Thursday, August 07, 2008

Salvo Magazine Fires Off Against Academic Bias

Have you heard of Salvo Magazine? I'm guessing you haven't. It's a good, provocative read. It's a missile in the culture wars from the theistic side (culprits include Robbie George, Dinesh D'Souza, Russell Moore, and others associated with Touchstone magazine and other conservative outposts). Sometimes it's a bit punchy, but it includes a lot of non-PC, thought-provoking content written in blog-style, though with a solid amount of research and citation. Bookmark it and check it every few months.

The latest issue has a fun piece called "Mind Control: Now Occurring at a University Near You" that is worth highlighting. The author of the essay, Herb London, lets off steam about the biased American academy in a way that's illuminating and amusing. Here are some juicy sections:

The current drive to indoctrinate, not educate: "For middle-class parents who spend a king’s ransom to send their children off to college, there is the expectation that their offspring will receive an education in science, math, the humanities, and the social sciences. This rite of passage is not merely an expensive dalliance; it is regarded as a union card for success. After all, the education pundits are always saying that a college degree pays for itself in increased earnings. What these parents don’t know, however, is that universities have become reeducation centers on the model of the old communist institutions that manipulated opinion for “higher” purposes.

Professor Richard Rorty, the much acclaimed philosopher who shuffled off this mortal coil last June, argued that professors in the university ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” Rorty noted further that students would be fortunate to find themselves under the control “of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Indeed, parents who send their children to college should recognize that professors “are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”"

The essence of postmodern education: "At one point in the history of the university, “educate” was a reflexive verb. You educated yourself through exposure to great books, scientific analysis, and logical exegesis. In the Rorty age, students do not have this privilege. Now they are obliged to be browbeaten into submission, mere clay in the hands of ambitious professors who are bent upon shaping students’ beliefs."

Northwestern teaches a one-sided view of the Cold War (shocking): "In order to fulfill a requirement for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called “The Cold War at Home.” As one might imagine, left-wing views predominated. The students read Ellen Shrecker rather than Ronald Radosh; Joseph McCarthy was transmogrified into Adolf Hitler; and victimology stood as the overarching theme of the course.

Despite the recent scholarship on the period, such as Alan Weinstein’s well-researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evans’s biography of Senator McCarthy, views that did not fit the prevailing orthodoxy weren’t entertained. Pounded into students instead was the notion that America engaged in “totalitarian practices” not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.

Class session after class session was devoted to the drumbeat of criticism. I asked my daughter if she had read anything about Gus Hall and the American Communist Party, if she had ever heard of I. F. Stone, or if any class time was devoted to the Venona tapes. She looked at me perplexed. There was only one theme in that course: The US government was wrong. There wasn’t any justification for harassing communists, and Edward R. Murrow and Victor Navasky were the real heroes of the period."

To sacrifice grades, or not sacrifice them--this is the current question: "When I suggested that she write her final paper on the role of anti-communist liberals such as Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Stephen Spender, and Midge Decter, among others, my daughter said, “My instructor doesn’t admire these people, and I don’t want to jeopardize a good grade by writing about them.” So much for open discussion.

Such bias is not atypical, unfortunately. Courses in the soft disciplines have largely become propagandistic exercises, as instructors have increasingly arrogated to themselves the role of moral arbiter. Invariably, the United States is wrong; our historical role in the Cold War was malevolent; and our civil liberties are still being put at risk by demagogic politicians."

*****

Herb London's brief essay hits home. I remember being very careful in college about the paper topics I chose in certain classes. In fact, I'm guessing that most conservative (or even just open-minded, genuinely inquisitive) students have had the same experience. More than that, we've all talked about it, and we've all read articles like the one cited in this blog. What a shock, then, that so little seems to be changing in American education. You'd think that the academic "emperor", so to speak, would begin to clothe himself upon discovering his lack of garmentry.

I know people who are afraid to accurately report their past academic activity on their resumes due to the biased American academy. Their fears are likely well-grounded. Parents today need to take such realities into account when helping their children select a college. I'm a big champion of a challenging, stretching education, but one has to ask whether the costs of top-tier education are worth it. Instead of Harvard, Williams, and Stanford, I'd almost rather my children go to Hillsdale, Notre Dame, or Boston College. These places are not immune from unfair bias, of course, but their religious orientation does at least provide a standard of education, a basis for learning, that transcends the academic curiosities of the moment.

Christian schools need to make sure that they do not perform their own brand of indoctrination. It is good and right to have a foundational worldview, but we need to encourage honest inquiry in our schools. Ironically, I think that schools that are anchored in a certain doctrinal grid are in the best place to offer this kind of education. Schools that seek a "middle ground" orientation seem to end up swinging to the left. The drive to conserve seems less of a force at such institutions than is the drive to be progressive, open, and unbiased. Perhaps, then, we're all biased, and it's simply better to admit our biases and then work from them to a position of helpful academic investigation.

One thing's for sure, though--that thesis won't fly with any of the thinkers that Mr. London quotes!

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1 Comments:

Blogger Bradley said...

Owen!

I couldn't agree more with you about open inquiry and bias consciousness.

That salvo mag and blog look like they've been designed by a marketing genius. I'm glad you've introduced us to it. I was unaware of it. We need more of our Christian writings to follow the example of Salvo's visual appeal.

9:32 PM  

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