P Education

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Such a title may appear strange coming from an academic. I enjoy academic, and my undergraduate and graduate school training changed my life, I believe, for the better. Through my education, I learned how to critically think beyond my childhood Fundamentalism without giving up Christian orthodoxy. I learned the wonderful field of philosophy and experienced reading some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world: Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Alfred North Whitehead, and many others. Sadly, if a young person were to talk to me about going to college or university, I would tell him, “Go, but remember that academia is a cesspool, and sometimes you have to dip your hands in s..t to gather up the diamonds.

What damaged the integrity of academia was the radicalism of the 1960s. The history of such radicalism has been documented by David Horowitz and Robert Bork, so I will only give the broadest details. After the 1962 Port Huron Meeting, in which the Students for a Democratic Society were radicalized under the leadership of Tom Hayden, they began to work toward revolutionizing higher education. Influenced by the Frankfurt School, especially the thought of Herbert Marcuse, they desired to bring about a Marxist society by changing the culture, rather than by changing the government. After the student protests of the 1960s and the early 1970s, many of these radicals attended graduate school and got their Ph.D.s. They believed that race, class, and gender (what some have called “the unholy trinity”) determine one’s identity. The Humanities became dominated by such thought, especially English departments. At a conference on Southern literature at which I presented a paper, I believe that my paper (on Wendell Berry) was the only one that did not focus on race, class, and/or gender. A young lady presented a paper that espoused relativism based on the unholy trinity. In the question and answer session I pointed out the contradictions with any kind of relativism, and she readily admitted their existence. When I talked privately with her, I found her to be a traditionalist and a Christian. When I asked her why she presented a paper presenting views with which she did not agree, she said, “I must do what is necessary to get a job.”

To use another term found in discussions of academia, these “tenured radicals” gained control of many departments of English, History, and even Music—they were not as successful in philosophy departments. Once they gained control, they hired only clones of themselves. As a result, many students are exposed to a distorted view of English literature or American History. Instead of focusing on the classic core of literature, for example, Shakespeare is often not even required for an English degree. “Underrepresented writers” replace the great writers of the past. The reason Shakespeare and other writers are in the core curriculum is their ability to express universal meaning through the particularities of their literature. The purging of the classics affects libraries, as they rush to order books to gain the proper balance of “race, class, and gender” and discard classics.

Class discussion is poisoned. Female students are taught to focus on grievances, and men are often portrayed as evil, greedy, and lecherous—to the point that even consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is portrayed as a man raping a woman. Racial differences are emphasized, and minority races are taught to focus on how the majority society has mistreated them. Traditional religion is mocked, especially traditional Christianity, which is portrayed as a tool of the ruling class to keep down women, minorities, and the poor. “Multiculturalism” and “diversity” are code words—they do not refer to teaching about other cultures such as India or China—they are code words for “black and Hispanic.” This kind of multiculturalism distorts the rich cultural diversity found in different black and Hispanic communities. It also promotes a naïve relativism that claims that no one culture is better than another. Such a view poisons moral discourse because if relativism is true, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia could not be morally censured. If a student questions the radicalism of the professor, oftentimes the student’s grade will suffer.

How can a student find the diamonds within the cesspool of academia? First, he should, to the best of his ability, choose his teachers carefully. Choose teachers who are willing to hear both sides of an issue, no matter what the teacher’s political views might be. Avoid professors who are known to push their agenda and who punish students for politically incorrect speech. Speaking of which, many colleges and universities have adopted “speech codes” to control politically incorrect speech. Now if such speech referred to truly offensive and insulting speech against a group of people, I could at least understand why a speech code was adopted. But speech codes can be used to censure politically or religiously conservative talk. If a student is punished for breaking a speech code, for example, by defending the position that practicing homosexuality is morally wrong, that student should fight that conviction, in court if necessary. Students should be willing—and be strong enough—to speak up and defend their own positions.

A student can also take elective courses on the classics, such as an elective course on Shakespeare. A student might orient his term paper around a classic work of literature, philosophy, or around a major historical event. Many classics are now online, and some students might be interested in reading them in their spare time. I know of a few students who read classic texts and who do not buy into the radical left’s understanding of human history in terms of the unholy trinity. Of course math and science courses have not, for the most part, been politicized, at least in terms of a strong left-right split.

If anyone teaches a course in Classical Rhetoric, a student should take it. The skills taught in that course are seldom taught today—and they aid both in grammar and in logical reasoning. Taking logic is also something that would benefit students.

I make this next suggestion with some concern that today’s students may not have the discipline to handle classical languages, but students should learn at least Latin, and ideally Greek as well. This teaches not only English grammar, but discipline, and opens up the world of the classics in their original tongues to students.

It is possible to find gold nuggets in the cesspool of academia. The main task for parents is to be aware and do their own homework in finding a school that will encourage a person to think, that will not indoctrinate students, and which focuses on a classic core of literary and philosophical works.