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A Defender of Classroom Indoctrination By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 16, 2009


One-Party Classroom, our critical survey of 150 courses in 12 universities that violate academic standards, has just been released, but already the supporters of indoctrination in our universities are up-in-arms.

Leading the charge is John K. Wilson, the editor of Illinois Academe, a journal published by the American Association of University Professors and a long-time detractor of the academic freedom campaign. In a review of One-Party Classroom, Wilson takes on the evidence presented in the book, but not before unburdening himself of a barrage of ad hominem invective against David Horowitz (so much for the notion that higher education encourages elevated discourse). Regrettably, the substance of Wilson’s complaints indicates that he has either misunderstood the book entirely or else deliberately misrepresented its arguments.

Most fundamentally, Wilson misrepresents the book’s intent. He claims, for instance, that the book is the tool of our sinister agenda to “banish left-wing speech” with which we disagree, to “ban academic speech itself and entire courses,” and even to impose a “vast repressive apparatus” on American universities (whatever this may be). With all credit to Wilson’s fertile imagination, this claim makes no concession to the facts. We have never called for the banning of left-wing speech; we do not call for the imposition of any apparatus, let alone a repressive one; and far from attacking academic speech, we seek to restore it. Our aim in One-Party Classroom is to hold schools accountable to the very standards by which they professedly abide.

Consider the University of California at Santa Cruz, one of the schools we examine. Academic courses offered through the school, as well as other University of California campuses, are governed by the “Standing Orders” of the university regents. These state that each school must “remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interests,” and that professors must never allow the classroom “to be used for political indoctrination.” Such indoctrination, according to the Regents’ orders, “constitutes misuse of the University as an institution.”

Browse through the University of Santa Cruz course catalog, however, and you will find courses such as the following, offered through the “Community Studies Department,” which informs students: “The goal of this seminar is to learn how to organize a revolution. We will learn what communities past and present have done and are doing to resist, challenge, and overcome systems of power including (but not limited to) global capitalism, state oppression, and racism.” As we note in the book, this is the outline of a political agenda, not the description of a scholarly inquiry, and a clear instance of the kind of political indoctrination that the school’s own regulations prohibit – in theory, if not in practice.

Having missed (or misrepresented) the point of One-Party Classroom, Wilson fails to comprehend the specific complaints we make about the 150 courses analyzed in the book. He claims that we object “to geography classes dealing with social issues, apparently unaware that geography professors have gone beyond merely studying maps for many decades.” But it is Wilson who is apparently unaware that this corruption of the profession of academic geography is precisely our point. Like too many of their academic peers, geography professors have diverged from the foundations of their specific discipline and expertise to branch out into subjects for which they lack the requisite academic background. The reason they have done this, in too many cases, is to impose their political agendas on their students.

Take Professor Melissa Gilbert, an Associate Professor of Geography at Temple University, whose course “Urban Society: ‘Race,’ Class, and Gender in the City” teaches students that gender and race are “social constructions” designed to oppress nonwhites and women; that American society is structurally “racist;” and that all whites are racist, sometimes unconsciously so (which is itself a racist claim). How this can be justified as an academic course, and how it relates to the professor’s professional credential, which is “geography,” remains shrouded in mystery – unless of course one accepts the perversion of academic studies as ideological propaganda.

Professor Gilbert is not an isolated example, as the case of Melissa Wright demonstrates. An Associate Professor of Geography and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, Professor Wright teaches a course on “Global Feminisms.” If this seems like an unusual title for a properly academic course, it is. Wright’s course is a radical attack on capitalism and free-market globalization, informed by required texts that condemn capitalist societies as “both oppressive and hierarchical.”

Throughout his derisive review, Wilson is either dishonest or just plain careless. He chastises us for allegedly condemning “a professor for assigning a textbook that argues whites are ‘dominant’ in America,” a claim that, according to Wilson, we dispute. He is wrong on all counts. As any fair-minded reader will see, the point we raise about the book in question, Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change by Joseph F. Healey, is not that it refers to whites as a majority in the numerical sense, but rather its tendentious charge that the white majority’s relationship with minority groups is characterized by domination and subjugation and is properly seen only in the context of “prejudice, discrimination, ideological racism, and institutional discrimination.”

In any case, we do not “condemn” the professor for using Healey’s text, however polarizing or ideological it may be. Our point, rather, is that Healey’s text is one of only two used in a Penn State course called “Inequality in America.” The other text is Joe Feagin’s White Racism, which claims that “few whites are aware of how important racism is to their own feelings, beliefs, thinking and actions,” and alleges that all whites harbor unconscious feelings of racism against blacks. (Lest one suggest that whites may not be the only ones capable of racist sentiments, Feagin instructs that “From the perspective of this book, black racism does not exist.”) Penn State students wishing to understand the complex subject of racial dynamics in America are thus forced to rely on two ideological texts on the political margins, both of which explain inequality as a function of white racism. This one-sided presentation of controversial issues is sadly typical in the contemporary university, and exemplifies the political indoctrination that One-Party Classroom exposes.

In one of the odder lines of attack on One-Party Classroom, Wilson, not content to distort and misrepresent our actual arguments, condemns us for not making others. He protests that “There are no stories [in the book] of students punished for disagreeing with their professors, no stories of censorship at all,” and concludes, conveniently for his purposes, that this is proof that “actual violations of student rights in the classroom are rare and grievance mechanisms are typically effective.” But of course the fact incidents of abuse against specific students are not the subject of our book in no way refutes their existence, which has been documented many times on Front Page Magazine. As for the claim that current oversight is sufficient and effective, it is refuted by the 150 courses analyzed in our book and the many more like them that exist at schools across the country. As David Horowitz observed in the introduction to One-Party Classroom:

To create an academic course requires the approval of the tenured leaders of an academic department who have been hired and then promoted by other senior faculty. For a department to survive and flourish, its curriculum must be recognized and approved by professional associations that are national in scope. Consequently, the fact that a course in how to organize a revolution is offered at one of the nation’s distinguished academic institutions speaks volumes about the contemporary university and what it has come to regard as an appropriate academic course of study.

Although Wilson does not question the existence of these courses, he attempts to make light of the fact, dismissively asserting that these are 150 courses “out of more than one million faculty teaching millions of college courses every year.” Yet again, Wilson fails to grasp the book’s argument. Extrapolating the evidence from the 12 schools we consider in One-Party Classroom, we conclude that there may be as many as 10,000 courses offered at institutions nationwide whose primary purpose is not to educate students but to train them in left-wing ideologies and political agendas. The students who pass through these courses annually may number in the millions. In short, the 150 courses considered in One-Party Classroom are a small sampling of a more systemic problem plaguing our country’s universities.

In a surely unintended irony, Wilson himself lends force to One-Party Classroom’s argument about the widespread deterioration of professional standards. Having considered the book’s findings – including the subversion of academic goals by political agendas, the abandonment of scientific methods of inquiry, the devaluing of academic expertise, and the replacement of intellectual discourse with programs designed to instill sectarian and ideological doctrines – Wilson concludes that this is, in the end, no big deal. “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Horowitz’s book is how little in the book is appalling,” he writes. The fact that a spokesman for the American Association of University Professors is untroubled by the abuse of academic standards documented in our book reveals all one needs to know about the state of American universities in our time.

To purchase One-Party Classroom, please click here.


Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com


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