A review of Brutal Minds: The Dark World of Left-Wing Brainwashing in Our Universities,
by Stanley K. Ridgley (Humanix Books, 300 pages.)

Academia’s Woke Groomers

Exposing woke academia is both infuriating and amusing. Stanley K. Ridgley, a professor of management at Drexel University, has a knack for unearthing the horror of leftist, racialist, feminist, transgenderist grooming of immature minds on university campuses, and for caricaturing the groomers. His sarcasm will leave you rocking with laughter just after you’ve gasped with horror. 

Ridgley’s unique focus here is on university administrators and support staff—the nominal non-educators who have hijacked extracurricular activities and spaces to indoctrinate students in socially destructive politics. In the first line of his preface, he declares “one of the great subterfuges in American history.” In historical terms, he ranks this subterfuge with Nazi book-burning and Communist authoritarianism. 

Relatedly, Ridgley shows how the groomers on American campuses draw inspiration from Maoism. Recently, David Martin Jones and M.L.R. Smith proved the Maoism of wokeism in the epistemological sense. Ridgley exposes the pedagogy of wokeism. Ridgley shows us, in visceral detail, how woke American “educators” implement Maoism—brainwashing, show trials, censorship, demonization of independent thought, collectivism, and transnationalism. 

A better title for the book might have been Woke Groomers, but Ridgley chose Brutal Minds, which sounds too much like a movie title to me. Nevertheless, Ridgley wields the term insightfully and entertainingly, starting in the preface:

Brutal minds are distributed across the campuses as faculty and bureaucrats, and the worst of the lot go by the name of ‘student affairs’ . . . the bureaucrats who self-celebrate as they say, ‘I finally get a chance to use my master’s degree’. 

Ha! Laugh and get a serious point at the same time. Ridgley confirms the point many times over: universities are serving themselves and a political fringe by selling radical degrees of no use outside the academic-political complex—and so the system amplifies itself.

Ridgley is helpfully specific about the brutal actors: the perversely self-described “antiracists,” “educationists” who “view themselves as educators of society,” the Chronicle of Higher Education, the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), the Social Justice Training Institute, facilitators radiating “superaffirmation” and “hypercourtesy,” educators who want you “to personalize the correct information from the readings,” off-campus consultants “with more than 20 years of diversity and equity work.” 

Just listing these charlatans gets me mad, so let me remind you of how funny Ridgley is.

The ACPA . . . has established an institute where it trains student affairs staff from across the nation to impose thought-reform programs in their residence life programs . . . Does this sound absurd? That an undistinguished group of worker bees intends to ideologically transform an institution in which they serve only as ancillary support staff? Don’t these student affairs people just manage dorm room assignments and organize games of Ultimate Frisbee? Yes, it’s absurd. But if you had frustrated ambition and an online master’s degree in counselling, would you be happy with scheduling karaoke night at the dorm? 

Additionally, Ridgley is helpfully specific in warning us of the euphemisms that these brutal minds invent to disguise vices as virtues. 

“Educating for freedom,” “transformative education,” “student learning, “student development,” “Privileged Identity Exploration,” and “Dissonance Provoking Stimulus” are fig-leaves for brainwashing. 

“Critical pedagogy,” “antiracist pedagogy,” and “social justice education” are “unauthorized psychotherapy sessions conducted quite often by unlicensed personnel under false pretenses.” 

The good news is that these coercive faculty are usually restricted to the awful schools of education, schools of social work, many in public health, and always a significant contingent in sociology departments . . . The bad news, however, is bad. The critical pedagogues, antiracists, and fellow-traveler bureaucrats have seized much of the commanding heights of educationthe university administration.

In the second half of the book, Ridgley analogizes higher education to Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the underworld. (How Western-centric of him!) The three heads are: America’s 1,200 schools/departments of education (which produce a quarter of all master’s degrees), student affairs offices, and their nonprofit enablers such as ACPA. 

In a particularly alarming but funny section, Ridgley tabulates some data on the woeful GRE scores awarded to students of education, and breaks down the noneducation that schools of education actually teach.

The impression that emerges from these graduate programs in higher education administration is that you can be admitted to a graduate program by showing up with a pulse, take classes of a sort, interview a half-dozen folks who work down the hall from you, write a 150-page essay on it, and be called ‘Doctor.’ This is the glorious EdD, the ‘Doctor of Education.’

Somebody forward this page to Dr. Jill Biden.

Ridgley shows how higher education fulfills Robert Lifton’s eight steps to “thought reform”—control of information, mysticism, demand for purity, demand for public confessions, framing of ideology as science, heavy semantics, subordination of the individual to doctrine, and group adjudication of the individual’s existence. 

Another useful heuristic is Ridgley’s “three characteristics of a pseudoscientific doctrine.” These bear quoting in full, to help consumers of mainstream media and popular culture, not just academic vomit.

1. If you disagree, you are a blasphemer or heretic.
2. It can’t be tested or disproved.
3. The basic goals are utopianvague, wholesome, agreeable expressions. Peace and unity, inclusion and belonging, doing the work of antiracism.

Similarly, Ridgley reduces the student affairs pedagogy to three steps: subterfuge (“We don’t want to brainwash you, we just want you to have fun!”), hook (“Admit your privilege to gain promotion”), and hammer (“Ally with us or we’ll call you racist”).  

What can be done? Ridgley doesn’t shy from prescription. He often makes the point that much of what the woke groomers are doing is dishonest and harmful enough to warrant civil suit, criminal prosecution, or defunding—if only state and federal authorities were not so woke or indecisive. 

In the conclusion, he states that “administrators are vulnerable in just those two areas—the fear of bad publicity connected to them, and the fear of legal exposure.” One organization in which I have been involved to expose universities to publicity and legality is Alumni and Donors Unite.

Ridgley offers 15 steps for reforming university administration. These are unashamedly interventionist and invasive, such as forcing student affairs officers to take lessons in civics, and prohibiting membership in ACPA and NASPA. 

He isn’t naïve about the challenges. 

. . . you can expect the university and its allies at places like the Chronicle of Higher Education to blow smoke . . . by framing the campus dispute as (1) academic freedom under assault, or (2) university under pressure from the ‘far right’ and ‘bullies,’ or (3) minority students and faculty are just ‘exhausted’ at the latest efforts to ‘marginalize’ them and undermine ‘diversity and inclusion’ efforts.

We’ve got a long way to go, but one cannot read this book without feeling optimistic about the substance and style on our side.

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About Bruce Oliver Newsome

Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas, Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020). Follow him on Twitter @riskyscientists.

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