Education • Uncategorized

U. of Illinois Offers ‘Buyback’ on ‘Racist’ Indian Chief Mascot Merchandise

Breitbart reports, “the University of Illinois student government is offering a “buyback” of “racist” merchandise featuring the school’s former mascot, Chief Illiniwek.”

The students want to remove the so-called “outdated and racist imagery from campus.”

“Help remove outdated and racist imagery from campus!” reads a recent Facebook post by the Illinois Student Government. “Exchange your former mascot clothing for brand new, official Illinois merchandise at any of the locations listed above, while supplies last!”

The post goes on to inform students to “reach out to your Multicultural Advocates if you reside in University Housing to perform exchanges of clothing as well! The Illinois Student Government is proud to partner with the Native American and Indigenous Students Organization for this Buyback Event.”

The University of Illinois student government is dedicating $5,250 to host its “t-shirt buyback” event according to a report by Campus Reform.

“[T]he Illinois Student Government takes a firm stance against representations of ‘Chief Illiniwek’ because of the disrespect the symbol conveys upon the Native American community,” reads the resolution.

The school retired the mascot in 2007 after complaints from various Native groups and individuals. In 2017, the school decided to do away with its fan-favorite “War Chant” song at university games.

“I find it deeply disturbing that the University of Illinois has seen fit to label any representation of Native culture, authentic or not, as inherently offensive and worthy of censorship,” said president of the Honor the Chief Society Ivan Dozier — who is of Native American descent — to Campus Reform.

“Other schools like Utah and Florida State work closely with local tribes and honor their imagery and history with pride,” he added. “Why has Illinois not made any effort towards a similar partnership?”

“The University of Illinois certainly sends the message that Native Americans are not wanted nor welcome,” affirmed Dozier. “Perhaps that’s why the school posts a paltry 0.0601% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders, and 0.0539% American Indian or Alaska Native student enrollment.”

Education • Post • Progressivism

Boston University and the Societal Engineers

Like most parents of high school graduates at this time of year, I am cleaning up the vast array of promotional materials sent by colleges and universities now that my daughter has committed to the school of her choice. My daughter is a catch academically—a high-achiever who wants to pursue a career in science or engineering—so it was not a surprise that several upper-tier schools courted her with scholarships and generous aid packages.

Boston University was no exception. The school clearly spared no expense on its brochures, which featured prominent lettering, graphics, and striking colors. The tag line for the school of engineering brochure, “Creating The Societal Engineer,” appears in big white letters. But for someone like me with a background in history and the humanities, this phrase was a bit jarring. What exactly did they mean by “societal engineer”? I wanted to know more.

BU hired Kenneth R. Lutchen as dean of the engineering school in 2006. He introduced the concept of “societal engineering” two years later and the university trademarked the term in 2012. The engineering department has grown and prospered under his leadership. During his tenure, Lutchen has formed partnerships with big names such as General Electric, Philips, AT&T, Procter and Gamble, Accenture, and others, with the goal of facilitating research and fostering talent and, more broadly, serving humanity.

Boston’s brochure touts a program where Boston’s engineering students work closely with rural doctors and hospitals to devise medical equipment that can be readily accessed to train personnel, can withstand harsh climates, and, most importantly, can be easily repaired. There can be no question that a university so focused on positive outcomes for people is engaged in something laudable and praiseworthy. Using technology to advance civilization, extend human lifespans, and raise people’s standards of living are all good things.

But the term “societal engineering” immediately evokes an older, more sinister term: social engineering. Born of good intentions over a century ago, social engineering also offered technological advances destined to push humanity forward by solving all its problems. Instead, it left behind it a legacy of misery, bloodshed, and death. Social reformer Pierre Guillaume Frédéric le Play is credited with coining the term in 1872 at France’s École des Mines, where he was a professor and engineer-in-chief. Le Play was also a pioneer in sociology and his efforts to apply rigorous scientific methods to the study of French family dynamics have left a lasting legacy in the field. William H. Tolman, an American scientist, mechanical engineer, and industrialist, published Social Engineering in 1909. The book focused on how American industrialists at the time tried to “promote better relations between capital and labor.” The idea was that just as businesses needed traditional engineers to solve technical challenges, they also needed social engineers to help solve social or human problems. The subsequent popularity of the idea helped foment the belief that any project subscribing to that label was necessarily in the service of some humanitarian good.

But it quickly became clear that “social engineering” had no limiting principle. In its most malignant form, social engineering gave birth to the “new Soviet Man,” China’s “Great Leap Forward,” and the “Cultural Revolution.” Indeed, it left more than 100 million corpses in its wake. Early 20th century social engineering efforts led to the promotion and implementation of the eugenics movement, which in the United States alone led to some 60,000 forced sterilizations of women government social workers deemed mentally or socially “unfit.” Eugenics became the lodestar of social engineering. Horrific medical experiments, such as the Tuskegee syphilis study, were justified on the grounds of bettering society at the expense of people supposedly “lacking in social value.”

Is Lutchen’s “societal engineer” a new spin on that older, discredited idea? Lutchen did not respond to my several requests for clarification. But his public record is enough to make one wonder.

Although Lutchens formally introduced “societal engineering” into BU’s curriculum and promotional literature a decade ago, Merriam-Webster dates the first use of the adverb “societal” to 1890, about the same time “social engineering” began as a movement. Webster’s also provides a clue as to why Lutchen’s letter swap is significant. When the adjective “social” is changed to an adverb “societal,” it modifies the noun “engineering” to suggest calculated action and direction. Understanding this particular conjunction and the moral cynosure it became during the Progressive Era might have been useful information for Lutchen to have as he was refining his vision for the school, its students, and their respective roles in the world.

In an essay published in the Fall 2011 edition of Bostonia, the university’s alumni magazine, Lutchen explained how he came around to the “societal engineering” concept. “I looked around and tried to conceptualize the goals of an undergraduate education in engineering,” he wrote. “How did an education in engineering map into the greater context of society?” Luchen’s question is a good one. His answer leaves much to be desired, however: “I recognized that undergraduate education must prepare people for success, where success was an ambition to impact society. It dawned on me that we have the potential to transform the goals and experience of engineering education at the undergraduate level.” Which sounds an awful lot like social engineering.

“You can create somebody with the most powerful foundation possible for orchestrating people from all forms of disciplines so that you can move an organization and society forward to improve our quality of life,” Lutchen explained in a 2013 video. He listed the main attributes of Boston University’s program as fostering “system-level thinking” not only in technological innovation but also in how product ideas are put into mass production “specific to their region and culture.” The attributes of the societal engineer, as he sees them, are a global awareness, a sense to incorporate public policy, and “social consciousness”—a highly elastic concept open to all manner of mischief.

It’s troubling to note where Lutchen seems to be steering his program. The engineer apparently has departed the world of concrete and steel and entered the realm of dangerous abstraction. Writing in the Spring 2019 issue of ENG, Boston University’s engineering school magazine, Lutchen makes the case not just for the societal engineer but rather for the “societal citizen.”

“We need higher education in general to commit to Creating the Societal Citizen,” he writes. He wonders “if people who have not been exposed to the scientific method are considerably more likely to claim climate change is a hoax or that childhood vaccinations are dangerous. They do this despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Why? Perhaps they want to believe this and/or there are politicians and those with cynical business self-interests (who also rarely have STEM backgrounds) who push this narrative.” He goes further, suggesting that certain politicians and businessmen have nefarious goals. “I suspect that an individual who does not understand the scientific method or quantitative analysis can more easily dismiss compelling data in favor of personal opinion.” Implicit in these comments is the ridiculous suggestion that people with STEM backgrounds would never be swayed by political ideology, donor pressure, or personal prejudice.

Social engineering promotes the unspoken ethical tautology that if a thing can be seen from one point of view to serve the common good, it is ipso facto good. Lutchen in his letter to accepted students this year defines his societal engineer as one “who has the confidence, capacity, and passions to work with people from all disciplines, cultures, governments and organizations to solve society’s greatest challenges and improve people’s quality of life.”

A lofty goal, but it exposes the real problem: When one thinks he has this power, he gives himself moral carte blanche to create the perfect society, whether the projects he is advancing actually are in the best interests of the masses or not. Moreover, who decides? And what gives them the right to decide what’s in the best interest of society? STEM education?

Social engineering, and Lutchen’s version “societal engineering” both gloss over vital moral distinctions. Certain individual anomalies, in certain circumstances, may not be of particular benefit to society. A social engineer would say they should be swept away or thrown out like metal filings or used petri dishes. To dissent from an idea that society’s engineers have concluded serves the public good is to be out of step, out of touch, and subversive. Who can disagree with what “science” says? Teaching students the scientific method and qualitative analysis will not be enough to stop people from making wrong or corrupt decisions.

Why is there no recognition of the catastrophic impact social engineering has had on humanity in history? As the moral impetus for technological development and progress, social engineering requires technical initiatives and programs to be sold to the public as part of a social good. But progressives, under the auspices of social betterment, have exploited, maimed, and murdered people by the hundreds of millions. If technology is guided primarily by whatever people like Lutchen may deem “socially worthy,” what exactly is guiding it? Is it respect for the individual? Or, might we infer as the name suggests, that the individual is subordinate to the “societal” good?

Lutchen’s program is entering is entering its 11th year. The brochures tout great humanitarian achievements by his students, such Andrew Schiff’s ENG’ 12 patch for congenital heart defects made from a newborn’s own cells, are groundbreaking and laudable. What makes that good is that someone’s baby is saved, and that human potential for good is carried forward. A societal directive that is guided only by the scientific method can’t do that. For that matter, neither can a STEM degree or any college degree promoting social allegiance to “system-level thinking” over individual human worth. Lutchen’s statements suggest he denigrates the views of people who disagree with his view of society.

Reorienting higher education to make “societal citizens” who have “internalized the scientific method” and can “assess objectively” the challenges that threaten our quality of life only sounds laudable in a completely ahistorical context. To assert, however, that failure to adopt such a program means “Nothing short of the Earth itself may be at stake” is propaganda, pure and simple. We are not cogs in a “societal engineer’s” machine.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images

Education • Post • The Culture

Apollo’s Triumph—and Public Schooling’s Tragedy

This past weekend the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was, for those too young to recall, the first time any nation put humans on an alien world. It was an amazing feat of engineering, ingenuity, and courage.

And it happened just eight years and 56 days after President John F. Kennedy had issued a challenge to the nation to do it. From a presidential speech to footprints on the moon in eight years and a couple months!

That same president also had a plan to “reform” K-12 public education, as has every single president since. We walked on the moon in under a decade, yet in the 57 years since Kennedy’s challenge we are still only talking about reforming the failing K-12 public education system.

One has to ask how serious any of these plans were if they have achieved basically nothing in six decades—unless you want to count further decline as “something.”

According to the College Board, which administers the Scholastic Achievement Test for college admissions, 12th grade reading scores reached a 40-year low in 2012. Richard Nixon was president when similar reading scores were produced. Would you like to go to the hospital today to receive across-the-board 1973 treatments?

Most 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in math or reading. Ask yourself, how can an organization whose only purpose is education not be able to teach children of average intelligence to read at grade level in an eight year time span? Kennedy and NASA got us standing on the moon in a similar span.

While the country is filled with hardworking, dedicated, and loving teachers, administrators, and volunteers—most of whom labor mightily to succeed—none of these has the power to unravel the mess our public education system has become. Sure, the teacher’s unions are resistant to change but they are not the chief reason for these failures. Just because an organization might not be part of the solution does not necessarily mean it is the cause of the problem.

This country spends more money per pupil than any other country on the planet, save one. Over the years researchers have found little to no correlation between increased educational spending and student achievement.

So if this astounding lack of progress in almost 60 years is not due to poor teachers or a lack of money, what is the cause?

It is the very nature of the system that is causing the problem. There can be no other answer.

One would try in vain to unravel this mess and incrementally fix one thing after another. That would be a poor choice because each problem solved would only uncover another and, likely, create another.

A better choice is to start anew. Given that we all accept the incredible value and importance of a decent education that would seem to be the primary goal. The next question is how should we attempt to achieve this goal in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of money?

A child is only 7 years old once, so there is no time to waste. We’ve already wasted nearly 60 years. Also since a dollar spent here is a dollar not spent there, it makes sense to try to achieve this goal at the least expense.

So how to best achieve these goals? If we look around for a general design that has been extraordinarily successful throughout the history of mankind, we will find that free people freely interacting with other free people are more likely to achieve good than people tied to a system in which they have no agency. For our purposes here in public education, obviously this would occur within some sort of state-regulated environment where the regulators derive their powers from the consent of the people affected by their decisions.

This design has never failed. It drives the improvement of every product and service that has ever existed. So how to get there and how much will it cost?

The way to get there is simply to change the way we fund public education. Rather than funding the education establishment, fund the children who use it instead. Just because we have government-funded public K-12—a good thing—doesn’t mean governments should also be in charge of running the schools.

We are spending this money right now on these children. Why not, within some sort of local and state-regulated environment, give all of the money to the parents so they can determine how and where it is best spent in the interest of their own child?

This one simple change, which could be implemented right now, would unleash the wisdom of millions as the power of free people freely interacting with other free people transforms public education. In the end, it would redound to the benefit of teachers, parents, and students.

It’s a solution that would work, could be done quickly, and needn’t cost an extra dime.

What moral and honorable reason is there for not making this change right now? What moral and honorable reason is there for fighting to keep fighting for the same old failing system? What moral and honorable reason is there for retaining a system which destroys millions of young lives before they have even had a chance? What moral and honorable reason is there for keeping a system which is putting the very future of this great country at risk? I can think of none.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images

America • Education • Free Speech • Identity Politics • Post • The Left

A Speech That Should Be Punished

Much has been written about the attacks on free speech, especially at universities and colleges. Speakers with conservative viewpoints are routinely banished from important venues, denied attendance, picketed, or subjected to the “hecklers’ veto.” At the University of California Berkeley and other campuses where conservative speech has been met with disorder, activists have justified it because, they claim, “speech is violence.” Gone is adherence to the maxim of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “If there be time to . . . avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Speakers must be held accountable for their words, to be sure. But sometimes “accountability” is ideological and unfair. Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers discovered this when, at an academic conference in 2006, he speculated about the preponderance of men working as professors of mathematics and physical sciences at elite universities. Although Summers acknowledged that women confronted barriers such as discrimination and disproportionate family responsibilities, he hypothesized that there might be other factors, like men’s superior performance in tests measuring mathematical ability. Summers was vilified and ridiculed, and eventually resigned.

Another example of caving to mob rule at Harvard was the law school’s decision to strip law professor Ronald Sullivan, Jr., of his position as faculty dean of a college residence hall. The reason? Some students felt “unsafe” because Sullivan represented Harvey Weinstein against charges of sexual misconduct. As Sullivan put it, “Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.”

Harvard is not alone. In 2015, Erika Christakis, a highly regarded Yale University lecturer in early childhood education and an administrator at a student residence, was hounded into leaving the faculty for having the temerity to suggest that there could be negative implications if students were to cede “implied control” over Halloween costumes to “institutional forces.”

Christakis was responding to a directive from the Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale that warned students it would be insensitive to wear costumes that could imply cultural appropriation, like feathered headdresses, turbans, war paint, blackface or redface, or costumes poking fun at certain people. In that response, in effect, she predicted her own destiny: “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”

Now we are faced with statements—from a Harvard dean, no less—that deserve but appear to have escaped widespread condemnation.

As described by Heather Mac Donald in a superb, infuriating Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, dean of students Rakesh Khurana took the opportunity at graduation (“Class Day”) to make assertions that are offensive, anti-American, and worst of all, wrong. This passage (as Mac Donald related) is illustrative:

The “capitalist ethos,” according to Mr. Khurana, tells us that “we deserve to win because of our skill, our hard work, and our contributions.” Mr. Khurana—who is also a professor of business and of sociology—claimed to be “mystified by that belief

We are also mystified—by Khurana, who went on to rail about “structural inequities” such as “inherited privilege,” the supposed myth of the self-made person, and the meaninglessness of “deserving.” This sophomoric claptrap is from a professor of business at Harvard?

Could Khurana possibly be unaware that people like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergei Brin, Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Larry Page, Barack Obama, and innumerable others, inherited little and yet have been wildly successful? Privilege played little part in their success compared to their accomplishments. What has become of the famous dictum of Francis Bacon that “chiefly the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands?”

While Khurana credits chance with the lion’s share of “real” success, he completely misses the reality: The primary luck we all have is where and to which parents we are born, the level of brain power we are gifted with at birth, the culture in which we are immersed from early childhood—and, to some degree, also our race and ethnicity.

Much as Khurana (and many other progressives) may want to believe it, we do not all benefit equally from the genetic lottery. “Nurture” can overcome some limitations and stifle some abilities, but our core selves and parentage cannot be changed. The question is, what we do with what we have. This is the essence of personal responsibility and free choice. And in America, we enjoy vastly more freedom to make the most of what we are given than in most any other place on earth.

Different places in this world respond differently to the accident of birth. To this day, India remains partially mired in the caste system. In other countries, those unlucky enough to be born to disfavored minority ethnic groups may face death or permanent relegation to deprived circumstances. In America, we are always striving to eliminate disadvantages of geography, race, religion, gender, and culture, sometimes to a fault. That is “who we are.” That is why we are the Land of Opportunity.

As Mac Donald points out, the family unit seems to be highly influential in nurturing success. Asian families tend to be very close-knit, and as we see in the United States, their offspring tend to be high achievers. Out-of-wedlock births among African Americans number almost three out of four, and many of those children seem to require more than the typical public-school education to thrive and replace some of what is missing on the family side. It is not “privilege” to have a constructive family culture; it is the luck of who your parents are. To this extent, “chance” sets us up for a greater or lesser probability of future success.

The great leveling factors in our society, however, are precisely those that Rakesh Khurana dismisses: skill, ambition, hard work, and achievement. Not everyone has every skill, though many can be taught within the inherent limitations of their intellectual capacity. Not everyone will develop a personality suited to every opportunity.

It is the opportunities afforded in American society for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to coin a phrase, that removes many (though not all) of the constraints that might limit us. Khurana’s views are antithetical to what it means to have the opportunity to succeed because his conception of “chance” seems to confine us. Why strive for anything when the roll of the dice might be more important?

Given the insulting, shallow, and grossly misguided content of Khurana’s speech, he should be relieved of his administrative position and, thereby, held accountable for his speech. The precedent at Harvard is certainly well established. His is a far more serious offense than Larry Summers’ musing about a potentially useful avenue of research. Khurana should not be allowed to poison the minds of any more students at what is supposedly one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.

Harvard, enough is enough.

Photo Credit: Dean Khurana

America • Education • History • Post • Progressivism • The Left

Up Against the Wall with Washington

Why didn’t Sir Isaac Newton, the famed English mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, invent the automobile? 

Newton was a clever guy. He came up with calculus, and all it took was an apple dropping onto his noggin to give him his epiphany about gravity. He plotted the movement of planets and comets on paper using a quill pen, not even a ballpoint. Why couldn’t he think up an internal combustion engine and have mankind tooling around in snazzy convertibles by, say, 1673? He lived until 1727, so he would have had time to invent seat belts, air bags and, just for fun, tail fins. 

But, he didn’t. He was absolutely ignorant about automotives. There are guys who flunked high school auto shop who know more about cars than he ever did. So, should we expunge all mention of his genius from our history books? 

No. Newton was doing the best he could with what he had. And we accept that. A lot of other stuff had to be invented before anyone could go cruising Main Street on a Saturday night.

Everyone seems fine with scientific progress taking incremental steps over time. We may be amused by the brick-like cell phones that the early adopters hauled out with a flourish to envious eyes just a few decades ago, but we aren’t angry with their creators. Not even a Betamax or an Edsel offends our sensibilities. We are aware that technology can take wrong turns. 

We also accept that technical progress can be slow. In the early 20th century, Buck Rogers-type science fiction suggested that we’d soon have robots to walk Fido and atomic rockets would zip us to Mars for family holidays, but Fido still needs a human to go walkies on frosty December mornings and there aren’t any Martian hotels boasting rooms with scenic views of that planet’s ruddy mountains. 

We may be disappointed, but we don’t get mad. We understand that improving the world can be difficult and slow. 

Unfortunately, some don’t extend this understanding to more human forms of progress. They expect the world instantly to transform into the utopia of their desires and declare anyone who isn’t up to date on the latest iteration of the scheme an evil monster. This attitude is a particular characteristic of today’s progressives, who wield political correctness like a flaming sword. Not satisfied with hacking away at living opponents, they seek to destroy enemies they find in history who failed to change the world centuries ago in a way that meets their approval today. 

That’s what is happening at San Francisco’s George Washington High School. Recently, the San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously to spend an estimated $600,000 not on books or classroom improvements, but instead to destroy murals painted in the 1930s on the walls of that high school.

Titled “The Life of George Washington,” the murals were painted by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian-born artist and Communist who, though no fan of Washington or of America in general (he would spend the last years of his life in the USSR, in fact) was willing to take a check to the work. Indeed, Uncle Sam’s Works Progress Administration, an effort by the Roosevelt Administration to employ artists during the Great Depression, paid artists like Arnautoff to decorate public buildings, which they did more or less according to their own ideas. 

Arnautoff’s mural shows scenes from Washington’s life. The school board claims they are racist because a dead Native American is shown in one part and slaves are depicted doing menial work in other parts. The images are mild. The corpse shows no wounds, and the slaves aren’t being abused as they too often were in reality. 

Arnautoff was illustrating the negative side of our first president’s life while also showing his accomplishments. Washington had waged war on Native Americans and was a plantation owner who used slave labor. Ironically, rather than accepting this nuanced depiction (offered by a Communist, no less!), the woke board decided that the images were too traumatic for the school’s students to see. That students had seen them for about eight decades without much complaint had no effect on the board’s decision.

While American high school students are more and more ill-educated, it is unlikely that any are unaware that Native Americans were harshly displaced when Europeans arrived in the New World or that Africans were enslaved here. Indeed, in the classrooms of George Washington High School you can be certain that lectures have been delivered upon these topics, homework assigned from textbooks containing this information, probably illustrated with images similar or more lurid than the murals, and tests administered with poor grades dispensed to those who didn’t absorb what they had been taught. 

Will these teaching materials be similarly censored or the lessons abandoned as racist and traumatic? Of course not. It’s obvious that the intent of the destruction isn’t to shield students from harm. It is to reduce the status of Washington by further associating him with the racism their lesson plans surely already lay at his feet. The San Francisco School Board is very progressive and an important part of the progressive effort to transform America is branding Old America as requiring transformation. To that purpose, heroes like Washington must be shown to be defective, which renders anything they created or honoring of them also defective.

Washington is considered very flawed by progressive standards. During the Revolution, he fought Native Americans. That Native Americans had, however, sided with the British and were therefore fair game like any red coat escapes scrutiny. 

Also escaping mention is that Washington did make war on Native Americans as president; he far preferred to make peace. He entertained multiple Native American delegations and forged treaties that were beneficial to both sides. The Creek, in particular, did well from his efforts. Unfortunately, Washington’s approach—avoiding war, purchasing lands, negotiating treaties, and making efforts to assimilate Native Americans into America’s growing nation—didn’t continue after he left office.

Washington’s relationship with slavery was less advanced. His slaves were freed upon his death, but that was less of a sacrifice than freeing them when he was alive would have been. Still, it is likely they appreciated the gesture and we should remember that slavery was considered an inevitable if unfortunate part of the world in which Washington lived. Indeed, it was common around the world and had been throughout history. It would take a horrific civil war to end it in the United States. 

To suggest that Washington, or anyone else, could have ended slavery earlier without tearing apart the infant country is foolish. Lincoln and a massive Union army barely managed to free the slaves and hold the Union together in the 1860s.

This brings us back to Newton and the incremental nature of progress. He once said of his accomplishments, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton used mathematics that can be traced back to clay tablets in ancient Mesopotamia. Newton added his own great advancements, and others have followed. 

The same is true of progress in freedom. America’s Founders built our nation upon work that can be traced to Roman law and England’s Magna Carta. Washington, like Newton in science, made great contributions that built on earlier efforts to increase recognition of human dignity and freedom. First, he won the nearly impossible fight against Britain that allowed America to form the first modern republic. Then, he refused to be made a king. He became a wise president and left office after two terms in a peaceful transfer of power that many nations would come to envy. 

With respect to racial relations, Washington did not take America all the way to where it is today or to where some might wish it to be, but any honest thinker must admit that his were heroic accomplishments that were fundamental to building a country that could arrive there. Without them America and all the good its ideals and actions have accomplished would not have happened. Like Newton, we should be grateful that we have had the shoulders of giants such as Washington to stand upon.

Right now, new forms of tyranny that would astound George Orwell are clamping down on great masses of humanity and freedom is in jeopardy as never before. We are witnessing the creation of computerized totalitarian states where Big Brother augmented by artificial intelligence seeks to monitor every moment of their drone citizens’ lives. 

Even in nations that have long enjoyed freedom, forces are at work seeking to curtail rights that were once thought fundamental and secure. If the San Francisco School Board is truly interested in creating a better world, they should be defending what Washington and our other national heroes helped incrementally to build and asking how those advancements might protect against this burgeoning turn toward tyranny, instead of obsessively picking at past failings.

People are imperfect and nations are imperfect, but virtue should be respected and not scorned as inadequate to the smug prejudices of those who sit in freedom and safety on a school board two and a half centuries away from any danger of being hanged by George III.

Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Center for American Greatness • Education • feminists • Post • The Left

The Real ‘Toxic Masculinity’

We’ve all been hearing plenty about “toxic masculinity” these days, and never from people who trouble to tell us what strong, virtuous, and noble masculinity might look like. That should not surprise us. If someone should use the phrase “toxic Judaism,” we would not expect from him a wistful description of gentle, intelligent rabbis studying for many years each phrase of the Scriptures and all the centuries of commentary thereupon, or a call for Jews to return to their heritage. We would expect rather a sense that all Judaism is more or less toxic, and the less of it a Jew might have, so much the better. In other words, we would expect sheer bigotry.

And yet I can see a paradoxical use for that phrase, “toxic masculinity.” Many drugs, we know, are medicinal in small doses but toxic in large doses. The reverse applies here. Masculinity is the drug that is dynamic, creative, and protective in large doses, but querulous, selfish, irresponsible, and dangerous in small doses. And we find it to be so in some rather strange places.

Let me explain. I recall many years ago a study which showed that prison inmates with lower levels of testosterone tended to get into fights more often; and feminists, not known for thinking past a single move on the chessboard, concluded that it therefore proved that testosterone had nothing to do with aggressiveness. Of course it proved no such thing. Every boy knows that the bully is never the strongest kid in the class. The bully is the one who feels his weakness or inadequacy and takes it out on boys who are smaller than he is. The more manly you are, the more you will command simply by your presence. No announcement is needed.

A man’s man does not raise his hand in anger against a woman. He despises men who do that: he considers them to be less than the mud on the sole of his shoe. Women, for their part, are attracted to strong and virile men for the protection they will afford them, because women are vulnerable—smaller and weaker than teenage boys, even when they are not bearing a child or taking care of an infant or of small children. To use the old poetic image, she is the fruitful and “marriageable vine” that clings to the tall and strong but otherwise barren elm.

We may find “toxic masculinity,” then, wherever there is toxic aggression but without manliness, without the sense that power is to be used sparingly and always for protection of the weaker, without the strict accountability that the man demands of himself, blaming himself first for things that go wrong, while giving credit to others when things go right. The more masculine you are, the more confident you are that you need not prove your manhood by swagger, by picking on the weak, by pumping yourself, and by stiffing those who have assisted you.

Which brings me again to the recent court decision against Oberlin College, awarding more than $40 million in damages (later reduced to $25 million) to a local business, Gibson’s Bakery, for defamation and tortious interference with business. As I have discussed them at length before, I won’t go into the details of the controversy here. I wish, instead, to note a troubling feature of the controversy.

The three principal actors on the side of Oberlin—the president, the chief legal counsel, and the person who was most of all to blame, the dean of students—were all women, “woke” women as one commentator called them. The plaintiffs were male. Several quite moving photographs of four generations of Gibson’s are to be found: great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and son.

Perform a thought experiment. Switch the sexes. Can anyone imagine, even in our addled time, that three men in charge of a massive institution would ever set that power in motion to destroy a business run by four generations of women? Everyone in the nation would rise in detestation of such a thing. But the point is rather that it would not happen. Imagine that a student had gotten caught trying to steal a bottle of wine from a bakery run by a woman, and that it was a woman who lay on the ground being pummeled when the police arrived. I find it hard to believe that a male dean of students would not have gone to visit the bakery in person to apologize, and to assure the woman that the school would do all in its power to see to it that such a thing would not happen again.

But there it was—“toxic masculinity,” that is, aggression without manliness, and it came from the women in charge of Oberlin.

I have seen the same phenomenon elsewhere in academe, aplenty, but not only there. It is endemic in bureaucracies, whether in politics, business, or the churches; wherever you find indirection, ambition without plain dealing, enclaves of those whose accomplishments are mainly to batten on the accomplishments of others, or to stifle them when they show the mediocre to great disadvantage. This sort of toxicity you will find among both sexes.

One more point. It is not just that the women of Oberlin did an egregiously bad thing to Gibson’s Bakery. It is that evidently it never occurred to them to do the right thing, which in this case would have been the manly thing. It never occurred to them to protect the bakery.

A good woman will fight for her man. But she will not fight for somebody else’s man. Why should she? Of what anthropological or biological benefit could that ever have been? I say it with some disappointment. Women, as a sex, do not protect men, as a sex. Men are on their own. If women, as a sex, wished to protect men, would they, for example, insist upon becoming Marines and fighting in combat, with at best the strength of healthy 15-year-old boys, putting their male comrades to needless risk? Would they tolerate schools which have for decades been failing boys so signally? In confrontations between men and women, would they not lean toward taking the man’s part?

You’re on your own, buddy. That goes for your sons, too.

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Center for American Greatness • Democrats • Education • GOPe • Post • Republicans • The Left

All Out of Bootstraps

Somewhere along the line, the Republican Party earned itself the moniker of the “Stupid Party.” It has become painfully obvious, for example, that most congressional Republicans don’t want to repeal Obamacare. “And if that is the case,” as Byron York wisely asks, “the question is, why are Republicans trying?” Well, for show, naturally; but also, because they are either generally out of touch as a party, or actually benefit from not resolving issues that hurt everyday Americans, while claiming to want to solve them for appearances and votes.

The same principles apply to their failure to restrict immigration, and to their tax cuts—which, though purportedly intended to help Middle America the most, in reality were a far better deal for their corporate paymasters, many of whom used the windfall for things like stock buybacks rather than, say, hiring.

Now the Stupid Party seems determined to live up to its soubriquet on yet another issue.

Chiming in on the student-loan debt cancellation craze, Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) has only bland orthodoxy to offer. “When you say #cancelstudentdebt,” he wrote on Twitter, “you’re saying a minority of people who had the advantage of obtaining a degree should have their debt paid off by hardworking taxpayers, 2/3 of whom don’t have degrees themselves, or already paid their own student debt off.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with what Crenshaw says here. And, certainly, individuals who major in multicultural basket weaving invite financial woes after graduation. But student-loan debt is a real problem. If one does not find his or her calling in a trade, one is faced with a growing number of entry- and mid-level jobs requiring a degree than ever before; nine in 10 jobs created in 2017 went to people with a college degree.

In all, 44.7 million Americans shoulder student loan debt, according to a 2018 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Total student loan debt topped $1.47 trillion as of the end of 2018—dwarfing auto loans ($1.129 trillion) and credit card debt ($834 billion). Data from the Federal Reserve show the average monthly student loan payment is anywhere between $200 and $300. Not exactly a small chunk of change for most people starting out in life.

The issue does not merely affect young, dumb Millennials either.

Adults 60 and older are the fastest-growing group among student loan debtors, as they struggle to pay off their own loans or, increasingly, take on debt to send their children or grandchildren off to college. Data compiled for the Wall Street Journal by the credit reporting agency TransUnion show “student loan borrowers in their 60s owed $33,800 in 2017,” up 44 percent from 2010. The Journal adds that total student loan debt rose 161 percent “for people aged 60 and older from 2010 to 2017—the biggest increase for any age group, according to the latest data available from TransUnion.”

Crenshaw’s error, then, is an unwillingness—all too typical among Republicans—to cough up anything more than platitudes. For one reason or another, when faced with real issues and the revolutionaries who would exploit them, Republicans just reach back to recycled formulas and slogans that do not bother to account for new realities.

An Opportunity Not to be Missed
Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), socialists in arms, have offered to cancel all or most student-debt, respectively. Just about any “solution” proposed by the Left, however, would create more problems than it would solve—in much the same way that the student-loan “debt bomb” was triggered by the federal intervention in the form of student-loan programs that have been very good for loan-servicing companies, college administrators, and tenured professors but not so good for students who are often cheated out of genuine education and then saddled with debt on top of it.

Republicans should not quit the field on this issue, if for no other reason than that those who attack the culture and have turned America’s young people into rabid leftists benefit from this scheme most of all.

Anthony Esolen recalls events on the day after the 2016 election in Ohio, when an Oberlin College student tried to steal wine from Gibson’s Bakery. “One of the workers at the bakery confronted him,” Esolen writes, “and a scuffle ensued both inside and outside the store, with the worker as the victim on the ground, pummeled by the perpetrator and a male friend of his, and kicked by two women, as some members of the fair sex are wont to do when their persons are not at risk.”

In the aftermath, Oberlin College went to war with the middle-class owners of Gibson’s Bakery. Oberlin’s dean of students distributed propaganda accusing the owners of racism. “She led a massive protest against the bakery, a protest that was cast entirely in the light of the recent election,” writes Esolen. “The school ordered its food supplier to cancel all contracts with them. Gibson’s, which has been a fixture in town for more than 130 years, lost business which they never recovered.” Oberlin is among America’s most expensive colleges, while the average salary of a dean there is $90,000.

Fortunately for the Gibson family, a judge and jury awarded them $25 million in punitive damages in their defamation case against Oberlin College. If Republicans were smart, they would capitalize on the moment, use it to illustrate how tuition, bloated by federal funding, not only saddles young people with unsustainable debt of questionable merit, but provides the very lifeblood for the cult of diversity that legitimizes the sort of insanity that confronted the Gibsons.

For starters, Republicans could propose an alternative way to deal with out of control student loan debt. They could begin questioning the worth of degrees from institutions such as Oberlin and whether encouraging more citizens to obtain them is actually even in the public interest.

Bankruptcy Revisited
Further, why not undo the damage done by the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005? That bill, naturally, was signed into law by George W. Bush, and made all education loans non-dischargeable absent a showing of undue hardship. Five years later, the Obama Administration eliminated the federal guaranteed loan program that allowed private lenders to offer loans at low interest rates.

Now only the Department of Education offers such loans, which amounts to a system of debt peonage to the federal government. This is an arrangement more akin to socialism than the “free market” principles for which the GOP claims to stand.

Revisiting BAPCPA could result in a restoration of common sense to the debtor-creditor relationship—it would certainly make lenders less inclined to hand out student-loans like candy. It wouldn’t abolish student-lending outright, but it would have the added effect of reducing the number of young Americans who are indoctrinated into anti-American, anti-Western currents; and, most importantly, the drop-off in enrollments could force students to reevaluate their college decisions and force universities to cut the fat or die, which would likely mean the end of “studies” programs and “diversity” departments that produce nothing of value.

Why not propose amending BAPCPA to allow bankruptcy but call it “loan forgiveness” (under certain circumstances for low income people who are unable to pay) and enact a restructuring of student loans so that colleges are on the hook. A recent audit of California State University revealed a trove of $1.5 billion in discretionary reserves. The university system kept that money hidden away, while raising tuition at its 23 campuses and lobbying for more government funds. They have the hook coming.

Apart from this quasi “loan forgiveness” scheme, why not throw in something like a voucher for trade schools? Create a pathway out of bankruptcy that might soothe, as a friend put it, the “pro-union socialist itch in a pro-America, middle class sort of way.”

Advancing the Bigger Fight
One conceivable response to Republicans taking up this issue might come in the way of Joy Pullman’s latest column for The Federalist, the essence of which is: “The student loan ‘crisis’ is hugely inflated.” But if this “hugely inflated” issue can be turned against Democrats—more broadly, against the Left—and used in our favor, why should we waste the opportunity?

Whether the issue is inflated or not is irrelevant when we consider that by taking it on, Republicans—more broadly, the Right—have a chance to make progress toward other goals we’ve long said we are pursuing but, of course, are goals we’ve mainly only whined about over the years. Now that we have more evidence than ever of the harm it does to the nation’s fabric, isn’t it time to start making headway on the final aim of toppling the subversive academic-industrial complex that is hostile to our way of life?

Universities should be held liable for unpaid loans. Vouchers for trade schools are a good idea. One caveat, perhaps, might be not to grant debt forgiveness to graduate degrees. Graduate students, presumably, are mature and discerning enough to know precisely what they are getting into when they take out loans. Assuming their field is not a worthless one, they will soon earn enough money to repay those loans with ease. If that is not the case, then we should do everything to discourage students from pursuing such frivolous pursuits.

All of this, of course, would only be the beginning, but it would give Republicans ammunition that would distinguish our arguments from the Baby Boomer bromides of long memory. If they haven’t worked so far, why should they be persuasive when conditions on the ground are even more complicated?

Those paying attention know that we are in a political war. Rather than formulating effective strategy in this fight, Republicans tend to abdicate the field to Democrats. The Stupid Party claims to fear socialism, yet does little to stop its ascendancy. It’s almost as if they don’t want to fight, let alone win. It’s time to elect people who have the stomach and the ingenuity to engage in the fight.

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Center for American Greatness • Democrats • Economy • Education • Elections • Post • The Left

Why Free-College Schemes Won’t Fly

In their newest attempt at mass bribery, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and his fellow socialists are now loudly touting their plans to erase $1.6 trillion in college debt and make college free for everyone. It’s just the latest “plank” in the 2020 Democratic platform of “Free Everything for Everyone Until We Run out of Other Peoples’ Money.”

There is so much wrong with the idea it’s hard to know where to begin. Perhaps we should start with the “free” aspect of it. At least Breadline Bernie is being semi-honest when he says he’ll fund his plans by taxing Wall Street—as in someone gets taxed to pay for the “free.” Do people not understand that they might get “free college” and then pay more in taxes for the rest of their lives in order to pay for that “free?”

But one of the fundamental problems with the whole scheme can be summed up in this question no one asked at the Democratic debates this week: Why are taxpayers even involved at all?

Put another way: Why should taxpayers be victims of the fraudulent behavior of the colleges and universities? This is between the kids and the colleges; the taxpayers have nothing to do with it.

If Bernie and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are so concerned about college debt, they should demand student reparations from the colleges and the universities sitting on endowments of hundreds of billions of dollars and then actually address the real problem: the fact that most colleges and universities are charities, getting significant tax breaks while then accepting government loans that incentivize price inflation.

The higher education establishment borders somewhere between the neighborhoods of collusion and fraud; collusion between the colleges and government to create easy loans and price inflation, gouging the sucker kids and parents, and fraud with the colleges saddling students with sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for worthless degrees that don’t get them jobs in the real world.

Seriously, in what world does it make sense to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree in something like women’s studies, especially in light of what’s coming our way with automation? And to be blunt, most 18 year olds should not be empowered to make life decisions with six figures on the line.

It’s time to re-examine the entire process by which student loans work, but also to take a hard look at nonprofits which offer services we are pleased to call “education.” How do they compare to other nonprofits that offer services?

The majority of our hospitals are nonprofits, and an even greater majority of our colleges and universities are. Up until recently with Trump’s executive order regarding pricing transparency for healthcare providers, there has been little attempt to demand hospitals be transparent about what their real costs are. When a nonprofit offering services reaches a certain level or incoming revenue, perhaps there needs to be a trigger point where they are no longer considered charities and convert to S-corps or C-corps.

In the meantime, President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin should change the tax regulations governing nonprofits that offer services and insist that such organizations that make $20 million or more in annual revenues need to disclose the exact costs and prices of everything. That would shine a light on what real costs are, increase competition, and expose the price gouging taking place. Because let’s face it, that is what is taking place. While our leaders have been asleep at the wheel, healthcare costs and higher education costs have exploded, leaving us in this situation.

As is typical of the infantile socialists, however, their response is not to deal with the root issues.

Of course, Bernie and company would never force colleges to pay reparations out of their own endowments: why damage the indoctrination centers of higher learning that are producing so many mush-minded followers for them? No, instead, they imagine it’s far better to use middle class taxpayers as their ATM to further themselves politically.

Let’s face it: with everything they are proposing right now, from Medicare for All and the Green New Deal to free college and to universal basic income, it’s not really about solving real problems. It can’t be. None of their ideas are based in reality. All of the Democrats’ talk about free this and that boils down to stealing someone else’s money and giving it to others in hopes of winning votes and consolidating political power.

But they have a problem: there’s more than one way to get “woke.”

Taxpayers—especially the middle-income earners—have gotten very woke. They are sick of the abuse that has been heaped upon them. While most of the Left and mainstream media are still befuddled why a brash billionaire who’d never run for office before won in 2016, it’s really not that hard to understand. The taxpayers and workers of this country have been abused, have been sold out by immoral leadership in both parties. They are tired of a government they fund not working for them and not prioritizing their interests.

So if the lefties and “democratic socialists” want to continue pushing crazy ideas like taxpayer-funded “free college,” I say to them: knock yourselves out. All you’re doing is putting the taxpayers’ and workers’ seething resentment on steroids . . . and  just in time for the 2020 elections.

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America • Education • Free Speech • Identity Politics • Post • The Left

What Made American Academia Great (and How It Was Destroyed)

Since retiring from the university, several people have asked if I miss it. I tell them I miss what it was, but not what it has become. Higher education in America has gone from being the best in the world to one of the most pathetic. Why? It’s hard to describe what academia was to me and to millions in the past. It was not just a job, but a way of life, and of Western Civilization; and I’m so close to it, that it’s hard to describe—like trying to describe one’s own mother (hence alma mater!).

But let me try. University life at its best was both the most serious, difficult, challenging and maddening existence; and yet, it was also the most exciting, lively, rewarding, and fun experience.

It was deadly serious because we constantly examined the most intense human issues: historical and personal tragedies; ethical dilemmas, philosophical complexities; theological mysteries; and scientific wonders. It was hard because it stretched you intellectually and emotionally, made you question everything and be changed by that knowledge. And it was difficult, because of the enormous workload and demands; assignments, exams, papers, presentations and seminars. I don’t know of another situation, except possibly the military during a war, where one could be tested so much.

Yet this academic rigor was so exciting, lively, and fun because it developed and fulfilled the most essential part of the human soul, what the Bible calls “Logos” and Aristotle “reasoned speech” of a naturally social being. It was exciting because that individual development occurred within a discipline, but free, intellectual and social environment—full of debate, discussion, argument, and questioning in a community of tolerance and respect, but also laughter, joking, flirting, fighting, explaining, and learning. That “community of scholars”—open, searching, teachers and students—changed one’s life and prepared one for whatever came one’s way. Socrates’ dictum “Know Thyself” and “The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living” underlay the traditional liberal arts education: to learn something of every subject (“Renaissance Man”) and all perspectives on every subject and thereby to learn how to think, reason, and analyze: and then be able to handle anything in life and adapt to change.

I realize that this “life of the mind” within a rigorous but friendly community is an ideal; there were plenty of dull classes and mediocre professors at every university. But the “system” of academic freedom and its attendant experiences of intellectual growth prevailed.

Nor did the academy lack in conflict (as the old joke went: “The fights in academia are so bad because the stakes are so low”). But those battles were over policy or personalities (mostly egos), not the essential basis of the university: free thought and debate. I never can remember, even in the midst of terrible fights that led to presidents being fired or programs being altered, or board members resigning, that anyone questioned the right to free speech, academic inquiry, or liberty of conscience.

Academia was full of eccentric professors with various crazy ideas and habits (some brilliant), naïve students, and pompous administrators; but they all adhered to the same standard of knowledge. This led not just to scientific discovery and technological progress, but to every other kind of progress: economic, political, social, and ethical.

Such an open, lively, productive academic system goes back to Ancient Greece and Rome, the Medieval European monasteries and universities, and Oxford and Cambridge tutorials, but it was perfected in America. The first really modern university was the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson (and celebrating its 200th anniversary this year). Jefferson said of UVA, “Here we are not afraid to follow the Truth wherever it may lead; nor to tolerate any error, so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

That is the classic statement of academic freedom: a “free marketplace of ideas” that develops individuals and society. And it is especially important in a democracy, where the people are self-governing. It holds that the solution to bad ideas is not to censor or ignore them, but to refute them with good and reasonable ideas. Just as the best products come out of economic competition, sound religion comes out of liberty of conscience.

Jefferson experienced both the intellectual and the social aspects of this academic life at his alma mater, William and Mary College, in Williamsburg, Virginia. There, he said in his Autobiography, he had professors like his philosophy and mathematics professor “profound in most of the useful branches of Science, with a happy talent for communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged and liberal mind.” Similarly, Jefferson’s law professor, George Wythe, taught legal doctrine within the liberal arts context of history, and political philosophy. Their formal instruction combined with an informal, personal mentoring that included dinners at the Royal Governor’s Palace (!), where this “partie quarree” enjoyed classical music and discussions of philosophy and literature, religion and history, forming, Jefferson remarked “the finest school of manners and morals that ever existed in America” and “fixed the destinies of my life.” And the destinies of our nation, as such education prepared Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence.

Such a combination of formal education in classrooms and labs with informed mentoring and society became the model for Jefferson’s “academical village” at the University of Virginia and for academic freedom in America. Both effectively have been destroyed by the Liberal “political correctness” of the last 30 years, especially during the Obama Administration.

Political correctness effectively replaces free, diverse debate and a positive collegial community with Nazi-like speech control. In place of a “free-marketplace of ideas” examining all subjects and perspectives is one official ideology that eclipses all the other views. That P.C. doctrine, essentially, is that Western Civilization in general, and America in particular, is racist, sexist, imperialist and unjust. This means that nothing good can be said about certain figures or subjects (Jefferson, the founding, Christianity, etc.) and nothing bad or “offensive” can be said about “protected groups” (women, minorities, gays, Muslims, illegal immigrants, etc). This ideology has pretty much captured the humanities and social sciences in American universities (as well as the most prominent academic associations and journals, and the most prestigious awards).

This system of thought was codified and weaponized by the largely illegal and unconstitutional expansion of the Title IX Regulations in 2014. This was a provision of the Civil Rights Acts requiring equal expenditures on college sports along gender lines. It was deftly transformed into a P.C. blitz by equating “discrimination” with “harassment.” When “harassment” was expanded to include “verbal” harassment, it allowed censorship and punishment of any speech that was deemed offensive or “unwanted” by anyone. Title IX offices at every American university (with names like: The Office of Conduct, Compliance, Control, Diversity, Inclusion and Demasculinization) run Gestapo-like operations of surveillance, mandatory reporting, investigations, interrogations (without due process) and reprimands, dismissals and expulsions.

Needless to say, this has had a “chilling effect” on free speech and association. Colleges have turned into social graveyards and intellectual wastelands. The U.S. Department of Education threatened to cut off federal funding to any university that did not enforce these totalitarian policies. Terror Reigned. Sadly, the people most hurt by this were the ones it was intended to help: women and minorities. Their education was trivialized and the informal mentoring that prepared them for professional life was lost, as professors had nothing to do with them beyond purely official activity, fearing charges of harassment.

All of this has had a disastrous effect on morale and enrollment, which is down nationwide. When universities, in effect, told young people: “come here and be continually harassed, abused and assaulted (or accused of doing such and unable to defend yourself),” it did not seem, along with the high cost and worthless teaching to be such a good deal.

Title IX Political Correctness cleverly hid many of its assaults on intellectual liberty and freedom of speech under benign code of “civility” and “respectfulness”—meaning any talk, laughter, or behavior that offended anyone was forbidden. But what could be more truly “respectful” than presenting all sides of an issue and letting the student decide what they believe? Professors in my day, after the fashion of John Stuart Mill’s classic essay On Liberty, were objective and detached; presenting all sides fairly before presuming to criticize. After federal court rulings declared such an approach unconstitutional, the civil rights “training” at universities often began with proud statements that freedom of speech as respected absolutely, before listing 200 ways in which it was limited.

The negative effects of these Stalinist decrees (on morale, enrollment, publicity) has caused many universities to hire marketing consultants to clean up their image with slogans and gimmicks. Such fun activities as “Cookie Day” and “The Career Closet” (I’m not making this up) were to present a “safe” and happy image to higher education institutions. But young Americans don’t relish the thought of participating either in a re-education camp or a kindergarten; they want a university. Unless the academy is run by academics, not political activists or marketing consultants, the universities will not return—to the detriment of our entire country.

President Trump’s recent executive order threatening to cut federal research funding to universities that violate freedom of speech, along with the Department of Education’s long-awaited revision of the Title IX guidelines, will begin the reform of P.C.  saturated institutions. But how long it will take to filter down to “resistant” offices of conduct, compliance and control, and “progressive” faculty, is unknown.

My guess is that in 10 years, half of America’s universities will be turned into vocational-technical schools or closed entirely (or possibly turned into minimum-security prisons or drug rehab centers). The remaining, I hope, will return to a model similar to the lively, rigorous and useful universities we once had. Combinations of online efficiency with onsite community may be the best solution. And if secondary schools returned to teaching the best of Western Civilization (literature, history, art, music, philosophy) it would prepare Americans who do not go to college to be well-informed, thoughtful citizens, Jefferson’s ideal for American democracy.

I, like my favorite philosophers Jefferson, Hannah Arendt, and Aristotle, remain optimistic that if human beings are rational, social creatures, the academy with survive, in some form. I hope so, because without it, American greatness will not survive.

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America • Education • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

We Need a Higher Education Reformation

American higher education, once the envy of the world, is suffering a crisis of confidence and a loss of purpose.

Once upon a time, universities were institutions dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the transmission of the highest values of our civilization,” writes New Criterion editor and publisher Roger Kimball. “Today, most are dedicated to the destruction of those values. It is past time to call them to account.” What would accountability look like? The distinguished British philosopher Roger Scruton, a conservative through and through, recently proposed a radical solution: “get rid of universities altogether.”

Have these men taken leave of their senses? Not at all. Both have been keen observers for decades of the slow-motion catastrophe unfolding in academia. It may be we’ve reached a turning point.

Behind most of the problems plaguing education is a noxious identity politics. This is particularly true in the humanities because these subjects easily lend themselves to manipulative interpretation and reshaping by those with an ideological agenda. Take a piece of classical literature, such as Homer’s The Iliad, slap a theory on the text, and bingo, you have just rid yourself of the chore of trying to understand this magnificent piece of dramatic poetry by turning it into a piece on gender relations. For good measure, don’t forget to add some Marxist theory to expose imaginary and proto-class divisions, and perhaps you have convinced your audience that Homer is just another “old, white male,” whose voice has no historical or literary consequence. That’s much more comfortable work than scholarship.

This is what an assault on literature and culture looks like. Of course, classical works (or, for that matter, any works that deal with perennial human questions) are powerful, as ideologues know very well. Otherwise, they would not try to dismantle their long tradition and significance.

The assault on deep and nuanced learning, as well as the freedom of expression within the university walls is not new. Allan Bloom saw it clearly in The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, published in 1987. At the time, Bloom singled out moral relativism and nihilism as the leading causes of intellectual close-mindedness. His description of the disease still rings true today, though the addition of technology, such as social media’s role in speech suppression, has accelerated the progression of the disease.

Barack Obama’s eight years as president brought identity-politics-driven policymaking into the mainstream. Consider his administration’s efforts to use the blunt instrument of Title IX to coerce universities into all-but-abandoning due process in sexual assault cases and impose faddish transgender politics on K-12 schools.

His administration focused on dismantling everything with even a whiff of the traditional in favor of whatever may be the anti-American cause du jour. The main thrust of his presidency was to deconstruct the American idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were deliberate and intentional attacks against the true American identity.

In the last few years, we have reached an absurd level of human categorization, especially in the matter of gender. This originated in the institutions of higher learning, where the humanities have become completely dehumanized. Perennial questions of good, evil, beauty, and truth are hardly there anymore. Instead, they have been replaced with a relativistic worldview in which everything is fluid and changeable, except the reigning ideology, which (of course), had better be respected. Any vision of classical beauty is erased, and instead, vulgarity reigns supreme.

Given this situation, perhaps the only way to preserve these higher things is to get rid of universities altogether. But this would prove to be a daunting task. Not only do we face the educational corruption of youth, but it is also fair to assume that many university graduates hold degrees that tell us nothing about what they actually know or understand about these things, or even that there is anything worth knowing about them.

Moreover, and more practically, though the prejudice is that college is necessary for gainful employment, most of these graduates are utterly unprepared for many jobs—and why should we be surprised? Professors regularly tell students that one of the job options is to become a left-wing activist by working for leftist nonprofit organizations, and that making money and being self-sufficient should not be on the list of priorities during their time in college or after.

We could also conclude that the market will determine the course and future of universities. There is some truth in this, certainly. We can hope that schools that choose ideology over proper learning will face an economic backlash because students will not apply to or attend such colleges and universities.

But how long will this slow withering of ideology take?

We rarely talk about what actually happens in the homes of the students and yet their personal histories play an enormous part in what they choose to do with their lives. Are average parents just as leftist as the “tenured radicals?” Or are they simply not aware of what goes on in the Marxist ivory towers they struggle and strive to afford?

Parents really need to be active in seeking information about the schools that their children propose to attend. I realize that most parents cannot recognize one ideology from another, but some questions should be posed regularly about their children’s future. More important, parents need to inculcate a firm morality in their children so that they can resist the nonsense on offer at most universities. Do their kids know the difference between right and wrong, and most importantly between truth and an ignoble lie? Do they have the strength to resist the pressure to conform?

The success of each student, of course, will depend on the particular degree he seeks, as well as his own efforts to learn. And, of course, if the degree is in engineering, accounting, or any of the hard sciences, chances are these students will graduate with a decent education and good career opportunities. In this case, he should simply get through the classes that are purely ideological and complete his degree requirements.

The success of each young person also depends on whether he should go to college in the first place. Some have gifts that are more suited for skilled labor and can be acquired through on-the-job training or vocational education. If a young person is unsure whether he should go to college or not, then the most feasible option is to go to a community college, take a few courses, and see if a four-year college is a good fit.

Without a doubt, American higher education is in dire straits. For the most part, educators are interested mainly in shaping students in their own ideological image. The current crisis in American universities and colleges is an obvious example of the problem of totalitarianism. Devoid of joy or of any recognition of the miracle of life and learning, the totalitarian headmasters force young minds into conformity and submission.

We also have to acknowledge, however, that each student has to do his or her very best in assuming personal responsibility for how they act and most of all, react, to ideology. We live in a confusing world of lies and distractions. It’s incumbent upon each and every one of us to learn how to navigate through the labyrinthine paths of ideology. Students, too, have to learn the difference between reality and illusion—and that freedom of the mind awaits those who leave the cave of shadows.

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Cultural Marxism • Education • Post • The Left

Did Your Child Return From College a Better Person?

When assessing America’s or any of the Western world’s universities—wondering whether you should send your child to one; whether you should pay for a child to attend one; whether you should go into great debt to attend one; whether you should donate money to one; and related questions—it would seem that the single most important question to be answered is: What type of person does the university produce?

It is hard to imagine any parent—left, right, liberal, conservative or apolitical—who would disagree with asking this question. They would disagree about what constituted a desirable outcome—obviously left-wing parents would want their child’s college to send home a child with left-wing views, and a parent on the right would not be happy if their child returned home with left-wing views—but every parent would agree that the question, “What type of person did college produce?” is an important one.

My belief is that most of the time, colleges today produce a worse human being or, at the very least, a person who is no better, wiser or more mature than when he or she graduated high school.

Let’s begin with behavioral issues.

There is a good chance your son or daughter will have spent much of his or her free time at college partying, which often means getting drunk, smoking marijuana and hooking up with someone for casual sex. While none of those activities necessarily means your son or daughter became a worse human being, all of us can agree that none of them made your child a better one.

Regarding college drinking, Alcohol Rehab Guide, an online alcohol addiction site, reports:

“A large percentage of college students consume alcohol by binge drinking. … For men, binge drinking involves drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in two hours. On the other hand, binge drinking for women is considered four or more drinks within a two-hour time period.”

The website also states that “Roughly 80 percent of college students—four out of every five—consume alcohol to some degree. It’s estimated that 50 percent of those students engage in binge drinking … ”
BMC Public Health reported in 2013:

“One young adult in two has entered university education in Western countries. … (This) is often associated with risky behaviour such as excessive alcohol consumption. … We found that the more a student was exposed to college environmental factors, the greater the risk of heavy, frequent, and abusive drinking. Alcohol consumption increased for students living on campus, living in a dormitory with a higher number of room-mates, and having been in the University for a long spell.”

And we are all aware of the sexual activity that emanates from college drinking and can be regretted the next day (usually by the woman).

Then there is depression and mental illness at college. In the words of clinical psychologist Gregg Henriques through Psychology Today, “It is neither an exaggeration nor is it alarmist to claim that there is a mental health crisis today facing America’s college students.

Evidence suggests that this group has greater levels of stress and psychopathology than any time in the nation’s history.”

Now, let’s move on to values and character.

Did your son or daughter (or niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter) return home from college:

More, less or equally kind a person?

More, less or equally respectful of you, his or her parent(s)?

More, less or equally grateful to you for the monetary sacrifice you made to enable him or her to attend college?

More, less or equally proud to be an American?

More, less or equally respectful of religion?

More, less or equally wise?

More, less or equally committed to free speech?

More, less or equally open to hearing views he or she disagrees with?

I think I know the answers to those questions, in most instances. But far more important than what I assume is what you will find out. Please ask not only the college students and recent college graduates but their parents and other relatives these questions.

Then decide whether you want to risk sending your child to a place that will greatly increase their chances of being depressed, engaging in binge drinking and learning nothing important—while being taught how awful America is, why speech he or she doesn’t agree with should be suppressed, how pathetic religious Christians and Jews are, how wonderful religious Muslims are and how important skin color is.

I acknowledge that students who are entering STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields must attend college. But for most of the rest, sending your child to college is playing Russian roulette with their values, character and even joy of life.

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Center for American Greatness • Education • Identity Politics • Post • The Left

Oberlin’s Comeuppance

As I write these words, a jury in Ohio is about to decide whether an $11 million verdict against Oberlin College, for libel and tortious practices against a local family-run bakery, should be tripled for punitive damages. If it could be tripled and tripled again, it would still be only just.

Many readers will have heard the details of the events, which in quick summary are these: On the day after the election in 2016, an Oberlin College student tried to abscond from Gibson’s Bakery with two bottles of wine. One of the workers at the bakery confronted him, and a scuffle ensued both inside and outside the store, with the worker as the victim on the ground, pummeled by the perpetrator and a male friend of his, and kicked by two women, as some members of the fair sex are wont to do when their persons are not at risk.

Oberlin College then moved into action to squash the business like a bug. The dean of students passed around a flyer charging Gibson’s with a long history of “racial profiling.” She led a massive protest against the bakery, a protest that was cast entirely in the light of the recent election. The school ordered its food supplier to cancel all contracts with them. Gibson’s, which has been a fixture in town for more than 130 years, lost business which they never recovered. Finally, the owners decided to sue the college, when Oberlin refused to retract the charge of racism, and when the school demanded as a kind of blackmail that Gibson’s report all shoplifters first to the school and not to the police. The school would then give the perpetrator a warning, but no suspension. Naughty, naughty!

Have I mentioned that African-Americans who live in town, including one long-time employee, have treated as absurd and offensive any charge of racism against the Gibson family or the business? Should I have had to mention it?

Normal people, hearing that a kid tried to steal wine from a local store, want to punish the thief. Normal people, hearing that another business owner in town loses about $10,000 a year to theft, much of it by spoiled college students, say, “That is dreadful. We must do something about it.” Normal people, learning that a couple of young ladies went about kicking somebody who was lying flat on the ground, would want to see them suspended from school at the very least.

A normal person, employed as dean of students, hearing about the incident, would go down to the bakery to speak to the people involved, to offer an apology, to pay for damages, and to promise to remit the medical bills. A normal person does not believe that anyone has permission to steal on the day after an election doesn’t go in their favor. A normal person would not move the immense institutional might of an American college against the shop around the corner, for an “offense” that he or she could not be bothered to specify, when the real and obvious offense, perpetrated by a student, lay in plain and shameful sight.

I suppose that in their private lives, even deans of students, indifferently virtuous as in the main they may be, mostly refrain from kicking people lying on the ground, or from stealing from anybody other than from governments local, state, and national. I suppose they would object to having their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather accused of heresy and being made, on threat of death, to perform an auto-da-fé. They may not be well-read, intelligent, or brave, but they would at least be normal. We must ask then what is so toxic about education, “higher” and otherwise, that makes so many once unexceptional people into monsters. For the Oberlin incident is notable only because the Gibson family had the means and the will to fight back.

People will suppose that administrators at such schools merely spoil the students, capitulating to the demands of the loudest among them. They accuse them of cowardice. Far be it from me to attribute courage to college administrators or to professors, but the diagnosis is nevertheless mistaken.

Picture the ineducable young person, face contorted with righteous indignation, raising her (it is often her) or his skinny little skill-less wrist against “the patriarchy” or “white privilege” or whatever is the devil of the day. That young person finds Charles Dickens rather slow going to read, because the language is tough, and likely has not even heard of John Milton or William Blake—well, many a college professor has not heard of Blake. That young person’s knowledge of history could be scrawled in crayon on a sheet of paper and would be mostly wrong at that.

But he (or she) is a true believer, and every appeal to evidence, reason, and common decency strike like raindrops against a massive block of stone. It is the object of our schools to produce people exactly like that. It is what the administrators themselves are, with many dollars. It is what most of the professors are, with not so many dollars. It is what many of the adjunct faculty are, with French fries or onion rings.

I am a Christian, a Roman Catholic. Every evening when I say the prayers for compline, I am of force reminded of my sins: quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, et opere, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. (I have sinned greatly in thought, word, act, and omission, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.) How convenient must it be to replace a real faith, which compels you to consider how far you fall short of the glory of God, with its political impostor! All you need are the correct opinions, and an eagerness to thrust them upon your fellow men, and you are absolved of all responsibility to behave with ordinary decency.

You do not examine your conscience; a political mob has no conscience to examine, anyway. You enjoy, with all the delight of weaklings gathering in a herd, the discomfiture of others stronger or wiser than you are, or simply different from you. You distort their thoughts, which you cannot know, so you project upon them what are really your own thoughts, in black. You distort their words, upon which you place the worst conceivable construction, even at violence to their plain meaning. And finally you distort their actions, which you magnify and smear by associating them, adventitiously, with evil things that other people have done.

What have I just described, if not exactly what young people are taught to do already to Shakespeare in their English classes, to Washington in their history classes, to Beethoven in their music classes, and to every man in their women’s studies classes? Such is education now—the peddling of the politically cracked, at tremendous expense.

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America • civic culture/friendship • Education • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • self-government • The Culture

K-12 Education Has Become Progressive Sunday School


As an adolescent, just beginning my education as a Catholic, I had Catechism classes. There, for usually an hour, we learned some of the basic tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. In other denominations, this is known as Sunday School. I suppose the true purpose of Sunday School is edification and the equipping of the pupils with a solid foundation in religious faith. Progressive Liberals have their own Sunday School. Of course, given that they tout a Trojan Horse religion, they get away with not calling it what it is.

As a teacher and a former public school student, I have become intimately acquainted with the inner workings of the Progressive Liberal Sunday School catechizing the youth of America. Over 50 million young people attend the public schools every year where—to an overwhelming extent—their minds are prepared to accept and think uncritically about basic Progressive Liberal doctrines by the priests and priestesses who teach their classes.

Within the schools that teach the teachers, Social Sciences—which the university Schools of Education fall under—registered Democrats outnumber Republican Professors by a margin of over 10 to 1. Even in my Jesuit School of Education, we were heavy on social justice but weak on the classical canon of literature; we went deep into the all-powerful influence of racism, sexism, class and other bigoted isms as applied to education, but we hardly ever talked about the Western tradition of liberty, the pursuit of truth, and the search for the sublime.

It should come as no surprise that K-12 teachers in America adhere overwhelmingly to the Progressive Liberal faith. Verdant Labs, using Federal Election Commission data showing the professions of those who contribute to political campaigns, created some educated guesses about how Republican or Democratic certain professions are. The data on my profession, teaching, was unsurprising. There are 79 Democrats in the teaching profession for every 21 Republicans. At the high school level there are 87 Democrats for every 13 Republicans. And in elementary schools there are 85 Democrats for every 15 Republicans.

The Unions, to which almost all teachers belong, give overwhelmingly to Democrats. Since 1990, the K-12 teacher unions gave close to 80 million dollars to Democrats; they gave only 3.4 million of those dollars to Republicans. 95 percent of their donations have gone to Democrats. This puts traditionalists like myself in a tight bind. My dues help bargain for the salary that allows me to be a part of the middle class; but the organization is a far-left outfit that pushes a social agenda that is antithetical to my own personal beliefs.

I saw firsthand the workings of the union at the State Representatives Assembly I attended several years ago. We spent a good amount of time discussing salaries, working conditions, and so on, but the floor was also open for numerous resolutions. Among them were resolutions about equity (a Progressive Liberal code for forced equality of outcome), ethnic studies (any culture except traditional European, Jewish, or Christian cultures in practice), celebrating the “Black Lives Matter” movement (no motions about Blue Lives—including Black Blue Lives were brought up), a resolution about “toxic masculinity” (despite the fact our most problematic students tend to have NO masculinity in the house) and a resolution against teachers being armed in class. Essentially, it was a hit parade of the Progressive Liberal professions of faith.

The Sunday School works quite simply. Students are exposed to a Progressive Liberal curriculum by a teaching staff who are constantly honing their skills to be at the cutting edge of Progressive Liberal doctrines as they develop. The job of the curriculum, which Progressive Liberal instructors posing as “experts” select, is to prepare the ground for them to explain and inculcate Progressive dogmas into the minds of children.    

Textbooks are often where this starts. What does that look like in practice? Take an Advanced Placement U.S .History textbook called The American Pageant. This is a popular textbook that tens of thousands of the 500,000 students who take the AP U.S. History test use to prepare for the exam. In the words of Burt Folsom, an economic historian and emeritus professor at Hillsdale College, the textbook teaches “flawed ideas…that mislead students into thinking that the United States is fundamentally corrupt, and that the world is often worse off because America exists and has so much global influence.” In the textbooks which we use, certain words are used as slurs. This isn’t shocking. They are written by a professoriate which I earlier mentioned has 10 liberals for every 1 conservative—and social conservatives are often even less represented. Words like “conservative,” “Christian,” “male,” “patriarch,” “white,” “European,” “rural,” “older,” and “religious,” are used almost exclusively in negative contexts.

What is the outcome of immersing students in these ideas? Can we trust K-12 educators to present them objectively and fairly when they skew so heavily to the Left?

While students are fed a steady diet of Progressive Liberal dogmas and content, teachers are subject to a steady stream of re-education meant to indoctrinate them further and further into the Progressive Religion. Where practicing Christians have Bible studies to refresh their minds and re-enter the study of Scripture, K-12 teachers have Teacher Training to refresh the basics. For example, while I was researching this Chapter, I got an email from my Union offering a free course called: “Implicit Bias and Microaggressions: Race, LGBTQ, Ability and Intersectionality.” I get invitations to these sorts of courses at least once a month in my personal and school email.

This course, which probably involved paying the presenters several thousand dollars, begins “with an overview of implicit bias and microaggression as it applies to race in the classroom and the workplace. A special emphasis on how implicit bias and microaggressions can impact the success of students regardless of the positive intent of adults or other students.”

What is an example of a microaggression? Asking a student where he is from.

The apparatus for teaching Progressive Faith Dogmas is well funded and extensive. That Far Left Institution for Propagating and Defending this Social Justice Faith—also called the Southern Poverty Law Center—has an endowment of over four hundred million dollars.  One of the programs they run is called “Teaching Tolerance.” The lessons that this group produces are used in thousands of American public schools in front of hundreds of thousands of American students, every single year.

Teaching Tolerance has numerous other lessons pushing the Progressive Liberal religion and do all of the things .Progressive Liberalism needs to exist as a faith. For example, deconstructing the past (e.g.,  Teaching Tolerance’s lesson that excoriates Dr. Seuss as a racist), breeding racial resentment (e.g., Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on the poisonous concept of “white privilege”), pushing open borders (e.g., Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on Islam which paints anyone opposed to migration as a xenophobe), calling for higher taxes on Americans as a form of environmentalist reparations (through its lesson on how class relates to carbon emissions).

The largest teachers union, the National Education Association, itself has a list of similar “social justice” lesson plans intended to do to students the same thing Teaching Tolerance aims to do.

Every parent and taxpayer who is a traditionalist unwittingly supports this system as they fork over property taxes to pay for the educations of their own children or the children of their community, the faith of the family is denigrated.

If you think that an hour of Church every Sunday or the occasional patriotic celebration like the 4th of July is enough to immunize your children from the tidal wave of cultural liberalism they are subjected to on a daily basis, you are either negligent or sorely naïve. We can see the results of this so clearly and yet social conservatives wonder why they keep losing the culture war and are pushed further and further to the margins.

We are losing our country because the Progressive Left has captured the institutions which they know are crucial for destroying the Judeo-Christian foundations of this civilization. While Bible reading is banned as mixing Religion with the State, no such ban applies to any of the pseudo-religious texts which constitute the “Holy Scriptures” of Progressive Religion. Gallup documents the changes since 2001; and they are striking. In 2001, 45 percent of Americans believed having a child outside of the context of marriage was acceptable. In 2018, the number was over 61 percent. In 2001, 59 percent of Americans thought divorce was morally acceptable; in 2018 the number was 71 percent. In 2001, 49 percent of Americans thought doctor-assisted suicide was acceptable; in 2018 it was 56 percent. Indeed, it will probably only be a matter of time before for support for other forms of sexual “liberty” become more and more popular. The culture is moving from Traditional faith due to the Progressive Sunday School system: polygamy, bestiality, bigamy, prostitution, perhaps even pedophilia have the potential to be mainstreamed into a culture being torn out from the roots up.

The Trojan Horse is at the gates. And the faithful are caught unawares.

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America • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Education • Post • The Left

‘Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go’

On January 15, 1987, Jesse Jackson and around 500 protesters marched down Palm Drive, Stanford University’s grand main entrance, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go.”

They were protesting Stanford University’s introductory humanities program known as “Western Culture.” For Jackson and the protesters, the problem was its lack of “diversity.” The faculty and administration raced to appease the protesters, and “Western Culture” was formally replaced with “Cultures, Ideas, and Values.”

The new program included works on race, class, and gender and works by ethnic minority and women authors. Western culture gave way to multi-culture. The study of Western civilization succumbed to the Left’s new dogma, multiculturalism.

When I attended college in the 1960s, taking and passing the year-long course in the history of Western civilization was required for graduation. The point of the requirement was perfectly clear. Students were expected to be proficient with the major works of their civilization if they were to be awarded a degree. It was the mark of an educated person to know these things.

Because it was a required course, it was taught by a senior professor in a large lecture hall with hundreds of students. The course was no walk in the park. When I took the course, only one student got an A grade for the first semester. Students went down in wave after wave. Many dropped out of the course, planning to try again later. Others dropped out of school or transferred to another college or university.

Student protests were all the rage on campus in those days, too. But nobody protested the Western Civ course, its contents, the difficulty involved, or the fact that it was required. Students evidently accepted the idea that studying the story of how we got here and who shaped that story was essential to becoming an educated person.

It is also not at all clear that the faculty in those days would have raced to appease student protesters chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”

Many of the faculty, after all, had served in World War II. My best friends on the faculty had all served either in the European or the Pacific theater. They had put their lives on the line to defend Western civilization, and served with others who had lost their lives in that fight. Whether they were teaching Plato or Italian art of the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, they taught with the passion of men who had fought as soldiers and were working as teachers to preserve Western culture. Perhaps my fellow students would not have dared to present our teachers with that particular protest.

The protesting students at Stanford in 1987 were pushing against an open door. Radicalized professors, products of the student protests of the 1960s, welcomed the opportunity to do what they already wanted done. The protesters provided the excuse. Instead of doing the hard work of teaching Western civilization, they were free to preach multiculturalism—and the change was presented to the world as meeting the legitimate demands of students.

It is worth noting, I think, that the chant has an interesting ambiguity. Was it the course in Western civilization or Western civilization itself that had to go? Clearly, Jackson was leading the protesters in demanding a change in the curriculum at Stanford, but the Left, having gotten rid of “Western Civ” at Stanford and at most other colleges, is reaching for new extremes. Today, ridding the world of Western civilization as a phenomenon doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

In the wee hours of the morning recently, in a nearly deserted international airport terminal, I got into conversation with a fellow passenger while we waited for our luggage. He told me he was returning from a stay at an eco-resort. He said because of cloudy weather there had been no hot water on most days—and little hot water when there was any—and the electric light ran out every night soon after nightfall.

The worst part for him, he said, was the requirement to put used toilet paper in a special container provided for that purpose. When I remarked that what he had experienced at the resort was what the Greens have planned for all of us, he cheerfully agreed. He went on to say that he believed the real purpose of the Greens’ plan is population control, that a truly green future would only be able to support a much smaller population.

The amazing part is this: he conveyed a complete agreement with the environmentalist project and what he believed to be its underlying purpose. It seemed that what he had experienced at the resort had not caused him to re-think his attitude, or even to consider that there was a risk he might not survive the transition to a much smaller population.

As he spoke, I easily imagined him as a younger person chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”

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America • Education • History • Post • The Culture

‘Hope’ and History

Clear, accurate, and inspiring, Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story is a welcome antidote for agenda-driven history textbooks that paint the United States as an illegitimate nation born of evil.

A review of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by Wilfred M. McClay (Encounter Books, 504 pages, $34.99)

What is the purpose of history? Is it merely a record of facts—of dates and kings, wars and voyages? Or is it something more?

Evaluating a history textbook must begin with knowing what history is.

A nation’s history is more than just a list of facts to memorize. It weaves the facts into an intellectual and emotional tapestry that tells us who we are, what our lives are about, and what kind of people we should aspire to be. It should be:

  • Informative: Helping us understand the past by telling us what happened, when, and why.
  • Enlightening: Helping us understand the present by comparing it to the past.
  • Inspiring: Helping us develop moral character by learning stories of past heroism and villainy.
  • Supportive: Helping our countries flourish by legitimizing the social order.

In his History of Rome, the ancient Roman writer Livy explained those four goals in a way that eerily foreshadowed America’s current predicament:

My wish is that each reader will pay closest attention to how men lived, what their moral principles were, under what leaders and by what measures our empire was won; then how, as discipline broke down bit by bit, morality at first foundered, subsided in ever-greater collapse and toppled headlong in ruin—until the advent of our own age, in which we can endure neither our vices nor the remedies needed to cure them.

An honest account of the facts is essential, but it’s not enough. To survive, any country must believe that it is good (even if imperfect) and that it deserves to survive. Truthful and inspiring historical stories about the country’s origin, leaders, and ideals provide that foundation. Conversely, stories that are biased and negative tend to undermine the foundation.

Any history book must balance those goals against each other. Some books are unabashedly patriotic, such as Our Island Story in Great Britain and A Patriot’s History of the United States in America. Others are very negatively biased, such as Howard Zinn’s bestselling and influential People’s History of the United States, which depicts the United States as an unrelenting criminal enterprise of genocide, racism, and exploitation.

McClay’s new textbook Land of Hope, on the other hand, strikes the right balance. It is optimistic without being jingoistic, acknowledging America’s mistakes without reading like a brief for the prosecution. It celebrates America’s achievements, but not uncritically: “celebration and criticism are not necessarily enemies.” And its goals are explicit:

To help us learn . . . the things we must know to become informed, self-aware, and dedicated citizens of the United States of America, capable of understanding and appreciating the nation in which we find ourselves, of carrying out our duties as citizens, including protecting and defending what is best in its institutions and ideals.

The most popular competing textbooks are Jill Lepore’s These Truths and James Fraser’s By the People. McClay’s book lacks the former’s globalist glibness and the latter’s dizzying overload of textbook-y features. But how does Land of Hope fare by the criteria of good history?

It Is Informative
Land of Hope gives an accurate account of America’s history that is undistorted by the selective emphasis and omission found in other textbooks. One key piece of evidence comes in McClay’s description of the U.S. Constitution, which:

. . . is not, for the most part, a document filled with soaring rhetoric and high-sounding principles. Instead, it is a somewhat dry and functional document laying out a complex system of boundaries, markers, and rules of engagement, careful divisions of function and power that provide the means by which conflicts that are endemic and inevitable to us, and to all human societies, can be both expressed and contained; tamed; rendered harmless, even beneficial. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution’s spirit is undeclared, unspoken; it would be revealed not through words but through actions.

Implicit in McClay’s description is that the United States was influenced but not formed by Enlightenment rationalism. The Founders had studied the history of failed republics to learn what worked and what didn’t. And they were the heirs of a British legal and social tradition from which they learned that well-informed pragmatism was wiser than well-intentioned rhetoric.

Napoleon Bonaparte dismissed England as “a nation of shopkeepers,” preoccupied with the practical issues of life instead of lofty ideals. Napoleon was wrong, and the British defeated him. The lofty ideals that led to the horror of the French Revolution largely had been avoided in America by a Constitution designed for practical issues. McClay highlights that fact.

It Is Enlightening
Learning about our history reveals that many current quandaries are neither new nor unique. President Trump’s alternating use of provocation and conciliation seems strange until we learn that earlier presidents (like many world leaders) used the same strategy. McClay describes how Abraham Lincoln followed a similar path:

His initial thinking began to emerge more clearly in his eloquent First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861. Its tone was, in the main, highly conciliatory. The South, he insisted, had nothing to fear from him . . . But secession was another matter. Lincoln was crystal clear about that: it would not be tolerated.

Compare that to President Trump’s inaugural address on January 20, 2017:

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country . . . Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.

That was the conciliation. “We” are joined in a national effort. The Obamas “have been magnificent.” And then comes the crystal clear:

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today . . . we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American people.

Apart from the tweeting, almost any of that could have been said in 1861 just as easily as it was now. By 2017, Washington had virtually seceded from the United States, and it was time for it to come back into the fold.

It Is Inspiring
Land of Hope is short on emotionally stirring tales, but the reason is obvious: it’s a textbook, not The Children’s Book of American Heroes. It says nothing about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, Paul Bunyan creating the Grand Canyon, or Davy Crockett catching a bullet in his teeth (that was only done by actor Fess Parker in the movie version).

Instead, it tells factual stories about people who achieved great things. Quietly, humbly, and often without fanfare, they shaped our national character. Land of Hope portrays them not as saints or fanciful superheroes, but as prudent and courageous Americans trying to do their best.

One of the first would have been approved by the Greek philosopher Plato, who wrote that the only people who could be trusted with power were those who didn’t want it. George Washington, who led the American colonies to vanquish the mighty British army, became America’s first president. But he didn’t want the job:

Nearing the age of sixty, after enduring two grinding decades of war and politics in which he always found himself thrust into a central role in determining the direction of the country, he wanted nothing so much as to be free of those burdens . . . [but] if the task before the country was a great experiment on behalf of all humanity . . . how could he refuse to do his duty?

The only omission with which I disagreed was the story of Nathan Hale, an American soldier captured in 1776 by the British and executed as a spy. His final words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” were echoed almost 200 years later when newly-inaugurated President John F. Kennedy called on Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

It Is Supportive
The final criterion of good national history is that it help our country flourish by legitimizing the social order. We don’t usually think of history as doing that, but its importance is evident when we consider books that do the opposite.

Take, for example, how Jill Lepore’s book portrays the United States and its origin. After noting correctly that “a nation is a people who share a common ancestry” she claims “the fiction that [America’s] people shared a common ancestry was absurd on its face; they came from all over”—a statement that is technically true but highly misleading, since the vast majority were British. Then comes the indictment:

The nation’s founding truths were forged in a crucible of violence, the products of staggering cruelty, conquest and slaughter, the assassination of worlds . . .  Against conquest, slaughter, and slavery came the urgent and abiding question, by what right?

I don’t doubt that Lepore is being honest about how she sees America. If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t have an endowed chair as a history professor at Harvard. But her view leads only to the question of whether America should be destroyed now or later.

Land of Hope presents our country’s history in an affirmative way that is more than just “technically true.” Alexander Hamilton identified the stakes in Federalist 1. America is a great experiment to decide:

. . . whether societies of men are really capable of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

Amid the tumult and hysteria of 2019, it’s tempting to say that the decision has yet to be made. But the American record, checkered like that of all great nations, shows the answer to Hamilton’s question is a qualified “yes, we can.” Perfection exists only in Heaven. If the United States has sometimes fallen short of its heritage and its ideals, it has more often shown itself as a worthy heir and sturdy practitioner of both.

Land of Hope stands squarely in that American tradition.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

America • Education • Identity Politics • Post

A Mighty Fortress is Our Victimhood

The College Board last week announced a plan to add an “adversity score” to its Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Justifying the move, College Board President David Coleman said, “Through its history, the College Board has been focused on finding unseen talent. The Environmental Context Dashboard shines a light on students who have demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness to overcome challenges and achieve more with less.”

In 1517, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses disputing indulgences to a door at the University of Wittenberg. His theses dethroned the power of the Catholic Church, ushering in justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

An extension of Luther’s tenets, the doctrine of predestination, cut the Church off from temporal power over salvation. With predestination, the Church’s possession of the keys to the Kingdom went from substance to symbolism.

A hymnodist, Luther composed “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” to express the spirit of the Protestant Reformation:

And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.

God’s willing “His truth to triumph through us” referred to the turn away from confession, communion, and tithing controlled by an institution, whose inextricable worldliness was inexorably corrupting, to the seeking of one’s predestined “election.”

Calvin hardened the doctrine of predestination, making explicit that some are predestined to damnation. Protestants did not invent virtue signaling, but they sure were good at it. The outward appearance of industry and frugality let others, and most importantly oneself, know of one’s election. A mighty fortress was their industriousness.

Calvinism advanced the theme of election by rendering concrete a reverberation of a Hebraic idea of chosen-ness: Puritans fled Europe to establish a new nation in a land of milk and honey.

In this spirit, John Winthrop, echoing the Gospels, sermonized that his settlement would be “a city upon a hill.” In a nod to virtue signaling, he added, “The eyes of all people are upon us.” Election became a headwater of a powerful political current of Americanism: the chosen-ness of the United States. The Americans would be good, or, as Winthrop said, they “would be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.”

The ethos of working hard, complaining little, and saving produced wealth and achievement. The theme of election forged an American ethos of reform, which began with the American Revolution’s rootedness in the political equality of man by virtue of “Nature and Nature’s God” and culminated in the extrapolation of those principles into the Constitution. Similarly, election grounded the struggle against slavery—“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a direct descendant of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Other American reforms reflected the political current of election, including the use of standardized testing. Reformers originally intended standardized testing to break the hold of class on higher education. The embrace of these reforms faltered when immigrant Ashkenazi Jews, whose intellects and a tradition of scholarship led to an unwanted large representation at the Ivies, led to shameful quotas and legacy mandates.

Still, standardized testing did not lose its foothold. The College Entrance Examination Board, which would become the College Board, was formed in 1900. In 1926, the College Board gave birth to the SAT.

The discrimination of the 19th century receded, as schools dropped quotas (although they retained legacy). For much of the second half of the 20th century, the American university became more meritocratic. Women and minorities achieved the access they long deserved, and admissions results could be predicted from grades and test performance. By the end of the 20th century, however, the system began to break down.

As Asians out-performed other groups in grades and test scores, outright discrimination similar to that formerly faced by Jews returned. Schools also began to look to foreign students as a means of improving diversity and as a function of rent-seeking behavior (foreign students pay more). Finally, the U.S. News and World Report rankings drove a trend of manipulation of selectivity by encouraging an excess of applications for the sake of rejecting them. The admissions process for the American university system today is capricious and discriminatory, and, as Operation Varsity Blues discovered, thoroughly vicious.

Enter the College Board. Test scores are no longer a good predictor of admissions—or  even of college performance. Test scores have been abandoned by schools as admissions statistics on test scores flaunt the degree of discrimination. To remain relevant, the College Board hopes to adjust scores based on “adversity” so that the discrimination the universities seek is baked into the scores.

With the discrimination baked in, the universities can promote the fiction of meritocracy and obscure the truth: the American university increasingly is just a credentialing service. The SAT will be normed for adversity, which is to say that it will be adjusted for categories of “victimhood.” Everyone at Harvard will once again have similarly high SAT scores adjusted for the claims of adversity they can make. And the eyes of the world will be upon the graduating classes of high schools. Each will try to show others, and most importantly themselves, the indicia of their election, an ostentatious identity as a victim.

A mighty fortress is our victimhood.

Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Democrats • Education • Elections • Post • Progressivism • The Left

A Tribe of Her Own

As presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren continues to find her people among the Democratic Party base, the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts has been slinging government proposals like arrows at the battle of Little BigHorn.

Yet with her recent plan to forgive tens of billions in student loans and make college free, the former Harvard professor serves a tribe that may adopt her. And though her candidacy may soon be seeking a burial ground, her proposal likely will live on as it resonates with many tribes within the Democratic base.

Warren proposed student loan forgiveness for anyone up to $50,000 in student debt. On a sliding scale for high earners, the proposal applies to anyone making under $250,000 a year. As it stands, Warren’s plan can work with loans taken out for any type of degree—even if you only took out a few extra loans to get your MBA at Yale.

Warren insists that those who stand to benefit from this proposal are the working class, minorities, and middle-class people. This gets much harder to believe when you break down who actually goes to college and who goes into debt while going to college.

Only 10 percent of all student debt is accrued by families on the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution. Half of the impoverished kids who enroll drop out before they finish their degrees.

You can eliminate three more tribes as well:

  • Those who planned to take costs into consideration by sending their kid to an affordable state school or community college, i.e. many members of the middle class
  • Young people who joined the military to help cover the costs of college
  • The absurdly wealthy who can pay full price (but who likely could be won over by Warren for her positions on other issues).

The group that remains, and stands to benefit the most, are upper-class managers. People with advanced degrees and employed as public administration officials, financial managers, computer scientists, professors, lawyers, physicians, and analysts. Most of them make between $100,000 and $249,000 a year.

In fact, 48 percent of all student debt is currently carried by households with degrees that provide entry into managerial lines of work. This is why some are calling her proposal “upper-class welfare.”

The average MBA student from a top 20 school has between $80,000 to $120,000 in debt. Most of them earn under $250,000, so they qualify for a payout anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000. The average student of public administration or public policy tends to be around $45,000 in debt. Lawyers are between $90,000 and $120,000 in debt. Teachers with a master’s degree in education average $50,879 in debt.

Not only will this group support Warren’s proposal, it is the same group that voted for her in Massachusetts.

When Warren successfully defended her senate seat last October, she swept five of the six richest counties throughout the Bay State. And this wealth wasn’t “old money.” The constituency was filled disproportionately with members of the managerial class.

For instance, take Middlesex County—a section which Warren carried with nearly 70 percent of the vote. With an average income of $89,019 (over 30 percent more than the national average), over 51 percent of the population were members of the managerial class. In Norfolk County, where Warren won by nearly 60 percent, 45.5 percent were of the same ilk.

Warren is a chief of duplicity. Her campaign slogan is more posing, as she pretends to be a warrior on behalf of the “grassroots.” But, at the same time, she is sending signals she will serve the interests of her tribe—mainly government bureaucrats and other well paid members of the professional class.

This doesn’t mean Warren hasn’t tried to issue other signals that she is with “the people.” She has even opened the door on more reparations to Native Americans—albeit that’s a small price to pay when your own tribe will receive close to $1.25 trillion in payments over the next decade.

Not to mention she still embraces the “diversity” fads embraced by other opulent people in order to appear with the real people—dancing in LGBT regalia through the white streets of Boston, advocating open borders, and firmly supporting infanticide.

Today’s Democratic oligarchs have the perfect disguise. With their “protecting the little guy” posture, they appear to be on the side of lower classes when they are really protecting and extending their own privileges. Student loan forgiveness is just the latest example in a long chain of hypocrisy and deception.

I hate to beat a dead Crazy Horse (just look at Warren’s standing in the polls), but she is learning the steps to a difficult dance. And it’s a rain dance we are likely to see in future candidates.

Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Cultural Marxism • Education • Environment • Post • The Culture • The Left

Manipulating Science in the Data Age

Who are you going to believe—my academic paper/editorial/meme or your lying eyes?

It’s a pressing question in today’s world of artificial intelligence, machine learning, faked videos, and tendentious scientific claims—and particularly pressing in light of ambitious, far-reaching policy proposals based on data analytics and models.

Perhaps you remember Climategate 1.0, when emails from the UK’s East Anglia Climatic Research Unit were hacked (or leaked). Many who read through them saw clear evidence that climate researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States worked to suppress legitimate research results and data that mitigated against their claim of catastrophic human-caused global warming.

Among those researchers was Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael E. Mann, who was accused of having deliberately cherry-picked tree ring data in order to assert a “hockey stick” shaped graph in which global temperature spiked over the last century or so. That cherry-picked data, it was said, served to “hide the decline” in overall global temperatures that others saw using different data sets, leading to this satirical video.

What followed were two investigations which sort of, kind of, exonerated the participants of offenses that would otherwise cut off their research funding from government agencies.

And now we have . . . drumroll . . . another email dump and Climategate 2.0. Emails that include passages like these:

Mike, The Figure you sent is very deceptive . . . there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC. Tom Wigley, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary … I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run. —Peter Thorne, UK Met Office

Wigley’s caution is particularly interesting given that, in a Climategate 1.0 email, he urged his colleagues to “get rid of” a scholarly journal editor who committed the offense of publishing research papers that did not fit the catastrophic human-caused global warming narrative.

Heaven forbid scientists actually, you know, acknowledge all the data and how we analyze it.

And “hide the decline”? It looks like that’s still going on, with the active help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government agency responsible for maintaining official temperature records. Investor Business Daily reports:

NOAA has made repeated “adjustments” to its data, for the presumed scientific reason of making the data sets more accurate.

Nothing wrong with that. Except, all their changes point to one thing—lowering previously measured temperatures to show cooler weather in the past, and raising more recent temperatures to show warming in the recent present.

A New Deception Primer
So how do you lie in the Data Age? Let me count the ways.

Human ingenuity (not to mention our ability to deceive even ourselves) is boundless. But there are three main approaches.

First, you can simply lie about research results or other statistical data. For instance, you might deliberately mislead the public about the impact of recent tax law changes. Once you’ve achieved the election results you wanted, you might boast about it (as Matthew Yglesias did in a now-deleted tweet). Or, if you’re the New York Times, you can pretend you just realized on April 14 that a majority of Americans got a tax cut after all.

Second, you can use misleading analytic or predictive methods. Say your approach uses machine learning algorithms. These basically are different methods for discovering patterns within a set of data. A beginner classroom exercise is to apply different algorithms to the same data to see which ones correctly find a pattern that is already known—distinguishing male and female faces in photos, for instance. For extra credit, the student can analyze how the algorithms developed their results. Neural nets that analyze photos often end up depending heavily on combinations of features that we humans aren’t conscious of using in our own recognition.

“Show me the man and I will show you the crime,” boasted Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria, head of Stalin’s secret police. But in the Data Age, it’s not always necessary to invent evidence. Often one can get a desired outcome simply by choosing the data set and algorithm to apply.

Or if you are applying a model of how different phenomena interact to create a complex situation, your model might be misleading or inadequate. For instance, a climate change model that failed to include variations in solar radiation might give misleading results if those variations were an important factor in the real world. Otherwise the model might be basically sound even if it doesn’t include that factor in its calculations.

There’s one complication: knowing what matters gets tricky in the case of what are technically called complex systems. These systems have non-linear responses to some events, the so-called “butterfly effect” in which a small change produces a very large effect. And if the system elements are adaptive—i.e., able to vary their individual responses to what is happening around them—it gets interesting and sometimes non-intuitive pretty quickly. Think of preference cascades and elections.

Killing Science—and Self-Government
The third way to lie, mislead, or be mistaken in the Data Age goes to the heart of things. Garbage data in, garbage results out. This is the claim at the center of Climategate 1.0—that poorly chosen, and sometimes deliberately cherry picked or even modified, data was fed into climate models to produce predetermined desired outcomes.

What critics of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis note is that those pushing for its acceptance have in many cases refused to make their data, models, and intermediate results available for review by other scholars. Since the legitimacy of science rests on the ability of other researchers to validate (or offer critiques of) research outcomes, such a refusal is deadly to the enterprise of science as a whole.

And at a practical level, it does more than undercut the authority of science—it makes it impossible for us to discuss the pros and cons, and the tradeoffs, associated with policy initiatives.

And so we get both sides of the climate issue making emotion-laden claims, pointing to weather as if this week’s temperatures said anything about a whole planet’s complex, dynamic climate system, and demanding that government “Take Action Now”—either to force far reaching, disruptive changes with major second and third order side effects on us all, or to cut government funding for science research and wash our hands of it.

For “climate change” substitute “gun violence.” Or “education outcomes.” Or “poverty and inequality.” Or any other issue in which the overall phenomenon is the result of many factors interacting.

If we have any hope whatever at bettering our society and our world, it must—must—start with honesty about what we know and what we don’t. It must include the ability of people with differing policy preferences and priorities to examine data and analyses in detail. And it must rest on a degree of humility that increasingly is an endangered species.

Manipulating science, or simply the facts around tax legislation, can be tempting as a means to a desired goal. But it is indeed “too clever in the long run” for the Data Age.

And it is deadly to consent of the governed in a republic.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

America • Center for American Greatness • Cultural Marxism • Education • Identity Politics • Post • The Left

Want to Fix the Universities? Here Are Two Options

Once upon a time, long, long ago—in May 2005, in fact—I wrote an essay for The New Criterion with the optimistic title “Retaking the University: A Battle Plan.” That was back when I believed that the educational establishment in this country could be rescued from its wasting captivity in the arid pandemonium of political correctness.

I know, I know, it all seems so naïve now when the totalitarian, politically correct ideologues ruling most of our distinguished colleges and universities have succumbed utterly, indeed proudly, to The Narrative about race and sex, the putative evils of America, and, oh, so much else, and dissenting opinions, and the persons espousing them, are strictly excluded from the desolate though expensive eyries of insanity that define what we still call, without irony, our institutions of “higher education.”

A couple of years ago, students at Middlebury College (total freight-on-board, some 74,000 of the crispest per annum) covered themselves in shame by loudly protesting the great social scientist Charles Murray, first preventing him from talking, then violently mobbing him and one of his female faculty handlers, sending her to the hospital. I wrote about that disgusting incident in these pages at the time. “What happened at Middlebury,” I wrote, “was a declaration of spiritual bankruptcy.”

Every student who can be identified in that video should be expelled and Laurie Patton [the college’s president] should resign. The former have violated the basic compact of respect upon which liberal education rests and the latter has vividly demonstrated her incompetence.

Neither happened, of course, nor did anyone follow up on my concluding suggestion that “the college should be closed and its facilities repurposed as something useful—a menagerie, perhaps, in homage to the strange, intolerant creatures that cavorted there when it pretended to be an educational institution.”

The Legutko Lashing
Perhaps some intrepid souls will reconsider now that Middlebury has once again soiled itself. A year or so back, I was proud to publish at Encounter Books The Demon in Democracy by the Polish philosopher and politician Ryszard Legutko. The book’s subtitle—“Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies”—announces its major theme, and Middlebury just did the world the favor of illustrating that theme by suddenly and at the last minute disinviting Legutko from giving a talk there because some of his opinions differ from the opinions of certain obnoxious students at Middlebury. (He was allowed to speak, in secret, to a small group of students thanks to a brave professor.) Rod Dreher tells chapter one of the story.

Chapter two, the aftermath, is in some ways even more alarming. In order to forestall future embarrassing episodes, the Student Government Association at Middlebury has issued 13 proposals for “community healing,” at the center of which is a demand that any proposed speaker at Middlebury first be vetted by the “Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion [yes, really] in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee.” Why? In order to determine “whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards.” Heaven forfend that someone come to campus expressing an alternative point of view.

This sort of thing is now the rule, not the exception, at college campuses across the country—indeed, our neighbor to the north has taken a page from the same book. A few weeks ago, Concordia University in Montreal rescinded an invitation to the distinguished Harvard political philosopher—er, make that the “white male conservative”—Harvey Mansfield.

Cataloguing such outrages has become a tedious, seemingly never-ending chore. I don’t propose to continue the list here, but will merely note that the disease is by no means confined to purging campuses of alien opinions. There is also a huge amount of self-cannibalization going on, as various racial and sexual factions attack one another. Last week, Wake Forest University announced it would host black-only faculty and staff listening sessions in order to—get this—“promote inclusivity.” Wonderful! “Inclusivity” is now a process that operates by exclusion. Nice work if you can get it.

And you can get it, on college campuses anyway, without trying very hard. Williams College is one of the richest, if not the richest, college per capita in the country. It is also one of the most fatuous, as I have noted on several occasions. The most recent episode at that expensive Romper Room featured several angry black students interrupting a student government meeting, shouting obscenities and demanding more money for their segregated activities. I hope that everyone on the Williams College Board of Trustees, and all parents of students at the college, will have an opportunity to watch the video of this vicious outburst.

Operation Academic Freedom?
But back to that optimistic essay on “retaking the university” from 2005. One thoughtful internet commentator—I cannot, alas, find the link—responded with an alternative that I must have had somewhere in the back of my mind but had never articulated explicitly.

This forthright chap began by recalling an article on military affairs that poked fun at yesterday’s conventional wisdom that high-tech gear would render tanks and old-fashioned armor obsolete. Whatever else the war in Iraq showed, he observed, such tried and true military hardware was anything but obsolete. The moral is: some armor is good, more armor is better. “It makes sense,” this fellow concluded, “to have some tanks handy.”

He then segued into my piece on the university, outlining some of the criticisms and recommendations I’d made. By and large, he agreed with the criticisms, but he found my recommendations much too tame.

“Try as I might,” he wrote, “I just can’t see meaningful change of the academic monstrosity our universities have become issuing from faculties, parents, alumni, and trustees.” What was his alternative? In a word, “Tanks!” He called his plan Operation Academic Freedom. It has the virtue of forthright simplicity:

We round up every tank we can find that isn’t actually being used in Iraq or Afghanistan [this was in 2005]. Next, we conduct a nationwide Internet poll to determine which institutions need to be retaken first. . . . The actual battle plan is pretty simple. We drive our tanks up to the front doors of the universities and start shooting. Timing is important. We’ll have to wait till 11 a.m. or so, or else there won’t be anyone in class. Ammunition is important. We’ll need lots and lots of it. The firing plan is to keep blasting until there’s nothing left but smoldering ruins. Then we go on to the next on the list. If the first target is Harvard, for example, we would move on from there to, say, Yale. So fuel will be important too. There’s going to be some long distance driving involved between engagements.

Well, perhaps we can call that Plan B, a handy expedient if other proposals don’t pan out. And there have, let’s face it, been plenty of other proposals. The task of reforming higher education has become a vibrant cottage industry, with think tanks, conferences, special programs, institutes, and initiatives cropping up like mushrooms after a rain. I suspect, however, that they will remain minority enterprises, a handful of admirable gadflies buzzing about the left-lunging behemoth that is contemporary academia. Why? There are several reasons.

One reason is that the left-wing monoculture is simply too deeply entrenched for these initiatives, laudable and necessary though they are, to make much difference. For the last few years, I have heard several commentators from sundry ideological points of view predict that the reign of political correctness and programmatic leftism on campus had peaked and was now about to recede. I wish I could share that optimism. I see no evidence of it. Sure, students are quiescent. But indifference is not instauration, and besides faculties nearly everywhere form a self-perpetuating closed shop.

Something similar can be said about the fashion of “theory”—all that anemic sex-in-the-head politicized gibberish dressed up in reader-proof “philosophical” prose. It is true that names like Derrida or Foucault no longer produce the frisson of excitement that they once did. That is not because their “ideas” are widely disputed but rather because they are by now completely absorbed into the tissues of academic life. (The same thing happened with Freud a couple decades ago.)

The key issue, I hasten to add, is not partisan politics but rather the subordinating of intellectual life generally to non-intellectual, i.e., political imperatives. “The greatest danger,” the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski wrote in “What are Universities For?” is

the invasion of an intellectual fashion which wants to abolish cognitive criteria of knowledge and truth itself. . . . The humanities and social sciences have always succumbed to various fashions, and this seems inevitable. But this is probably the first time that we are dealing with a fashion, or rather fashions, according to which there are no generally valid intellectual criteria.

Indeed, it is this failure—the colonization of intellectual life by politics—that stands behind and fuels the degradation of liberal education. The issue is not so much—or not only—the presence of bad politics as the absence of non-politics in the intellectual life of the university.

I used to think that appealing over the heads of the faculty to trustees, parents, alumni, and other concerned groups could make a difference. I have become increasingly less sanguine about that strategy. For one thing, it is extremely difficult to generate a sense of emergency such that those groups will actually take action, let alone maintain the sense of emergency such that an outburst of indignation will develop into a call for action.

An Alternative Vision
What’s more, those groups are increasingly impotent. Time was when a prospective hiccup in the annual fund would send shivers down the spine of an anxious college president. These days, many colleges and universities are so rich that they can afford to cock a snook at parents and alumni. Forget about Harvard and its $38 billion, or Princeton, or Yale, or Stanford, or the other super-rich schools. Even many small colleges are sitting on huge fortunes.

Some observers believe that the university cannot really be reformed until the current generation—the Sixties generation—retires. That’s another couple of decades, minimum. And don’t forget about the self-replicating engine that is tenure in which like begets like. Deep and lasting change in the university depends on deep and lasting change in the culture at large. Effecting that change is a tall order. Criticism, satire, and ridicule all have an important role to play, but the point is that such criticism, to be successful, depends upon possessing an alternative vision of the good.

Do we possess that alternative vision? I believe we do. We all know, well enough, what a good liberal education looks like, just as we all know, well enough, what makes for a healthy society. It really isn’t that complicated. It doesn’t take a lot of money or sophistication. What it does require is patience, candidness, and courage, moral virtues that are in short supply wherever political correctness reigns triumphant. In large part, those who want to retake the university must devote themselves to a waiting game, capitalizing in the meanwhile on whatever opportunities present themselves.

That is Plan A. Of course, it may fail; there are no guarantees. But in that case, we always have Plan B.

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America • Democrats • Education • Post • The Left

Cuomo Is Wrong to Give Free Tuition to Gold Star Families

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a strategic retreat. In response to well-publicized criticism of the decision of the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature to kill a bill that would have offered free college tuition to spouses and children of servicemen and women killed in the line of duty, Cuomo made the tuition benefits available by executive order instead. Score one for Republicans, conservatives, and patriots!

Not so fast. Cuomo’s action was pure political opportunism. He saw that New York Democrats were bleeding support because of a perceived indifference to the families of the fallen, and he reacted in the only way Democrats know how: he threw other people’s money at the problem. Hooray!

My concern with Cuomo’s action goes much deeper, however.

Our nation is plagued by record-setting deficits and debt, and the leading cause of this fiscal crisis is that the American people have never met a spending proposal they didn’t like—but they demure when it comes to paying the bill in the form of taxes. The nation’s tax burden, broadly speaking, hasn’t changed much in the post-World War II period, but spending has soared. It’s antics like those of Cuomo and the shortsightedness of voters that explain why.

But on what do we spend money? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, naturally, so often government largesse is bestowed on powerful interest groups: large blocks of voters, like the elderly, or big corporations, who can afford lobbyists and golden parachutes for retiring Congressmen.

There is, however, another category of Americans who frequently receive government backing. It is those who can both capture the public eye and exploit whatever tragedy, oppression, or injustice has befallen them. To put it succinctly, pity is the new currency of American politics. Groups jockey for position as the most pitiable, and they routinely express indignation when one of their own is subjected to criticism. “How dare you,” they cry. “I’m a victim! I deserve sympathy, respect, and above all a big cash payout!”

It is, of course, Democrats and liberals who most excel in the weaponization and the monetization of grief and victimhood. Democratic political campaigns are comprised mainly of “doing the rounds” among various put-upon and thus favored groups, all pressing their grievances at every opportunity. Racial minorities and women claim pride of place in the Left’s hierarchy of pathos, but other groups, defined by their religion, sexuality, union membership, immigration status, income (or lack thereof), and other factors, jostle for position as well. Sometimes, these groups become rivals. Usually, though, they can agree that they all deserve a generous slice of the American pie, and not uncommonly they get it, since the pie, at least in terms of government expenditures, only gets bigger every year.

None of this is to deny the reality of tragedy, oppression, or injustice. Some Americans feel sorry for themselves, or they feel sorry for others, and often their pity is rooted in very good reasons. The families of fallen soldiers are certainly among those who merit our concern and our solicitude. No one denies that.

The fact is, however, American servicemen and women who die in the line of duty did not sign up in the first place to serve a nation that bestows perks and entitlements depending on how many boxes a person can check on the master list of sorrow. They did not agree to fight for their country in the expectation of tuition scholarships for their bereaved family members, and it is disrespectful to insist that we can measure their duty and honor in terms of monetary reward.

In fact, to decide, as Cuomo has, that the life of a departed serviceman or woman is worth exactly $97,000 (the cost of four years of tuition, room, and board at a SUNY or CUNY school) is itself a slap in the face to the fallen, whose sacrifice is in reality priceless—or, rather, it utterly transcends the concept of financial compensation.

That Governor Cuomo has decided to spend someone else’s money so he can claim credit for giving succor to the families of departed soldiers is par for the course. Cuomo knows no better, and he never will.

Republicans and conservatives ought to be held to a higher standard, however. By signing on to the left-wing agenda of redistributing wealth and status from those who pity to those who are pitied, they only confirm liberals’ dominance of our warped public morality.

Instead, the conservative line ought to be: “For those who suffer, our hearts go out to you—but in the eyes of the law, and in terms of rights and entitlements, every American should be equal.”

Isn’t that what the Founders intended?

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