Tag Archives: United States

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.

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Why Don’t Progressives Support U.S. History for Freshmen?

Herb London and KC Johnson have already posted on the disappointing findings of the ACTA project What Will They Learn? But it is worth pondering some of the implications of the report.  One of the more striking of them is the “Slightly less than 20% [of colleges surveyed] require U.S. government or history.”  As KC noted, the bar for qualification was set pretty low, with ACTA reporting that it

gives schools credit for U.S. Government or History if they require a survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions.  Narrow, niche courses do not count for the requirement, nor do courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region.

Note that breadth is the only requirement. If within that requirement a teacher emphasizes racial or gender issues, if he or she highlights the guilty record of politicians, business leaders, or religious organizations, or if he or she emphasizes any other theme with sufficient scope, then the course would count and the school would get credit.  But less than one in five schools qualified.

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Breitbart Thinks Back on His College Years

Andrew Breitbart has shot onto the media-and-politics scene in the last two years with several well-publicized stories and controversies.  What many people may not realize is the extent to which Breitbart’s adversarial approach to the media was formulated out of his college education.

When Breitbart sat down with Peter Robinson for his show Uncommon Knowledge at www.nationalreview.com (full interview here), it is surprising how much of an impact Breitbart’s Tulane years stuck with him, even though he didn’t recognize it at the time.
Early in the interview, host Peter Robinson notes that Breitbart went into college a liberal and came out of it a conservative.  How did this happen?  Breitbart answers:

“I was an American Studies major, and I really did think that when I chose that [major] it would be reading about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, Mark Twain and, sort of, a benign approach toward the American experience.”

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U.S. History as Taught at Bowdoin (Ugh)

“There are any number of courses that deal with some group aspect of America, but virtually none that deals with America as a whole. For example, there is African-American history from 1619 to 1865 and from 1865 to the present, but there is no comparable sequence on America. Every course is social or cultural history that looks at the world through the prism of race, class, and gender. Even a course on the environment (offered in the history department) “examines the links between ecology and race, class, and gender.” 

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The Skewing of American History

iowa.bmpA few years ago, the University of Iowa’s History Department conducted a search for a new hire in U.S. foreign relations. After the department denied a preliminary, or screening, interview to Mark Moyar—a highly qualified (B.A. summa cum laude in history from Harvard, Ph.D. In history from Cambridge), but also clearly conservative, historian—it came to light that the department’s faculty had a Democrat-to-Republican ratio of 22:0.

The department’s explanations for this discrepancy were almost comical. First, department chairman Colin Gordon attributed the department’s not having hired any Republicans to the fact that “about two thirds of Johnson County are Democrats”—as if 67 percent equals 100 percent, and as if all of the applicants for jobs in Iowa’s History Department came from the University’s home county. Then he pled ignorance: “We do not know if an applicant belongs to the Republican Party, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Black Panthers or the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo.” It was, the chairman implied, just a coincidence that the department hired for the position to which Moyar applied a professor whose first academic publication came in Radical History Review, and who committed to teaching courses in “Race, Gender and U. S. International History” and “Comparing Racial Formations.”

As Mark Bauerlein observed at the time, “Think of what would happen if other diversities suffered the same disparate outcome. A department of all men would spark an outcry, and rightly so. But nobody seems to worry about the political skew.” Gordon’s response, on the other hand, made it perfectly clear that he and his colleagues found nothing undesirable about their one-sided partisan makeup, and wouldn’t engage in any critical self-reflection about why their department’s hiring process had skewed so overwhelmingly in one direction.

Political registration figures represent perhaps the crudest possible measurement tool to evaluate bias in History hiring processes. (For the record, I’m a registered Democrat who supported and donated to Barack Obama’s 2008 primary and general election campaigns.) Whatever members of the Texas State Board of Education might think, there shouldn’t a Democratic or Republican version of U.S. history. Yet a situation as extreme as Iowa’s—and there’s little indication that the partisan breakdown in Iowa’s History Department differs all that much from that of most other major universities—does suggest something amiss.

As Gordon claimed, it’s hard to imagine members of departmental search committees scouring the voter registration pages in applicants’ hometowns to determine party registration, so as to eliminate Republicans or independents (though Cary Nelson has implied the AAUP doesn’t deem such behavior inconsistent with defending academic freedom, particularly in an instance like Iowa’s, in which the addition of a Republican might be “poisonous” to the department’s Democratic bubble).

The wildly one-sided registration figures are best seen more as a symptom than a cause of the disease that afflicts U.S. history in higher education, in that they provide additional, if indirect, evidence of the pedagogical bias that has infected the field.

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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.”

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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.

Research As Self-Branding

By Mark Bauerlein

If you browse through the list of dissertations filed in American literary and cultural studies last year, you will find many conventional and sober projects that fit well with traditional notions of humanistic study. Here are a few sample titles:

– “Rethinking Arthur Miller: Symbol and structure”
– “Tragic investigations: The value of tragedy in American political and ethical life”
– “Reading and writing African American travel narrative”
– “From demons to dependents: American-Japanese social relations during the occupation, 1945-1952”
– “The culture club: A study of the Boston Athenaeum, 1807-1860 (Massachusetts)”
But amidst these works, you also find a fair portion of projects with titles that border on the bizarre.
– “The fluviographic poetics of Charles Warren Stoddard: An emergence of a modern gay male American textuality”
– “Transperformance: Transgendered reading strategies, contemporary American literature”
– “Cruising and queer counterpublics: Theories and fictions”
– “‘Skirts must be girded high’: Spaces of subjectivity and transgression in post-suffrage American women’s travel writing”
– “Roddenberry’s faith in ‘Star Trek’: ‘Star Trek”s humanism as an American apocalyptic vision of the future”
– “Exhibiting domesticity: The home, the museum, and queer space in American literature, 1914-1937”
– “From sodomy to Indian death: Sexuality, race and structures of feeling in early American execution narratives”
– “The sentimental touch: Hands in American novels during the rise of managerial capitalism”

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