A Memo to College and University Students

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MEMO

To: College and University Students
From: Someone who Does not Know Everything, but Knows Some Things
Re: Happiness and Success

You are not guaranteed happiness.
You are not guaranteed emotional satisfaction.
You are not guaranteed success.
You are not guaranteed to have any career you want; you must have the talent, skill, and hard work needed to succeed in that field.
You are not guaranteed a passing grade or any other grade in a class other than what you earn.
You are not guaranteed freedom from criticism of your views in class or in any other context.
You are not guaranteed that all your choices are good.
You are not guaranteed wealth.
You are not guaranteed “safe zones” in the real world.
You are not guaranteed that elections turn out the way you feel they should.
You are not guaranteed that everyone else agree with your opinions.
You are not guaranteed to know everything–or anything in particular.
You are not guaranteed protection from sickness, injury, death, loss of loved ones, or any of the other bad things that happen to all of us as part of the human condition.

Historians and the Falsification of History

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Some people wonder why an academic like me is so hard on academia. I suppose it is because academia often claims to be pure, beyond bias, able to think critically as opposed to the idiots out there among the common people. Knowing that all those claims are false makes academia a hypocritical institution. This is seen in a number of fields, but one of them is history. Below are some examples of how historians distort history.

I once read a book on the attempt of the Confederate government to arm slaves near the end of the War between the States. The author claimed that very few, if any, blacks fought for the Confederacy and that those who were in support position were generally slaves. However, there are articles from the era of the war in the New York Times and Harper’s Weekly (check the May 10, 1862 issue for an artist’s drawing of blacks helping load a cannon) by reporters who witnessed a large number of blacks in the Confederate camp, some of whom fought fiercely against Union troops. There were free blacks who fought for the Confederacy, not just slaves; estimates of the number of free black Confederate soldiers are at a low of 5000, with some estimates much higher. With slaves included, who could have easily revolted or fled to the North with so many of the men off to war, 100,000 helped in the war effort in support units. While the Confederacy did not formally include blacks by law in the army until 1865, de facto from the beginning they were served the army, perhaps not formally, but in support positions that involved combat when units encountered Union troops. The units were integrated, unlike Union units. Authors who deny that evidence of such is totally missing are either ignorant of it (and thus are guilty of bad scholarship), explain it away (which is difficult to do, given that there are multiple eyewitness accounts of black Confederate soldiers), or ignore it (which is dishonest). Most of the time it’s probably the latter, since I can’t imagine a good researcher missing the references in Harper’s. Thus ideologically driven dishonest is the only reasonable explanation for historians denying a fact of which they have clear evidence.

Another example is Reconstruction after the War between the States. Earlier historians recognized the corruption that permeated Reconstruction, but lately revisionists, mainly of a Marxist bent, have claimed that the reports of corruption and violence were due to biased Southern writers. Given that there are number of newspaper accounts from the time period of rapes and murders as well as letters from ordinary people detailing their fear of walking the street due to Carpetbagger-agitated gangs, this “historians'” conclusion seems more due to ideological bias.

In a conversation I had at an academic conference with a Marxist historian, he denied both the atrocities of Stalin and Mao. Given the overwhelming evidence for the brutal system of gulags, mass purges and executions, the starving of the people of the Ukraine, and the misuse of psychiatry in Stalin’s era, such denial is incredible. As for Mao, around 35,000,000-45,000,000 people died from the effects of his rule, directly through execution or brutality in prison or indirectly through failed agricultural policies. Did this Marxist forget about the Cultural Revolution? Again, this seems to be an integrity matter rather than sloppy scholarship.

While I am not a Classical Liberal, the claims of Classical Liberalism about what worsened the Great Depression should be taken seriously, and yet they are dismissed by most historians I have read with little or no argumentation. Usually the dismissal carries with it a tinge of sarcasm. Such a response, again, is due to ideological bias.

Many historians claimed that Alger Hiss was unjustly charged with espionage, as well as the Rosenbergs. KGB files opened after the Cold War ended have affirmed that Hiss was a Soviet spy, as well as Julius Rosenberg (his wife may well not have been involved). In fact, a number of people the much maligned Senator Joseph McCarthy accused of being Soviet spies turned out to be Soviet spies. The “anti-anti-communism” of leftist historians came into play rather than looking at evidence for or against the guilt of Hiss or Julius Rosenberg. To be fair, many historians have corrected earlier positions based on this new evidence, but the dogmatism with which historians held the earlier position is, at the least, fascinating.

Other events go unsaid by historians:

A number of prominent politicians believed succession was legal before the War between the States, including northern politicians.

Some early feminists opposed abortion on liberal grounds that forced abortion was one of the ways men would try to control and take advantage of women. Susan B. Anthony was opposed to abortion.

The Crusades began as a defensive war–vast swaths of the formerly Christian Mediterranean world had been conquered by Islam, and there were Islamic colonies throughout Europe, especially in Moorish Spain. The Crusades were an attempt to re-take the Holy Land which was lost when the Muslims defeated the Eastern Roman Empire’s troops in the seventh century.

Focusing on violent protests in the South against integration, historians often ignore the many incidents of peaceful integration and the growing grassroots movement for civil rights which may have been more successful with less bitterness resulting than the massive federal and military intervention liberals support.

Historians often play up the atrocities of Christians and downplay the atrocities of Muslims. By the way, I am sure the troops of the Eastern Roman Empire discovered that Islam is a religion of peace. My sarcasm is obvious.

Now there are some fine historians, especially among those who have studied intellectual history. Shelby Foote has written a masterful narrative history of the War between the States. Thomas Molnar, Modris Eksteins, John Lukacs, and Jacques Barzun have written some splendid intellectual history. Thomas J. DiLorenzio has written some works that bring more balance to the study of Abraham Lincoln. David McCullough is a fine historian who is fair who has a flair for style, a rare trait among academic writers. Paul Johnson is a good writer, though his own classical liberal bias gets a bit thick — he’s not a trained academic historian, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Michael Grant is a fascinating writer. I know there are many others, and when I get overly cynical, when I say “There are liars, damned liars, and historians,” I think of these individuals. May more like them come along.

 

 

Why I Avoid Standard Academic Terminology for Dates in History

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In my latest book, Aerobics for the Mind: Practical Exercises in Philosophy that Anybody Can Do, I chose to use the old-fashioned B.C./A.D. system of dating rather than the usual academic B.C.E./C.E. system. Why go against the vast majority of academia who prefers “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” to “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”? It’s simple–I’ve had it with the oversensitivity of many academics. Even using the newer terminology, dates in the West are measured from the birth of Christ (miscalculated by about four years, give or take two). If I were in a Moslem country that used dates from an event in Mohammad’s life, I would not be offended. If a Buddhist country were to measure dates from an event in The Buddha’s life, I would not be offended, even if I had to use that system in an academic paper. Others should not be offended either. Many are offended, but for many academics in their sheltered little corner of the world, Christianity, at least in its traditional forms, is an offense so they want to wipe out any trace of its doctrines from the calendar and from academic speech in general.

The culture of offense in academia becomes worse year by year with some Evangelical Christians and some fairly traditional Roman Catholics caving in to the insanity of the crowd.  Most academic journals require the newer dating system, and I will use it if I have to–but when I do not have to use it, I refuse to so so. If a scholar doesn’t believe that Jesus is Lord, he is free to understand the “Domini” of A.D. as a fiction. So far scholars have continued to use “Jesus Christ” to refer to Jesus even though “Christ” means “Messiah.” I continue to use “The Buddha” for Siddhartha Gautama, though “The Buddha” means “The Enlightened One.” If academics were consistent, they would force other academics to say “Jesus of Nazareth” instead of “Jesus Christ” and “Siddhartha Gautauma” instead of “The Buddha.” If they do something along those lines, my prediction is that they would only make the change for Jesus Christ and not for The Buddha. If people are offended by my use of the old system, that is something with which they need to deal.

The Moral and Political Divide in Academia

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Today I was researching the ethics of embryonic stem cell research for articles from the last five years–and I could not find a single article in a “mainstream” bioethics journal opposing the practice. I am sure there may be some I missed, but the point remains that the vast majority of articles in such journals as The Hastings Center Report, The American Journal of Bioethics, and the Journal of Medical Ethics support the ethical acceptability of stem cell research. To find articles in opposition to the practice, I had to find Roman Catholic and Evangelical journals. On issues such as abortion, the divide is there, though slightly less sharp.

On political issues, there was a sharp division. It is no secret that the New England Journal of Medicine almost (though not quite) exclusively has articles supporting either the Affordable Health Care Act or more socialistic alternatives. This journal has been one of the academic driving forces for a socialistic direction in health care reform. Whether socialism would be better or not, surely there could be more balance in such a widely respected journal. Classical liberals and traditional conservatives must look elsewhere to find articles supporting their position, and sometimes the best places for them to look are the conservative “think tanks.”

Regarding postmodern relativism and the various “isms” of identity politics, literary journals are filled with such bunk. Literary traditionalists are forced to the conservative or traditional Catholic journals to publish their material. Academic Questions, published by the National Association of Scholars, itself a reaction against the radicalism of post-1960s academia, publishes fine articles from a traditional perspective (and not only by conservatives–many liberals are also frustrated with multicultural ideology).

It is not only the liberal/conservative or traditionalist/”progressive” split that divides scholarly journals; in philosophy, journals are divided between those who publish almost exclusively analytic philosophy, those emphasizing phenomenology and existentialism (as well as postmodernism), and pluralistic journals that publish articles from a variety of perspectives. Philosophers, at least, have enough variety so they can find good pluralistic journals such as the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly or the International Philosophical Quarterly. Politics, and not only quality, plays a role in which articles are accepted to which journal.

What we see in contemporary academia is a hodge-podge. Yeats’ “the center cannot hold” is true of contemporary higher education. After the decline of the Catholic consensus with the Reformation and later, the Enlightenment, the Christian view of reality was replaced by Enlightenment universalism. This has broken down, so now, even in the same field (at least in the Humanities), scholars hunker down in their small groups, go to particular conferences of mainly like-minded people, read journals of like-minded people–it is as if academic is divided into denominations like religious groups. Political correctness has stifled debate between those with different points of view, so academics from one perspective keep to themselves and do not often interact with those from another perspective. Although it is difficult to have dialogue between different traditions, it is possible, as Alasdair MacIntyre points out in his book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

However, it is unlikely that such dialogue will take place on a large scale. Academia is just as divided as our society, and is not as much engaged in a cultural war as it reflects the cultural divide in the wider world. Without a central vision, society falls apart as does academic, and all the bureaucratic “solutions” by accrediting agencies and others will not put Humpty Dumpty together again.

University Student Behavior

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A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsb...

A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsburgh University Commencement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As late as the early 1960s, the professor had a near absolute authority to discipline a class in whatever way the professor saw fit. Some professors would even slap students who made foolish comments. Very few people would want to return to those days–a university student should not be afraid of a professor. However, student behavior since the early 1960s has worsened in the college and university setting.

The problem began in 1964 with the student revolutions. Beginning with the “Free Speech Movement” at the University of California at Berkeley, which originally allowed anyone, no matter what the person’s ideology, to speak, the student movement degenerated into an orgy of radical leftism. Students took over administration buildings, and in the case of the University of California, the entire campus. It took then Governor Ronald Reagan calling out the California National Guard to restore order. Such protests continued, though with less radical effects, from the 1970s until the present. Today, however, at the classroom level the problem is with students who talk in class out of turn, walk out early if they feel bored with class, use cellphones and other electronic equipment in class, or smart off at the professor in class or in an e-mail. I suppose in some colleges and universities there has been much more serious disrespect than what I have experienced, but even the relatively “minor” problems in my classes point to some fundamental problems in American society.

“Respect” can mean the respect due any human being for being human, respect for a person’s position (for example, respect for the president of the U.S.), or the respect that is earned when someone lives a good moral life or does a job well. All three forms of respect play a role in the classroom.

Students should respect the professor’s position. The professor worked hard to gain degrees in his field and is in a position of authority over students–not arbitrary or overbearing authority, but authority as someone who teaches, guides, and helps maintain decorum in the classroom. Too many students think they know more than the professor, even in the professor’s own field of study. This is highly unlikely to be the case and is most often evidence of a student’s immaturity. Pampered, spoiled students whose parents have protected them from the harsh realities of life tend to remain at the developmental level befitting someone younger than they. They still hold on to the attitude that they know everything and that older people are ignorant fogies who accept only outmoded ideas. Some students will mature out of this immaturity (especially women), but many do not. I can have a sense of humor about that form of disrespect in class, but if students do not grow out of such arrogance, it will harm them in the future. Other students rebel against any authority figure, no matter how benign. Their misbehavior is not as much personal as it is about a hatred of authority in general.

Students lack respect for human beings qua human beings when they talk in class about non-class related subjects when the teacher is giving a lecture. They are also disrespecting other class members and exhibiting a “me, me, me” attitude that damages the American social framework more than any other attitude. It has become practically difficult to discipline students for such behavior, especially for large classes. Except for test days, I do not fight over phones–if students do not listen in class, they will not do well on exams, and that will be their punishment.  It is the “I don’t care; I’ll do what I want” attitude that so exacerbates me and other professors. Of course if students talk out loud in class about last night’s ball game or about other topics having nothing to do with the lesson for the day they reveal their disrespect for not only the professor, but also for their fellow students. One of the worst behaviors I have seen is when a student walks out of school due to being bored or due to disagreement with the professor. This behavior shows disrespect for both the professor and for the educational process in general.

Then there is the respect that a professor earns for doing a conscientious and thorough job in teaching, who carefully integrates research and teaching, and who helps students to excel. Despite the fact that a conscientious professor does a good job, bad apples in the class who disrespect the professor’s work (usually out of sheer spite) can make trouble for the class and encourage otherwise good teachers to receive poor evaluations by stirring up trouble in the class. Such agitators are dangerous, and if the professor detects their handiwork, the professor can take steps to confront and discipline them.

Being a college or university professor is a tougher job than in the past–the behavior of high school students in the 1970s has become mainstream behavior on college and university campuses). I fear what the future holds for college and university professors without a restoration of the traditional family, parental discipline, and a commitment from college and university staff to affirm the importance of classroom discipline.

Keeping the Ignorant Ignorant: The Destruction of Core Curricula in American Colleges and Universities

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English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Americans are known world-wide for their ignorance of basic history, geography, and natural science. More than half of Americans totally deny biological evolution (other than perhaps microevolution). A significant number do not believe that the earth revolves around the sun. In one classroom experiment, only about 10% of students could identify the state in which they were living while in college or university on a map. Students are abysmally ignorant of the Bible, one of the major influences on Western civilization. Many cannot tell the difference between Plato and Play Dough. Despite such ignorance, there is a major push to either eliminate or to curtail core requirements in colleges and universities. Sometimes administrators lead the push, and the majority of faculty go along with radical decreases in core requirements, including requirements in the humanities, the natural sciences, and foreign languages. Why would faculty at American universities be so ignorant as to approve the destruction of a basic liberal arts education for college and university students? There are several reasons–none of them are good.

“Follow the money.” As majors in technical fields proliferate and as the hours required to fulfill such majors increase, students often spend more than four years in college. Since many students realize they cannot afford to stay more than four years, they avoid the so-called four-year degrees and go either to community college or technical school or try to get a job when they graduate from high school. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, colleges and universities seek students like mosquitoes seek blood. Students are much of the financial food for American colleges and universities, especially those without state support or without large endowments. Any policy that discourages students from attending college or staying there the full-time alloted for a degree is questioned, no matter how sensible that policy might be. Some students complain that they do not like liberal arts courses–they are difficult for students because they demand study and reading in areas in which the students are either not interested or do not believe will give them “job skills.” The fact that good communication skills and critical thinking as well as basic knowledge of the world around them is essential for jobs is lost on them. College administrators and sympathetic teachers, especially in such departments as Business and Education, support eliminating liberal arts courses to allow more hours for their major field courses without overburdening the “customers” that furnish a ready source of income for the college.

A second factor in gutting core curricula is accreditation agencies and their allies in the social sciences. accrediting agency staff, often holding weak Ed.D. degrees or degrees in the social sciences, prefer a strictly quantitative and utilitarian approach to core curricula. They push the idea of a “common core” across all degrees, which sounds good on the surface but in practice encourages a sparse core. The emphasis on outcomes-based education combined with a purely quantitative approach to evaluation is not friendly to the wisdom one can gain from a good liberal arts education, a wisdom that goes beyond the mere quantitative. Plato and Aristotle both recognized that qualitative knowledge is essential. Accrediting agencies do not deny this, of course, but they insist on quantitative measurability for qualitative criteria, a narrow approach fitting sciences such as psychology which remain stuck in a Newtonian mechanistic framework long surpassed by the natural sciences.

A third factor is the increasing role of corporate models in American institutions. Corporate models have already taken over hospitals, even non-profit hospitals, to the detriment of the fundamental ends of medicine to help sick persons in need. Business tends toward a utilitarian approach to reality in which the bottom line and “customer satisfaction” are what is most important. Considering college and university students to be “customers” is a major category mistake. If we are wanting “customer satisfaction,” why not eliminate the liberal arts all together and offer students only the courses they want to take. Those few students interested in a traditional liberal arts education can have their “consumer needs” satisfied at a college that focuses on the liberal arts. For the other customers there is a token core so college administrators and sympathetic professors can deceive themselves and pretend that their college offers a liberal arts education when it is doing no such thing.

Citizens who are woefully ignorant of history are not the kind of citizens needed in the limited democracy in the United States. Such citizens cannot place decisions of national import in historical context. They do not know enough basic economics to say anything coherent about the budget crisis. They are like the ancient barbarians who destroyed the Western Roman Empire–ignorant and uncouth, as monks struggled to keep the dregs of civilization from burning out. The saddest thing in American colleges and universities is that the barbarians–in the form of college administrators, accrediting agency staff, and many college professors–are within higher education. With the roots so rotten, the tree will inevitably die.

“Diversity” and “Multiculturalism” Divide People from One Another

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Multiculturalism-blurred-people

Multiculturalism-blurred-people (Photo credit: openDemocracy)

Recently I heard of an incident at an American university. A student walked into a library conference room. A group of black women were in the room, and they began to stare at this student. Then the student noticed the sign that said, “Do not enter. African-American Women’s Group.” The student apologized, stating that she was sorry she interrupted their meeting. Silence. Stares. The student could not say anything else given the situation, so the student walked out of the conference room and found another room in which to study.

Besides being another lesson in today’s rudeness, is it really coincidental that the group meeting in the room was sponsored by the university’s diversity office? The office is committed to “identity” as the main factor influencing one’s behavior. “Identity” is a code word for “culture,” and usually it is a code word that means “black.” Such offices, influenced by Neo-Marxist thought and identity politics, may begin by sponsoring meetings with students from outside the United States. Later, however, they tend to degenerate into offices that divide black students from white students, and if there are sufficient numbers of Hispanic students, Hispanic students from the rest of students. Western culture is the enemy. “Eurocentrism” is the enemy. Grievances are magnified with people of European descent being labeled as cruel oppressors. No wonder the students were silent in the conference room and did not respond to a sincere apology. They were facing their mortal enemy.

Diversity training” and multiculturalism are not about uniting people. They divide groups from one another. Instead of recognizing the universal human propensity for evil, they focus only on the sins of Europeans and people of European descent. The special groups who are, by definition, oppressed, can do no wrong since anything they do that seems to be wrong is only due to the oppression of others. Special groups do not have to take responsibility for their actions. They do not have to repent of their sins. They have no sin.

Only in academia could such a worldview survive. Students trained under this model will alienate potential friends and potential employers. If they do not make friends of another race or culture, they will not blame themselves—it is the oppressing “other” that is at fault. If they are not hired or are fired because of a negative and hostile attitude toward their boss and co-workers, the failure to hire or firing is due to the oppressing class acting wrongly against them. Nothing is ever the responsibility of the Holy Ones; it is all the evil Eurocentric Devil that is at fault.

Given the cesspool of contemporary “diversity training,” the federal government should stop forcing schools to focus on so-called “diversity.” Schools should have the courage to fight setting up a multicultural office or a diversity office. The only things that will result from such an office will be increased racial tension, increased isolation of groups, setting up “special studies programs” with low academic standards for the Holy Ones to take, and a breakdown of civic discourse. Multiculturalism, based on flawed Marxist ideology, cannot support true diversity—it can only push its own elitism on those who do not fit into its special groups. Liberal university administrations are not doing their students a favor when they set up a diversity or multicultural program, however well-meaning they will be. It will only end in disaster and pain.

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