As I wrote recently here, knowledge of American history is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans at all levels of the educational process, from K-12 to graduates of top-tier colleges and universities. The things that we don't know about our own past are simply jaw-dropping. Why aren't these core elements known to the public? Apparently, because they aren't taught. They aren't taught, I assume, because educators don't think they're worth knowing. As I noted, my parents and grandparents, most of them not college graduates, had a decent grip on the basics of the history and political institutions of the country in which they lived. But as we get younger, our historical acquaintance with those seminal aspects of the national experience seems to shrink drastically. Have a look at the results of this Marist poll, then take two aspirin. Special thanks to our regular columnist Jason Fertig for providing the link.
Environmentalist ideology in the guise of sustainability is everywhere. It is pap. The words sustainability, conservation and conservatism are linked. They suggest protection of the status quo. Until the Progressive era Americans were not concerned with conservation because they assumed that progress would make life better. Sustaining the status quo paled beside a glowing manifest destiny. Perhaps today's progressive interest in sustainability is an admission that the left is not progressive but conservative.
Duke history Professor Peter Wood, not to be confused with NAS's president of the same name. seems to use the classroom to malign the character of students, lacrosse players in particular. Nevertheless, the American Historical Association awarded him Eugene Asher Distinguished Teacher award for this year.
This week in Frontpage Magazine Michelle Malkin has an article, "Hollywood and Howard Zinn's Marxist Education Project." Here's an excerpt:
Zinn’s objective is not to impart knowledge, but to instigate “change” and nurture a political “counterforce” (an echo of fellow radical academic and Hugo Chavez admirer Bill Ayers’ proclamation of education as the “motor-force of revolution”). Teachers are not supposed to teach facts in the school of Zinn. “There is no such thing as pure fact,” Zinn asserts. Educators are not supposed to emphasize individual academic achievement. They are supposed to “empower” student collectivism by emphasizing “the role of working people, women, people of color and organized social movements.” School officials are not facilitators of intellectual inquiry, but leaders of “social struggle.” Zinn and company have launched a nationwide education project in conjunction with the documentary. “A people’s history requires a people’s pedagogy to match,” Zinn preaches. The project is a collaboration between two “social justice” activist groups, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change. [...] No part of the school curriculum is immune from the social justice makeover crew. Zinn’s partners at Rethinking Schools have even issued teaching guides to “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers” — which rejects the traditional white male patriarchal methods of teaching computation and statistics in favor of p.c.-ified number-crunching [see NAS's articles on this, "Social Changelings" and "Mathematical Deceptions"]. [...] Our students will continue to come in dead last in international testing. But no worries. With Howard Zinn and Hollywood leftists in charge, empty-headed young global citizens will have heavier guilt, wider social consciences and more hatred for America than any other students in the world.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription required) highlights the Abbeville Institute, which is "an association of scholars in higher education devoted to a critical study of what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition." Here are some quotes from the article: Professor Donald W. Livingston (Institute's founder): "Academics who claim to find something valuable in the Southern tradition are sure to suffer abuse." "The university should be the place where the unthinkable can be thought and the unspeakable said as long as it is backed by civil conduct and argument. It is not that today" Heidi Beirich (Southern Poverty Law Center): "At the end of the day, they are just trying to revise the history of the South in favor of whites." Clyde N. Wilson (Charter Abbeville member): ""The academic tendency now, because of America's preoccupation with the race question the last half-century or so, is to put the whole Southern history into a dark little corner of American history." Check out the Abbeville website and see what you think.
Given the problems facing higher education today, this speech on the purpose of college delivered by Justice Wendell Phillips Stafford at the Sesqui-Centennial of Dartmouth College in 1919 seems as timely as ever. Here is an excerpt:
(The spirit of college) has shown itself in men who never knew how the inside of a college looked. When Lincoln jotted down the main facts of his life for the Congressional Directory, he wrote: "Education defective." And yet, tried by the test we are applying now, he was college-bred. The question is not, whether you studied Euclid in a classroom or stretched out on the counter of a country store. The question is, whether you mastered it. Lincoln did. And the thews and sinews of his mind, which he developed so, stood by him in the day when he threw Douglas down. John Keats was as innocent of the Greek language as the new curriculum assumes all men should be; yet out of some stray book on mythology the " miserable apprentice to an apothecary " contrived to draw into his soul the very spirit of Hellenic art, until he left us poems which Hellenists declare to be more Grecian than the Greek. He, too, was college-bred, as we now mean it, for he was impelled by that determination to subdue and fructify his powers, with the aid of all the past has left us, until they yielded something glorious and undying for his fellow men. His spirit was not the spirit of the dove, but of the eagle: "My spirit is too weak! Mortality Weighs heavily on me, like unwilling sleep; And each imagined pinnacle and steep Of godlike hardship tells me I must die, Like a sick eagle looking at the sky." If I am right, there lie wrapt up in this determination those three aims: (1) to discipline one's powers and make them fruitful; (2) in order to accomplish this, to make use of all that men have gained before us; and (3) to devote these powers and acquisitions to the common weal. The advantage the college has is this: that here the determined spirit finds the tool-shop and the arsenal. That spirit itself the college can foster and encourage but cannot create. It can and does lay open to its use the weapons and the tools. It can and does teach, in a fair, general way, what men thus far have done. It leads the newcomer to the point where they left off, and says: "Begin here, if you would not waste your time. This territory has been conquered. Go forth from this frontier." It also shows the worker of the present day what other men are doing. It brings him into touch with them, that he may put his effort forth where it will tell the most."
Stafford's entire text can be found here.
As an instructor of online history courses, I have many students overseas (Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Saudi Arabia). The Internet connects them to me (and to the rest of us). The stories I could relate are fascinating and make teaching online courses all the more rewarding. Moreover, as an instructor I know that I'm helping those who are "American, Interrupted" Even more important, soldiers of all ranks have blogged their way into history, thus writing what we used to say of newspapers: "the first pages" of history. Read the following from the above "American, Interrupted" blog:
"I look up at the now familiar Arabian night sky and gaze at the stars, my close friends over this past year. Those same stars will ever hang in the sky and endure – like our love. Under those same points of light we’ll lay not too long from now, and those stars will smile just for us, because they know how long we’ve wished upon them to be together again. I love you, I’m so thankful for you, and I can’t wait to spend forever with you. Sometimes I wondered if we were not unintentionally promoting anarchy because of this war on terror. I mean, we were encouraging and supporting rebellious elements of the population in their struggle against Saddam Hussein – thinking their struggle was one to free themselves of his rule. Sometimes I wondered if the struggle was to free themselves of all rules so they could establish a Shia theocracy. That would explain why Americans were in the crosshairs of Shia rebels. Many of them comprised the poorest and worst educated parts of Iraq, but it was these very people who we were making the masters of Iraq in the period of a year. This belief in empowering the weak and oppressed is noble, but it has to be done carefully. Sometimes it seemed the transfer of power bordered on a form of Bolshevism."
[To read the whole story (crossposted) click here ] PS: Imagine if college campuses allowed this kind of free speech. We wouldn't need NAS, FIRE, or the few intrepid ACLU chapters interested in academic freedom. More free speech in the military than in higher ed? Read the rest of the story to decide (and check out the Milblogging directory).