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One-Party Classroom By: John Ellis
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 24, 2009

One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indocrinate Students and Undermine our Democracy is the third recent book in which David Horowitz has documented and commented on the politicization of higher education. The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006) was a series of profiles of “political activists masquerading as scholars.” Indoctrination U. The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom (2007) made the case for the Academic Bill of Rights, Horowitz’s sample legislation designed to protect students from political indoctrination, and to recall the academy to the principles set out in 1915 by the American Association of University Professors—principles which the AAUP seems now to have abandoned. One-Party Classroom, written with Jacob Laksin, documents what happens in the college classroom. It takes twelve representative American campuses—large and small, public and private, but all prominent—and looks at course descriptions, departmental statements of purpose, course reading lists, and statements by instructors, to document the extent to which classroom instruction is corrupted by political agendas and dumbed down by the obsessions of radical instructors. Horowitz and Laksin look carefully at about a dozen courses in each institution. Many are from recently created departments such as Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies, but as many are from traditional departments: English, History, Politics, Sociology, and Anthropology.

The results make depressing reading. Course descriptions should only demarcate what is to be studied, but these routinely assume highly debatable conclusions. The shibboleths taken as givens are familiar: the social construction of gender; the evils of capitalism; race, gender, and class as the bedrock of all social analysis; oppression as the ubiquitous explanatory concept; the racism of American society; nonviolence as the only path to peace, and so on. Complex subjects are routinely simplified into an arbitrary, ideologically driven result. The obligation of teachers to ensure that students know the salient facts and major interpretations of a subject is ignored so that a cultish orthodoxy can point them to the social change dictated by the instructor’s political leanings.

The recurring question that comes up in responses to this book is: what does this sample prove? Some defenders of the status quo argue contradictorily both that this is an unrepresentative sample of a few offenders and that Horowitz’s objections are unjustified anyway. But most know that defending what is documented here is a lost cause, and so abandon the second point to concentrate on the first—the allegedly unrepresentative sample. Horowitz and Laksin address this point directly: these “are merely the most obvious cases….If we were to extrapolate from the materials examined here…the result would be as many as 10,000 college courses nationwide….”

But the authors could make an even stronger case for their material. One striking fact suggests much more: the complete uniformity of language, concepts, and theories across many departments throughout these institutions. How is this possible? Only a culture that is uniform throughout the academy could have produced this result. It must have achieved virtually complete control of graduate schools, and of appointments and promotions throughout most of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Getting large numbers of people to sound exactly like each other is no mean feat, but the result is horrendous. The academic’s goal is to push back the frontiers of knowledge by original thought, not to produce clones of a rigid thought system. This is the corrupted academy normally found only in totalitarian countries.

Contrast the way in which real academics look at complex problems with what we see here. Take the issue of how women and men differ. An academic first sets out the main areas of relevant fact: the facts of history and anthropology will give students a survey of differentiated male and female roles in different times and terrains, and different stages of civilization. (Contraception and modern technology do make a huge difference.) The facts of physiology and neurology will give them what is known about the physical differences between men and women, especially differences in brain structure and function. The facts of psychological research will give them what is known about typical male and female responses to different situations. Having set out the facts, academics then go on to the major interpretations of those facts and start to look at which facts are crucial for which interpretation. At this stage it will become obvious that some interpretations fit the facts better than others, but an academic always has an eye to future research, and so will note what kinds of new knowledge might change the relative standing of the competing interpretations.

Compare this to a quite different procedure, one in which the starting point is a conclusion (gender differences are socially constructed) and the instructor is so reluctant to look at facts that don’t support it that anyone in the class who mentions them gets an angry response. This way is obviously not a quest for knowledge, but instead a drive to recruit converts to a political movement for mandated equality of outcome. Horowitz’s judgment seems inescapable: these are indeed political activists masquerading as scholars. Imagine: people whose lives are dominated by the issue of gender difference—to the point of obsession—resist learning anything about it.

Another common criticism is that the authors advocate a repressive system of control. One has to be either young or ignorant to think so. A fully functioning quality control system was in place until it fell into disuse. It was called: the Dean. Any young person who abused a classroom would soon be called in by the Dean and told to shape up. That mechanism never denied academic freedom, as hysterics now charge. On the contrary, it protected academic freedom by limiting the corrupting presence of political advocacy. The Dean was guided by institutional rules prohibiting use of the classroom for political purposes, rules still in place almost everywhere.

One of the most valuable aspects of One-Party Classroom is that it cites those rules and tells what happened when the authors tried to get administrators to enforce them. The most interesting case is that of Penn State, where the rules are clear and forceful. Horowitz’s correspondence with the Dean is given verbatim. Confronted with an unanswerable case that Penn State’s rules are routinely violated we see the Dean wriggling and weaseling, then quickly declaring the correspondence at an end without answering Horowitz. (The authors charitably do not mention that she is herself a “specialist in American politics, particularly urban, ethnic and women's politics.”) Here we have a practical example of why the quality control mechanism has broken down: Deans are either complicit in rule-breaking, or dare not antagonize departmental colleagues by doing the job they are paid to do. To be sure, when whole departments have been built on violating the rules, that job is much harder than it was.

It’s important that Horowitz and Laksin have quoted, ad nauseam, the actual words of course catalogs and instructors. Members of the public often find it hard to believe what is happening because it sounds so absurd. After the reader has performed the mind-numbing task of reading these course descriptions, he or she will still think it absurd, but will no longer doubt that it is real.

To put it bluntly, what the unbiased reader sees here is a record of extraordinary mass stupidity. On campus, those who are involved in this strange cult persuade themselves that it is smart and sophisticated, but once off campus even they know better. Take the case of Lani Guinier. When Guinier was nominated to serve in the Clinton administration’s justice department, she immediately dismissed the writings that had earned her great on-campus prestige as mere “academic musings.” She knew that she could not defend them in public against even the simplest questions. The campus consensus may look solid, but in reality it is fragile. Its political beliefs, divorced from off-campus reality and never confronting history’s unambiguous verdict on Marx, are more adolescent fantasy than academic thought. I spoke recently with a skeptical student who told me that whenever he questions his teachers about their stance they immediately become emotional. What does it tell us when a single student asking an obvious question can make a teacher begin to lose control?

This is the real effect of our failure to protect the academy from politicization: a descent into childish nonsense. Some observers shrug their shoulders and tell us not to worry--these professors don’t succeed in brainwashing their students. But that is a quietist’s attempt to avoid the issue. Even if these courses were politically harmless, much class time and tuition money is wasted and students are not getting an education in the humanities and some social sciences. How is that harmless? No wonder recent research has shown that students know little of their country’s history and institutions when their teachers’ purpose is to keep them that way.

It is not hard to understand that only banana republics (and worse) use the resources of the state to promote a political ideology. Nor is it hard to understand that conversion of taxpayer-funded teaching time and facilities to a personal purpose (the instructor’s political beliefs) is theft. Where are senior administrators, paid large salaries to maintain academic quality? Where are trustees? It’s time for them to show themselves. Their timidity is unnecessary. The public would be on their side.

To order One-Party Classroom, click here.

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