Coyne writes:
But of one thing I’m sure: reading The Brothers Karamazov will make them think even more deeply.I totally agree. A person's efforts will be much more rewarded by reading Dostoyevsky than by watching Jersey Shore.
Yet, good teaching can help students gain real value from both, and the value available to students from serious discussion of Jersey Shore has a relevance that is not offered even by literary classics. Being able to talk to students about the characters, the stories, the values, and the goals of Jersey Shore provides a right-now context for concerns that students also have right now. And unlike The Brothers Karamazov, Jersey Shore lends itself to students better: very few students ever think they understand Dostoyevsky, even when they do, while all students feel like they have a handle on Jersey Shore.
My point is not about the relative quality of the products, Jersey Shore vs. The Brothers Karamazov; it's about their value (also not equal) in allowing students to learn, discuss, and hone critical thinking skills. In my ideal world, the best teaching would lead people to be offended that Jersey Shore was ever offered as an option for entertainment. And then the show would fold along with others of its ilk.