Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ideological Warfare on Campus

Recently the University of Colorado noted that political affiliation and orientation would be a protected category in the university's nondiscrimination policy. What prompted this action were reports from conservative faculty members that their viewpoints have been stifled.

While the proposal was approved, it is remarkable that this policy had to be introduced in the first place. What it suggests is that the faculty political outlook is homogeneous allowing little room for different points of view. Yet, to state the obvious, the essence of education is the exploration of different opinions.

Some faculty members contend that anti-bias policies is a waste of time. After all, the exclusionary position of most faculty members will not change because of university reform. In fact, if diversity of views is the goal that is more likely to come outside the Academy than inside the faculty.

Faculty members who share this left wing orthodoxy, in my experience, are accustomed to the present academic environment. Their self righteousness is mutually reinforcing. They are the virtuous ones and their position must not be challenged.

Whenever this argument of political bias arises university presidents invariably say "higher education is facing much bigger issues than this." But is that true? If the free and open exchange of opinion is not possible, if propagandizing for an ideology is permitted, the purpose of education will inevitably be compromised.

This fall the University of Colorado hired its first "visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy." The appointment was created in part to change public perception of the institution. However, while the appointment may offer legitimacy for conservative views, it is odd that an ideology of one kind is being used to counter the ideology of another.

As I see it, the issue is openness, i.e. consideration of a variety of opinions within the same classroom. The university is not designed to promote an ideology of the left or the right. Any exercise in politicizing the Academy contradicts its essential mission.

After having experienced an ideological take - over since the 1960's, it is understandable that a minority of conservative faculty members would seek some protection from the herd of leftist ideologues. But history has a strange way of hoisting protagonists by their own petard. The ideologue of the right might one day be charged with intimidation and chastisement that one sees so evident on campuses across the nation today. It is an unlikely scenario, but one serious scholars in the Academy should not overlook.

If there is one standard worth defending, it is a belief in academic freedom, i.e. the ability of professors to express freely their opinion in areas where there is demonstrated expertise. This is not unlimited freedom, nor is it freedom of speech. But it is a freedom anchored in openness that allows for the expression of any political view.

Should the university adhere to this standard, it is not necessary to amend the university's policy. Nor is it appropriate to hire a conservative professor to balance the political scales. If administrators want to engender an atmosphere of fairness and openness, it makes far more sense to remind faculty members of the meaning behind academic freedom.


Left-wing thinking still prevails in British schools

The educational elite is indoctrinating the young and - Education Secretary Michael Gove must be allowed to change it

Michael Gove is right. My time studying History at school and university was dominated by Left-wing thinking.

Consciously or subconsciously, the educational elite indoctrinates a generation of young people.

The dominance of the Left is deep-rooted and for all to see, especially when it comes to the teaching of history. I write as a 21-year-old graduate of History and Politics, just six months out of university.

Don't get me wrong: I had some superb teachers and lecturers, both throughout my time at school and while studying for my degree - individuals who enthused and inspired and knew their subjects inside out.

But the majority of them were rabidly Left-wing and the subjects they chose for their students matched their own misguided outlook on society.

The world wars formed a significant and central platform of my curriculum. It is well documented that the Nazis form the cornerstone of historical learning at school – and those who say the period is given too heavy an emphasis are probably right.

But the problem of history teaching in British schools and universities is more profound than that. It really is as Michael Gove describes; years of what accurately can be described as Leftist propaganda, delivered by a profession dominated on the whole by Leftist figures.

I studied the Crimean War at GCSE. The work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole was lauded, the inept and out-of-touch British Army officers belittled. We watched The Charge of the Light Brigade, the 1968 film portraying the incompetence of the British military leadership. Produced during the Vietnam War, the film reflected the anti-war sentiment central both to the period and to the lessons I attended.

Thrown into my course was the tale of the Cold War world and the escapades of the "brutal neo-colonialist Americans", not least during that brutal proxy war in Indochina.

We watched Apocalypse Now in class when studying that conflict, the Oscar-winning Hollywood epic starring Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando. Specifically, we were shown the graphic inhumanity of American napalm attacks. Both the method and the content of the lessons had a Left-wing agenda.

At A-level, my history course was heavily based around the American Civil Rights movement and the Russian revolution. My teacher, whom I liked and respected but fundamentally disagreed with on countless areas, was a self-proclaimed anarchist. He openly called for the dismantling of liberal democracy.

Not taking his gospel at face value, I was probably made more Right-wing by him, a fact that was conveyed to him by my mother at a parents' evening. I fear I was in the minority. The sons and daughters of Liberal Democrat voting teachers, nurses and doctors were much more receptive to his persuasive classroom rhetoric.

We would listen to Black American music in the classroom, encouraged to pay particular attention to the lyrics as a means of comprehending the race struggle.

We would listen to the powerful oratory of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael - framed and hailed as heroes.

The lessons were a hive of intellectual activity. The limits of the curriculum were stripped away and grades put by the wayside, for something else was the priority.

This was one of the best state schools in the country for a reason – it rightly encouraged independent thought and taught beyond the prescriptive box-ticking curriculum. But the history teachers still indoctrinated, and these were teachers at a grammar school in one of the safest Tory seats in the country.

Then, at university, the module options ranged from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Conventional political and military history has been broadly consigned to the dustbin by contemporary academics. They are traditional relics, we were told as undergraduates, and social and cultural history must come to the fore.

I arrived on campus, a mere 18 years old, excited to be studying a history joint honours degree at a university recently ranked in the UK’s top-five for doing just that. I was looking forward to looking at modern British history, the study of Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, continental tussles through the ages and the great historical players and actors.

I was met with something rather different. Learning about the past can no longer be done by looking at kings, queens, politicians, battles and landmark events, I was told. Instead, we should study the music, food, diaries and other such social and cultural markers of ordinary, average people.

This type of historical study may have its merits, of course. But it was the extent to which traditional methods were discarded that shocked me. As in life, surely there must be a reasonable balance?

I had an entire final year module devoted to The Beatles and their impact on Sixties social change, as key actors in Left-wing direct action and upheaval. The tutor, much like my teacher at school, was a huge sympathiser.

He too was a fine lecturer and we had an excellent relationship. But the fact a major section of my history degree was based on the Left-wing ramblings of John Lennon and Yoko Ono says all you need to know about the predominance of Left-wingers in our educational establishments. His specialism, for your information, a leading history tutor at one of our top universities, was 20th-century love.

We studied Asian development through the centuries as a means of attacking brutal British imperialism (incidentally taught via the medium of contemporary novels). We learnt about the European Union, painted as the great continental peacemaker. We learnt about Barack Obama’s remarkable grassroots fundraising efforts to beat the idiotic American Republicans and Tea Party crew.

We were encouraged to read critiques of Obama's presidency, not from those on the centre and Right who had concerns about healthcare reform or a weak and disjointed foreign policy, but just those on the Left like Tariq Ali, friend of the aforementioned Malcolm X and John Lennon, who bemoaned Obama for not being as radically Left-wing as first hoped.

And we listened to attack after attack on Right-wing organisations, such as the Cato and Adam Smith Institute, from bitter and biased professors.

Looking back now, it was all the more extraordinary. Both what was taught and the way it was conveyed was so incredibly partisan.

In one of my modules, we were given the opportunity to choose a particular form of historical study and write an analytical essay on its merits and deficiencies. Intrigued by Niall Ferguson’s work in the counterfactual field, I asked whether I could look at "what if?" questions and their function for etiology. That took some pleading, Ferguson being widely isolated in the academic community, as one of the few conservative historians, his work sneered upon.

I am not bemoaning a vacuum of historical truth telling, for every individual has his or her own prejudices. My issue is that the pendulum has swung so far in the favour of the Left it has almost shifted a full 180 degrees.

Even when traditional heavyweight topics are studied, they are framed and layered with a notable Leftist predisposition.

When it came to my dissertation, I managed to retreat to something more traditional, in the form of British defence policy and the Falklands conflict. Luckily, my supervisor was just about the only in the department without a Left-wing grudge to bear. To be expected I suppose, as an expert in intelligence and strategic defence.

But my point is, Michael Gove is right, as he is on a lot of things. He might be Satan to the Left, the teaching unions and professionals in schools who will resist change at all costs, but he is the best education secretary in my lifetime.

He understands the problems in our state schools. And he understands the problems with history as it currently is taught.

He must be allowed to change history teaching for the better.


When Chickens Come Home To Roost, Who Rules The Nest?

The chickens are coming home to roost.  More than a quarter of a century ago I decided to end my membership in the Modern Language Association of America because it had been taken over by seemed like loony, trendy political ideologues, theorists of political correctness, deconstruction, post-modernism and all sorts of far-out ways of transforming literary studies into sociology, polemical queer theory and God knows what else. I could see no point in spending a lot of money, time, and intellectual energy going to hear papers on the repressed imagery of lesbianism in Dr Johnson's Dictionary, the role of indigenous people in medieval Italian romances, male oppression in Beowulf, or how to negotiate societal mores in late antique nursery rhymes.  Those big gatherings (known as cattle markets) of the MLA in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, where up to twenty thousand of my colleagues came to network, size-up trends in other universities and interview prospective new junior lecturers seemed hardly congenial nor collegial for an outsider from the other side of the world.

But it wasn't just the Modern Language Association going through change.  It was virtually every academic organization that was being overwhelmed by ideologues, polemics and fanaticism.  The closer I came to retirement-my sixtieth birthday came and went, and then my seventieth loomed on the horizon-the fewer people I would meet who wanted to talk about the things I was interested in any more.  But reluctantly, because it was fascinating to watch younger generations of academics and would-be professors who had no idea what the former, let us call it classical education was about-philology, iconography, close-reading, editorial techniques...  it was time to hang up my boots and my axe and come in from the cold.

Now after barely glancing at their learnëd journals, listening to second-hand rumors of the gallivanting that goes on at conferences, and watching the shadow-play of the antics of departmental politics, it all suddenly becomes interesting again: shocking, frightening.  One after another the professional associations fall even further down the slippery slope of ideology into what is now the business of BDS-boycott, divest and sanction, all aimed at delegitimizing Israel, ostracising its universities and academics, cutting funds and involvement in research programs, and promoting instead support for terrorist states, fanatical institutions, and highly questionable pseudo-academic pursuits.  After the language associations, the indigenous peoples' studies, the Asian studies, and on it goes.

Perhaps these take-overs are done by small vocal minorities.  A handful of people who organize themselves, come to meetings of the activitsts, do the hard slog and get elected to the right committees.  Most scholars are too busy with their scholarship and working for career-advancement to spend time with these bureaucratic details.  Others get turned off by the one-sided arguments and the in-group dominance.  Votes on BDS proposals are somewhat rigged, in the sense that ballots are sent out just prior to holidays and thus a majority pays no attention, does not read the accompanying explanations carefully, and so a fraction of the membership vote and a small majority wins out.  Or maybe not.

 Maybe most academics are already so deep into the mind-set, two or three generations of political correctness and theoretical blather, that they see the arguments as truisms, vital to the stability of their reputations and integrity.  I have a terrible sinking feeling that there have been two whole world-views separated from one another, each side talking past one another, and the good guys-my side, or what remains still alive of it-are not what you would call in the ascendant.

For many years already, various left-wing-or so-called New Marxist groups, so-called because what has been substituted for hard-nosed "scientific Marxism" have been mushy versions of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, anti-Globalism-have blocked speakers from Israel and other Western-orientated Third-World states in the name of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and something called (but hardly looking like) democracy.  Versions of Foucauld, Derrida, Guattari and a hundred or a thousand other names like that have preached to the academic masses and won them over.  Now it is taken as given that there is no Truth, only positionalities and power-classes, and that the days of European Judeo-Christian hegemonies, like Capitalism and Imperialism, have passed to be replaced by racial subalternism, age-based tribalism and the pride of victimhood.  In short, history is whatever you want it to be: impressions, feelings and interpretations trump facts.

Friends of mine report that when they have tried to speak on certain campuses in the USA or Canada or the UK, invited to lecture in formal courses or to general audiences, they have needed police protection, have been shouted down, jostled, and worse-threatened with death.  Others have innocently allowed themselves to be conned into speaking on panels in which they alone spoke for the old-fashioned liberal cause while eleven others ranted on behalf of a "balanced" group of radicals and revolutionaries seeking to close down institutions of tolerance and diversity of expression.

Complaints to university officials or the campus police have usually proved fruitless, or yielded, at best, advice not to participate and warnings that any injuries or damage will be on their own heads.   Student groups who asked to have stalls on behalf of Israel, the Republican Party or Renaissance Literature have been rejected on the grounds of human rights, political interference, or gender equity.   Jewish groups have been beaten up and mocked.  Christian groups have been jeered off the stage.  There have been all-but book-burnings, defenestrations and torch-lit parades.

Does this matter to ordinary people?  If you send your children or grandchildren to get a college education, it does.  If you believe in the basic tenets of democracy, toleration, and justice, it does.  If you would like to see a world not dominated by absurdity, madness and demagoguery, it does.  Therefore, it is time we called a spade a spade and not a digging implement, and called aggressive bigotry hate speech and not the free play of ideas or personal opinions, and bumptious ignorance unacceptable ignorance in the academic world, the media and the minds of her youth.   


No comments: