Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The following excerpt from Dinesh D'Souza sets out to critique American education in terms that might just make sense to some American "liberals". It is very good but rather long so I am putting it alone up today -- JR

Each fall some 13 million students, 2.5 million of them minorities, enroll in American colleges. Most of these students are living away from home for the first time. Yet their apprehension is mixed with excitement and anticipation. At the university, they hope to shape themselves as whole human beings, both intellectually and morally. Brimming with idealism, they wish to prepare themselves for full and independent lives in the workplace, at home, and as citizens who are shared rulers of a democratic society. In short, what they seek is liberal education.

By the time these students graduate, very few colleges have met their need for all-round development. Instead, by precept and example, universities have taught them that "all rules are unjust" and "all preferences are principled"; that justice is simply the will of the stronger party; that standards and values are arbitrary, and the ideal of the educated person is largely a figment of bourgeois white male ideology, which should be cast aside; that individual rights are a red flag signaling social privilege, and should be subordinated to the claims of group interest; that all knowledge can be reduced to politics and should be pursued not for its own sake but for the political end of power; that convenient myths and benign lies can substitute for truth; that double standards are acceptable as long as they are enforced to the benefit of minority victims; that debates are best conducted not by rational and civil exchange of ideas, but by accusation, intimidation, and official prosecution; that the university stands for nothing in particular and has no claim to be exempt from outside pressures; and that the multiracial society cannot be based on fair rules that apply to every person, but must rather be constructed through a forced rationing of power among separatist racial groups.


Although minority activists dominate race relations on campus, their original troubles began in the classroom, and it is to the classroom that their political energy ultimately returns. This phase of the struggle begins with a new recognition. Usually within the atmosphere of their separate enclaves, and often under the tutelage of an activist professor, minority students learn that extensive though their experience has been with campus bigotry, the subtlest and yet most pervasive form of racism thrives undiscovered, right in front of their eyes.

The curriculum, they are told at Stanford and Duke and other colleges, reflects a "white perspective." Specifically, as Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson said earlier, it reflects a predominant white, male, European, and heterosexual mentality which, by its very nature, is inescapably racist, indisputably sexist, and manifestly homophobic.

This realization comes as something of an epiphany. Many minority students can now explain why they had such a hard time with Milton and Publius and Heisenberg. Those men reflected white aesthetics, white philosophy, white science. Obviously minority students would fare much better if the university assigned black or Latino or Third World thought. Then the roles would be reversed: they would perform well, and other students would have trouble. Thus the current curriculum reveals itself as the hidden core of academic bigotry.

At first minority students may find such allegations hard to credit, since it is unclear how differential equations or the measurement of electron orbits embody racial and gender prejudices. Nevertheless, in humanities and social science disciplines, younger scholar-advocates of the au courant [fully informed] stripe are on hand to explain that the cultural framework for literature or history or sociology inevitably reflects a bias in the' selection or application of scholarly material.

Restive with the traditional curriculum progressive academics such as Edward Said at Columbia and Stanley Fish and Henry Gates at Duke seek a program which integrates scholarship and political commitment, and they form a tacit partnership with minority activists in order to achieve this goal. Since all knowledge is political, these scholar-advocates assert, minorities have a right to demand that their distinct perspectives be "represented" in the course readings. Ethnic Studies professor Ronald Takaki of Berkeley unabashedly calls this "intellectual affirmative action."

Tempted by these arguments, many minority leaders make actual headcounts of the authors and authorities in the curriculum, and they find accusations of white male predominance to be proven right. Why are Plato and Locke and Madison assigned in philosophy class but no black thinkers? How come so few Hispanics are credited with great inventions or discoveries?

Feminists ask: Why is only a small percentage of the literature readings by women? These protests sometimes extend beyond the humanities and social sciences; at a recent symposium, mathematics professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts at Boston accused her field of harboring "Eurocentric bias" and called for "ethno-mathematics" which would analyze numerical models in terms of workforce inequalities and discrimination quotients.

Few minority students believe that democratic principles of "equal representation" should be rigorously applied to curricular content. Feminists make this argument because they want to replace alleged sexists like Aquinas and Milton with Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians generally assent to this proposition because it provides an immediate explanation for the awkward gaps in academic performance.

Not only are these differences evident in classroom discussion, grades, and prizes, but also in suspension and dropout statistics. Minority students must face the disquieting fact that many of their peers at places like Berkeley fail to graduate, if indeed they even stay through freshman year. It seems irresistible to adopt the view that if only the curriculum were broadened or revised to reflect black (or female, or Third World) perspectives, these academic gaps would close or possibly reverse themselves....


Many university presidents are not intellectual leaders but bureaucrats and managers; their interest therefore is not in meeting the activist argument but in deflecting it, by making the appropriate adjustments in the interest of stability. When a debate over the canon erupts, university heads typically take refuge in silence or incomprehensibility; thus one Ivy League president responded to Allan Bloom's book by saying that the purpose of liberal education was to "address the need for students to develop both a private self and a public self, and to find a way to have those selves converse with each other."

Earlier incidents reveal the posture of presidents Heyman of Berkeley, Kennedy of Stanford, Cheek of Howard, Duderstadt of Michigan, Brodie of Duke, and Bok of Harvard to be a curious mixture of pusillanimity, ideology, and opportunism.

As we saw at Stanford, Duke, and Harvard, when minority groups, assisted by activist professors, urge the transformation of the curriculum toward a "race and gender" agenda, they face potential opposition from a large segment of faculty who may be sympathetic to minority causes but at the same time believe that the curriculum should not be ideologically apportioned. These dissenters are branded as bigots, sexists, and homophobes, regardless of their previous political bona fides.

If minority faculty and student activists are not a numerical majority, they inevitably are a kind of Moral Majority, and they wield the formidable power to affix scarlet letters to their enemies. Few dare to frontally oppose the alliance between minority groups and faculty activists; like Stanford's Linda Paulson, most wrestle with their conscience and win and even professors with qualms end up supporting curricular transformation with the view that change is inevitable....

Moreover, most university leaders have no answer to the charge that the curriculum reflects a white male culture, and consequently embodies all the hateful prejudices that whites have leveled against other peoples throughout history. Nor can they explain why, if not for discrimination, minority students aren't doing as well as other students.

As we saw with Harvard's "Myths and Realities" letter, universities have insisted from the outset that standards have not been lowered, so why do black and Hispanic students fall behind if not for curricular racism? And won't the rationing of books among different ethnic "perspectives" make an indispensable contribution to "diversity"?

Thus begins the process, already far advanced, of downplaying or expelling the core curriculum of Western classics in favor of a non-Western and minority-oriented agenda. Universities like Stanford, Berkeley, and Harvard establish ethnic studies requirements, multicultural offerings, Afro-American Studies and Women's Studies departments.

The typical rationale is that white professors cannot effectively communicate with, or provide role models for, minority students. This argument is somewhat transparent, since it relies on the premise that interracial identification is impossible, and no one has ever alleged that minority professors are racially or culturally disabled from teaching white students.

College administrators will privately admit that "minority perspectives" is a pretext for meeting affirmative action goals. The so-called "studies" programs also serve the purpose of attracting minority students who are having a difficult time with the "white" curriculum, but who, like Harvard's Tiya Miles, Eva Nelson, and Michelle Duncan, feel psychologically at home in a department like Afro-American Studies.

What transpires in the "race and gender" curriculum is anything but "diverse." As we saw at Harvard, typically these programs promulgate rigid political views about civil rights, feminism, homosexual rights, and other issues pressed by the activists who got these departments set up in the first place. Thomas Short, a professor of philosophy at Kenyon College, observes that "ideological dogmatism is the norm, not the exception, in the 'studies' programs, especially Women's Studies. Intimidation of nonfeminists in the classroom is routine." Short adds that, curiously, ideologues in these programs practice the very exclusion that they claim to have suffered in the past.

Even if some faculty in the "race and gender" curriculum seek to promote authentic debate or intellectual diversity, this is difficult in an atmosphere where activist students profess to be deeply offended by views which fall outside the ideological circumference of their victim's revolution. Once a professor finds himself the object of vilification and abuse for tackling a political taboo-the fate of Farley, Thernstrom, and Macneil -- others absorb the message and ensure that their own classes are appropriately deferential.

Eugene Genovese, a Marxist historian and one of the nation's most distinguished scholars on slavery, admits that "there is just too much dogmatism in the field of race and gender scholarship." Whatever diversity obtains, Genovese argues, is frequently "a diversity of radical positions." As a result, "Good scholars [who] are increasingly at risk are starting to run away, and this is how our programs become ghettoized."

The new awareness of racially and sexually biased perspectives is not confined to the "studies" programs, however; minority activists inevitably bring their challenging political consciousness into other courses as well, although this usually does not happen until junior or senior year. At this point, the students begin to function as sensitivity monitors, vigilant in pointing out instances of racism and sexism in the course readings or among student comments.

Other students may inwardly resent such political surveillance, but seldom do professors resist it: indeed they often praise it as precisely the sort of "diversity" that minority students can bring to the classroom. Minority students are often given latitude to do papers on race or gender victimization, even if only tangentially related to course material: thus some write about latent bigotry in Jane Austen, or tabulate black under-representation in the university administration.

Minority activists can be offended when they do not receive passing grades on such papers, because they believe that their consciousness of oppression is far more advanced than that of any white professor. Further, they know how reluctant most professors are to get involved in an incident with a black or Hispanic student; hence they can extract virtually any price from faculty anxious to avoid "racial incidents."

University administrations and faculty also permit, and sometimes encourage, minority students to develop myths about their own culture and history, such as the "black Egypt" industry evident at Howard and elsewhere. This cultural distortion is routine in multicultural and Third World studies-the case of Stanford is typical.

Bernard Lewis, professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton, describes what he calls "a new culture of deceit on the campus," and adds, "It is very dangerous to give in to these ideas, or more accurately, to these pressures. It makes a mockery of scholarship to say: my nonsense is as good as your science."

But even university officials who agree with Lewis say they aren't sure what they can do to counter these distortions, since the ideological forces behind them are so strong. Although curricular and extracurricular concessions by the university greatly increase the power of minority activists, it is not clear that they help minority students use knowledge and truth as weapons against ignorance and prejudice, nor that they assuage the problems of low morale and low self-esteem which propelled them in this direction to begin with.

Nor does an apparently more even "balance of power" between minority and non-minority students produce greater ethnic harmony. In fact, like Michigan activists Kimberly Smith and Tracye Matthews, many minority students find themselves increasingly embittered and estranged during their college years, so that by the time they graduate they may be virtually isolated in a separatist culture, and espouse openly hostile sentiments against other groups.

At graduation time, it turns out that only a fraction of the minority students enrolled four years earlier are still around, and even among them the academic record is mixed: a good number (most are probably not affirmative action beneficiaries) have performed well, but a majority conspicuously lag behind their colleagues, and a sizable group has only finished by concentrating in congenial fields such as Afro-American or Ethnic Studies, under the direction of tolerant faculty advisers.

Relatively few of these students have developed to their full potential over the past four years, or have emerged ready to assume positions of responsibility and leadership in the new multiracial society.


There is no conflict between equal opportunity for individuals in education, and the pursuit of the highest standards of academic and extracurricular excellence. After all, equal opportunity means opportunity to achieve, and we achieve more when more is expected of us. Test scores and grade point averages are mere measurements of achievement, which are necessary to register how much intellectual progress is being made. They provide a common index for all who seek to improve themselves, regardless of race, sex, or background.

High standards do not discriminate against anyone except those who fail to meet them. Such discrimination is entirely just and ought not to be blamed for our individual differences. ... Liberal education settles issues in terms of idealism, not interest; in terms of right, not force. There is nothing wrong with universities confronting controversial contemporary issues, especially those involving human difference that are both timely and timeless.

Nor is radicalism itself the problem; if radical solutions may not be contemplated in the university, where else should they be considered? Because they are sanctuary institutions, universities can be a philosophical testing ground for programs of revolutionary transformation which, if improperly executed, might lead to lawlessness, violence, or anarchy. "The university sponsors moral combat in an atmosphere where ideas can be tested short of mortal combat," in the words of sociologist Manfred Stanley of Syracuse University. ...

Liberal education in a multicultural society means global education. Provincialism has always been the enemy of that broad-minded outlook which is the very essence of liberal learning.

Today's liberally educated student must be conversant with some of the classic formulations of other cultures, and with the grand political and social currents which bring these cultures into increased interaction with the West. Such education is best pursued when students are taught to search for universal standards of judgment which transcend particularities of race, gender, and culture; this gives them the intellectual and moral criteria to evaluate both their own society and others. There is much in both to affirm and to criticize....

Equality and the Classics

Universities can address their curricular problems by devising a required course or sequence for entering freshmen which exposes them to the basic issues of equality and human difference, through a carefully chosen set of classic texts that deal powerfully with those issues. Needless to say, non-Western classics belong in this list when they address questions relevant to the subject matter.

Such a solution would retain what Matthew Arnold termed "the best that has been thought and said," but at the same time engage the contemporary questions of ethnocentrism and prejudice in bold and provocative fashion.

It seems that currently both the teaching of Western classics as well as the desire to study other cultures have encountered serious difficulties in the curriculum. As the case of Stanford illustrates, an uncritical examination of non-Western cultures, in order to favorably contrast them with the West, ends up as a new form of cultural imperialism, in which Western intellectuals project their own domestic prejudices onto faraway countries, distorting them beyond recognition to serve political ends.

Even where universities make a serious effort to avoid this trap, it remains questionable whether they have the academic expertise in the general undergraduate program to teach students about the history, religion, and literature of Asia, Africa, and the Arab world.

The study of other cultures can never compensate for a lack of thorough familiarity with the founding principles of one's own culture. Just as it would be embarrassing to encounter an educated Chinese who had never heard of Confucius, however well versed he may be in Jefferson, so also it would be a failure of liberal education to teach Americans about the Far East without immersing them in their own philosophical and literary tradition "from Homer to the present." Universal in scope, these works prepare Westerners to experience both their own, as well as other, ideas and civilizations....

The liberal university is a distinctive and fragile institution. It is not an all-purpose instrument for social change. Its function is indeed to serve the larger society which supports and sustains it, yet it does not best do this when it makes itself indistinguishable from the helter-skelter of pressure politics, what Professor Susan Shell of Boston College terms "the academic equivalent of Tammany Hall."

Nothing in this [selection] should be taken to deny the legitimate claim of minorities who have suffered unfairly, nor should reasonable aid and sympathy be withheld from them. But the current revolution of minority victims threatens to destroy the highest ideals of liberal education, and with them that enlightenment and understanding which hold out the only prospects for racial harmony, social justice, and minority advancement.

Many university leaders are supremely confident that nothing can jeopardize their position, and they regard any criticism with disdain. As Professor Alan Kors of the University of Pennsylvania has remarked, "For the first time in the history of American higher education, the barbarians are running the place."

Liberal education is too important to entrust to these self-styled revolutionaries. Reform, if it comes, requires the involvement of intelligent voices from both inside and outside the university students who are willing to take on reigning orthodoxies, professors and administrators with the courage to resist the activist high tide, and parents, alumni, and civic leaders who are committed to applying genuine principles of liberal learning to the challenges of the emerging multicultural society.


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