April 27, 2013

Has Democracy Had Its Day in the U.S.?

We are not passing on what we have been given.  The boomer generation never foresaw the consequences of "Never trust anyone over 30" that we are now living.  Little by little, we have betrayed the trust of the unwritten social compact between generations.  Everything has been politicized and our popular culture has become toxic.  There's been a cultural revolution and our general response has been indifference.    It all makes me want to weep.

Bill Bennett, former Secretary of Education, reflected on American education and What Our Kids Aren't Taught in a recent speech reflected  on ….

...the failure to impart our history and culture to our kids. He noted that only 22 percent of students scored proficient on a recent NAEP test on civics, and only 18 percent scored proficient in history. There are Americans, he said, with long bloodlines in this country who are nonetheless strangers to it, because no one had taken the time or the trouble to teach them that “In the long story of inhumanity and misery that is human history, the American achievement stands high and unique, and it’s worth knowing.

Donald Kagan, the 80 year old scholar of ancient Greece, in his farewell lecture at Yale University,"uncorked a biting critique of American higher education"  'Democracy May Have Had Its Day'

Democracy, wrote Mr. Kagan in "Pericles of Athens" (1991), is "one of the rarest, most delicate and fragile flowers in the jungle of human experience." It relies on "free, autonomous and self-reliant" citizens and "extraordinary leadership" to flourish, even survive.  These kinds of citizens aren't born—they need to be educated.
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The Kagan thesis is bleak but not fatalistic. The fight to shape free citizens in schools, through the media and in the public square goes on. "There is no hope for anything if you don't have a population that buys into" a strong and free society, he says. "That can only be taught. It doesn't come in nature."

Students today are afraid to say anything that's politically incorrect.

Christina Hoff Sommers, author of “The War Against Boys,” explains how political correctness in our culture seeks to silence opposing views. Whether someone is making an argument that contradicts the prevailing doctrines of feminism, or that challenges the “victim culture” that permeates the educational system, Sommers says free speech is constantly being challenged on campus. But if students are afraid to express views that are unpopular, critical thinking is stifled and the nation suffers.

The genius of America is the rising above ethnic and religious identities with everyone sharing a national identity based on the values of individual liberty, dignity and equality as articulated in the Declaration of Independence.    Identity politics and political correctness are putting an end to that.  Higher education in America has become an " intellectual monoculture dedicated to identity politics."   

We need look no further than the report on Bowdoin to see

how progressive ideology has altered the character of American higher education. By focusing on just one college in detail, the authors capture the full context of how advocacy and ideology have significantly displaced the pursuit of truth and the cultivation of character.

The full report makes fascinating if discouraging reading.

We wouldn't have such an in-depth report if it were not for  The Golf Shot Heard Round the Academic World The tale of a teed-off philanthropist and the head of Bowdoin College, where identity politics runs wild.    Thomas Klingenstein, the teed-off philanthropist

commissioned researchers to examine Bowdoin's commitment to intellectual diversity, rigorous academics and civic identity. This week, some 18 months and hundreds of pages of documentation later, the project is complete. Its picture of Bowdoin isn't pretty.
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Funded by Mr. Klingenstein, researchers from the National Association of Scholars studied speeches by Bowdoin presidents and deans, formal statements of the college's principles, official faculty reports and notes of faculty meetings, academic course lists and syllabi, books and articles by professors, the archive of the Bowdoin Orient newspaper and more. They analyzed the school's history back to its founding in 1794, focusing on the past 45 years—during which, they argue, Bowdoin's character changed dramatically for the worse…. the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.
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The school's ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There's the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity.
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The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper's true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has "no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation." Even history majors aren't required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.

One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: "Affirmative Action and U.S. Society," "Fictions of Freedom," "Racism," "Queer Gardens" (which "examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces"), "Sexual Life of Colonialism" and "Modern Western Prostitutes."

Bit-sized Bowdoin report

Bowdoin, however, is presented as the stand-in for the whole category of highly selective old-line colleges that in recent decades have abandoned rigorous education in favor of winning over students to a progressive worldview. Lots of people, of course, have described and complained about this swap. But the NAS report is something brand new. No one until now has exposed the politicization of higher education in this kind of breadth and depth — by examining how it plays out at a single college. Nor has anyone before authors Peter Wood and Michael Toscano thought to mine a college’s own archives to substantiate charges of bias. With some thoughtful help from Wood and Toscano, Bowdoin virtually indicts itself.

Subverting Bowdoin

In late 60's or early 70's a great shift took place in American higher education. The idea that the students should all receive a basic grounding in history, government, social science, arts, and languages was discarded. Bowdoin abandoned its general education requirements in 1969. A deeply subversive and frankly weird ideology has become dominant in the trendier colleges. The ideology doesn't have an accepted name because the colleges deny that they have fundamentally changed their practices and beliefs. Sometimes it is described as an obsession with race, gender, and sex. It is characterized by political correctness. Orwellian misuse of language is practiced. An example is use of the word "diversity" to characterize aggressive discrimination in favor of certain racial groups and against others. Since racial discrimination is supposedly frowned upon or is illegal, they have to pretend it is something else. Many colleges suppress freedom of speech when the speech in question violates the canons of political correctness. The president of Harvard was fired for speculating out loud that women may be worse at math than men. Some things are unmentionable in academic company. At Hampshire College the speech code prohibited "psychological intimidation and harassment of any person or pet." Many colleges have speech codes that prohibit speech that might make someone else, especially members of favored minority groups, feel bad. However Hampshire seems to have been unique in attempting to protect the psychological well being of pets.
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Rather than bread and circuses, Bowdoin keeps its students occupied with alcohol, drugs, and sex.
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History majors at Bowdoin are not required to take any course in American History. Yale professor David Gelernter in his book America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture suggested this:

Teaching American history, aside from a few marvelously evil incidents out of context, is dangerous to a basic tenet of the cultural revolution and must accordingly be stopped.
Posted by Jill Fallon at April 27, 2013 12:52 PM | Permalink