Tag Archives: America

The Campus Assault on American History

As a professional historian at Hamilton College, I teach my students that the United States was founded on the principles of limited government, voluntary exchange, respect for private property, and civil freedom.  Does any sane parent believe that more than a tiny fraction of students graduate from college these days with a deep and abiding appreciation of the worth of these principles? 

For Doubting Thomases, look no further than the eleven elite liberal arts colleges that comprise the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which includes Amherst, Williams, Trinity, and Wesleyan.   Not one of these eleven colleges requires undergraduates to take a single course in American history.  Even worse, a substantial majority of these eleven elite colleges do not even require that students majoring in history take any American history courses. And none of the eleven history departments requires a two-semester American history sequence for its majors.

Non-Western history, however, has a privileged status in a majority of the departments.  Amherst requires of history majors that they take only “one course each in at least three different geographic areas.” The United States is but one of six geographic areas from which students can choose.  Bowdoin College’s history department offers eight fields of study.   Four “non-Euro/U.S. courses” are required, but not one US history course. In 2007, one-third of all history majors at my college, Hamilton, were graduated without one course in American history. 

As the American historians in my department battled to remedy this disgrace, the majority voted a minor concession: Starting with the class of 2012, majors must take one course in US history, although the non-Western requirement would remain: “Three courses must focus upon areas outside of Europe and the United States.” The downgrading of American history continues.

The Mangling of American History

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The evolution of the historical profession in the United States in the last fifty years provides much reason for celebration.  It provides even more reason for unhappiness and dread.  Never before has the profession seemed so intellectually vibrant.  An unprecedented amount of scholarship and teaching is being devoted to regions outside of the traditional American concentration on itself and Europe. New subjects of enquiry — gender, race and ethnicity — have developed.  Never have historians been so influenced by the methodology and contributions of other disciplines, from anthropology to sociology.  

At the same time, never has the historical profession been so threatened.  Political correctness has both narrowed and distorted enquiry. Traditional fields demanding intellectual rigor, such as economic and intellectual history, are in decline.  Even worse, education about Western civilization and the Enlightenment, that font of American liberties, and the foundation of modern industrial, scientific and liberal world civilization, has come to be treated with increasing disdain at colleges and universities.  

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Oliver Stone’s “History” as Propaganda

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The 1997 film Good
Will Hunting
features Matt Damon’s character in a conversation with Harvard
students, touting Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States as a way to better understand the American past. The scene was cringe-worthy for at least two reasons. First, there was something more than a little off-putting about a movie whose lead character demonstrated raw intellectual ability celebrating what amounted to a work of propaganda. Second, Damon’s subsequent insinuation of college students’ unfamiliarity with Zinn’s arguments was ridiculous, given the ubiquity of Zinn’s book on 1980s and 1990s history course reading lists.

I suppose it might be seen as a sign of progress that
this generation’s equivalent of the Zinn book, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, will likely not have much of an impact on campus: apart from Middle East Studies departments, unabashed propaganda is out of fashion in the contemporary academy. Moreover, Stone and Kuznick spend most of their book attacking U.S. foreign policy, asking questions that–despite their far-left, fact-challenged approach–don’t conform to the race/class/gender paradigm that dominates the study of the United States in most U.S. history departments.

Continue reading Oliver Stone’s “History” as Propaganda

America the Awful—Howard Zinn’s History

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Howard Zinn’s death yesterday affords us the opportunity to evaluate the remarkable influence he has had on the American public’s understanding of our nation’s past. His book A People’s History of the United States, published in 1980 with a first printing of 5000 copies, went on to sell over two million. To this day some 128,000 new copies are sold each year. That alone made Zinn perhaps the single most influential historian whose works have reached multitudes of Americans. Indeed, Zinn found that his book was regularly adopted as a text in high schools and most surprisingly, in many colleges and universities.
One can easily summarize the argument Zinn makes in that book, as well as on his recent television special on The History Channel and soon to be released DVD, called “The People Speak.” America, he charges, was guilty of waging war on those who really made the American nation: Native Americans, African-Americans, the working-class, the poor, and women. American history, as Zinn saw it, was that of a history of “genocide: brutally and purposefully waged by our rulers in the name of progress. He claimed that these truths were buried “in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth.”
Zinn was aided in getting his book attention by two youthful neighbors, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. When both became movie stars, they used their celebrity to popularize Zinn’s work and to help bring it to a wide audience. As Damon told the press recently, Zinn’s message showed that what our ancestors rebelled “against oftentimes are exactly the same things we’re up against now.” Zinn himself added a few weeks ago that his hope was that his work will spread new rebellion, and “lead into a larger movement for economic justice.”

Continue reading America the Awful—Howard Zinn’s History

That ”Hate America” Test

Candace de Russy’s January 7 post here, “Hate-America Sociology,” understandably attracted a lot of attention. It cited a 10-question Soc 101 quiz at an unnamed eastern college, complete with accusatory leftish questions and some simple-minded answers by a student who drew a mark of 100 for agreeing with the politics of his professor.
A few readers, and many more at other sites that linked to us, asked if the test and answers are authentic. I am satisfied that they are. The material came with assurances from Dr. de Russy, a former professor and trustee at the State University of New York. I know the college involved and have a copy of the test with answers filled in. I talked with the source for the story, who cannot be identified because of privacy concerns and fear of retaliation.
The blog Progressive Scholar saw nothing wrong with the test (“I don’t understand, what is the problem with this exam?”) Dr. de Russy replied, stressing what she saw as the “unremitting bias” of the test. Its point of view, she wrote, is “entirely anti-capitalist, anti-white, anti-male. No other perspective is included, even as a hypothetical.”
Readers who come across other politically loaded exams should send them to us at editor@campusmind.org or Minding the Campus, the Manhattan Institute, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

Hate-America Sociology

Recently, a colleague forwarded to me a copy of an exam from an introductory sociology class found lying in a room at a public college in the east. It was graded 100%. The exam deserves to be quoted at length, as parts of it are virtually indistinguishable from the old Soviet agitprop of the Fifties:

Question: How does the United States “steal” the resources of other (third world) [sic] countries?
Answer: We steal through exploitation. Our multinationals are aware that indigenous people in developing nations have been coaxed off their plots and forced into slums. Because it is lucrative, our multinationals offer them extremely low wage labor (sic) that cannot be turned down.
Question: Why is the U.S. on shaky moral ground when it comes to preventing illegal immigration?
Answer: Some say that it is wrong of the United States to prevent illegal immigration because the same people we are denying entry to, (sic) we have exploited for the purpose of keeping the American wheel spinning.
Question: Why is it necessary to examine the theory of cumulative advantage when it comes to affirmative action?
Answer: Because it is unfair to discredit the many members of minority groups that have (sic) been offered more life chances through the program.
Question: What is the interactionist approach to gender?
Answer: The majority of multi-gender encounters are male-dominated. for (sic) example, while involved in conversation, the male is much more likely to interrupt. Most likely because the male believes the female’s expressed thoughts are inferior to his own.
Question: Please briefly explain the matrix of domination.
Answer: the (sic) belief that domination has more than one dimension. For example, Males (sic) are dominant over females, whites over blacks, and affluent over impoverished.

This exam was part of the curriculum in a for-credit class at an accredited degree-granting institution. Introductory sociology courses like this one are frequently required, even for non-majors. A student who matriculates in this field of study will have nothing in the way of useful skills, but will be convinced that his country is rotten to the core, and that whites and males are evil.
China encourages its brightest students to study mathematics and engineering. India has become known as a hotbed of tech-savvy computer programmers. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends billions to teach postmodern, left-wing misinformation as objective “fact.”
It seems rather foolish to remain optimistic about the future of this nation when millions of its most “educated” are systematically being taught to loathe it.
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A former member of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), Dr. de Russy writes on educational and cultural issues. She also serves on the boards of several distinguished organizations dedicated to higher education and other institutional reform.

American University Preferences For Americans?

An op-ed “Aid, Discrimination, and Justice” in Monday’s Columbia Spectator speaks to an increasing conception of universities not as American institutions, but as world institutions, with a responsibility to a global audience, and, in this case, student body.

Columbia just announced an overhaul of its financial aid policies, of considerable benefit to poor and middle class-students. They did not appear to address the author’s concern – the absence of need-blind admissions for foreign students, a policy which he decries for ensuring that “international students are drawn largely from foreign elites.” He demands that Columbia offer need-blind admissions to all students, at any means.

And in the worst case, if equality in financial aid policy for GS and international students must come at the expense of increased financial aid for BC, SEAS, and CC students, so be it. It’s a matter of justice.

Nowhere in the column, unsurprisingly, is there any exploration of substantive reasons why American students might hope to enjoy an easier path to Columbia than foreign students, such as Columbia’s location in the same nation-state, or munificent federal research grants to the University, or its government accreditation, or federal students loans, or any number of ties. No, the author simply issues a demand for justice that requires considering foreign and native students exactly similarly in the application process. There’s no doubt that universities could afford more generous aid to foreign students; Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth already do. This is a kindness; the movement to establish broader need-blind admissions frames it as a moral dictate, in terms that paint privileges that American universities very logically provide only to Americans as xenophobic. This author, very typically, wonders if “Perhaps Columbia’s goal is in fact only to train the next generation of the ruling and managerial classes for the U.S. and its allies and client states.” Don’t be surprised to see much more of this in coming years. Even the most prosaic details of universities’ national identification some.

New Center For The American Founding

We’re pleased to announce the opening of the Philadelphia headquarters of the Jack Miller Center, an educational organization dedicated to “strengthen the teaching of America’s founding principles and history”. The institute, founded by Chicago businessman Jack Miller, and led by Mike Ratliff, plans to offer two-week summer institutes for professors, support for “partnered” academic programs, and National conclaves on the American founding.

The Summer Institutes, held at the University of Virginia and Colorado, will offer seminars on selected topics in American history, political thought, or economics, and attend workshops that assist them in developing courses, securing tenure, publishing and long-term professional advancement.” Attendees will additionally receive grants to aid efforts to improve curricular offerings on the American founding at their colleges. All program costs are covered. For more information about the institutes, contact Mike Deshaies at mdeshaies@gojmc.org. For any other information, look to the site.

Dark Night At The Museum

Edward Rothstein’s remarkable article today in the Arts section of the New York Times carries the obligatory bland headline: “Two New Shows Cast Light and Darkness on Early Cultures in America.” The reference is to “Exploring the Early Americas” at the Library of Congress, and more egregiously, an embarrassing drowned-in-cultural-relativism show at Chicago’s Field Museum, “The Ancient Americas.”

In the second half of his report, after a discussion of pottery, statues and artwork, Rothstein says natural history museums have traditionally been shaped by ideas of cultural evolution and ways of life that have been transcended or superseded. No more. In the age of relentless non-judgmentalism and the warmest possible multicultural appreciation for any culture at all (except Western cultures, of course), shows like the one at the Field “resist any hint that any culture under consideration might be less than any other.”

Unlike most such offerings, the Field show is at least straightforward about its bias: “It is important to remember that there is no best or model culture. All cultures are equally valid to the individuals living in them.” This, of course, requires explaining away Aztec human sacrifice, the elusive triple axle of multicultural performance. The show helpfully points out that ancient Rome killed a lot of people in ceremonies too. According to Rothstein, the show breezes past the indigenous commitment to ritual slaughter by referring to it as “bloodletting” and also by contracting the term “human sacrifice” down to “sacrifice.” (A similar bit of verbal gymnastics is under way now. “Female genital mutilation”, a frankly polemical – and accurate – term is often replaced by the bland word “cutting,” so as not to seem offensive to the mutilators.) The bland and generic term “sacrifice” allows the perpetrators of the show to point out that “sacrifice and religion are linked in many societies” and “almost all world religions include sacrifice of some kind.” Yes, but how many, exactly, imitate the Aztecs by ripping out the beating hearts of 20,000 people a year?

Caught in a defensive crouch, the show has to argue the good points of the old cultures -“hunting and gathering was a great way to live” and usually provided more leisure time than farming, and in this culture women and the elderly were respected. (Farming was a mistake because it reduced leisure and respect? ) Among the early peoples of southern California, between 7000 BC and 1600 AD, harpoons and ocean-worthy canoes were invented. Rothstein hurls the obvious grenade at these two achievements: “The more compelling fact might be that during those 9000 years so few brilliant techniques appeared: it was a period when other societies developed science, writing and medicine.”

This kind of assessment is considered improper in light of the multicultural cant that has leached out of the academy into elementary and high schools, the museum world and much of the media. Not only is the word “primitive” verboten, but so are once conventional references to Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age because they imply that some cultures are better than others and that progress is real. If progress isn’t possible, Rothstein asks, what about “the moral progress represented by modern Western societies’ finding the brutality of the Spanish conquerors so repellent?” Congratulations to Rothstein for an outstanding article.

No America, Please, We’re Global

What is Global Studies? Nobody seems to have a very clear idea, according to an article on the web site Inside Higher Ed by reporter Elizabeth Redden. Her account of a Washington D.C. academic gathering sponsored by the Association of International Educators Administrators leaves readers pretty much in the dark. The article begins and ends with similar head-scratching quotes. Opening line: “What exactly do we mean when we say ‘global studies’?” (the speaker was Niklaus Steiner, director of the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.) Closing line: “[it’s] much more than renamed international studies. But what does that mean? Where does that leave us?” (also Steiner).

Despite all the murk, let’s assume the obvious – that global studies have something to do with the process of globalization. But why isn’t this field included in the well-established international studies programs? Because it’s completely different, said Sara Tully West of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee The university has a bachelor’s degree program in global studies that she says is distinct from the already existing international studies program. The global studies major, she says, is intended to be more pre-professional than international studies, a liberal arts program. This is one clue to global studies – it is, in part at least, the beginning of a new trade school, embedded in the universities, preparing students for jobs in global management and security. The University of Illinois has created a global studies librarian position. Presumably someone with a global degree would be a step ahead of other candidates for that job and many others.

Oddly, when the globalists explain what they do, they tend to mention studies that have long been part of the traditional curriculum – science, technology, environment, economics, foreign languages, geography, anthropology, religious studies, world history. Writing under the headline, “The Disciplined Undiscipline of Global Studies, ” Michael Bowler, global studies acting director at Winona State University says, “It is clear that global studies is not a discipline but a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary area of study, that is, the world in its diversity and complexity… [It] seeks to understand the worlds through multiple perspectives, and at times through a holistic, integrated, interdisciplinary lens.”

Make sense of that if you can. But here’s a different thought: for decades now the universities have been downgrading or simply jettisoning western history, literature and culture. Disdain for patriotism and American identity is high on campus. The refusal to allow ROTC and military recruiters on campuses is not simply because of the armed forces’ don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on gays. They also stand in the way of the dissociation of the colleges from American national politics and identity. The heavy recent emphasis on international students, study abroad and the creation of satellite campuses in foreign countries are all part of this trend. “Academic programs in American government or in American studies will be increasingly de-emphasized on the grounds that they are parochial, in much the same way as programs in Western civilization were de-emphasized in the past,” said James Piereson, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the head of the Institute’s Center for the American University, which sponsors this web site. “It seems strange and perhaps even impossible to think that universities can detach themselves from the nation which funds, protects and encourages them – yet it would have seemed just as strange a century ago to have asserted that within a few generations these same institutions would divest themselves of all religious influence.”

Some years ago when Swarthmore students were arguing over whether it was respectable to fly an American flag on campus, the president of the college ruled that the flag was okay, but only because America happened to be the geographic entity in which Swarthmore is located. A dissociating globalist ahead of his time.