Tag Archives: victimhood

Why Do Our High Schools Teach Grievance and Oppression?

Political orthodoxy and lack of viewpoint diversity in the academy is now a well-known problem, thanks in large part to Heterodox Academy and the many scholars who contribute to the site. Yet even Jonathan Haidt–one of the more productive combatants of this growing trend–will admit that intolerance to opposing ideas and the spread of victimhood culture “has its roots in high school” (see Haidt’s The Yale Problem Begins in High School).

While Haidt discusses experiences he had with faculty and students at elite schools, as an English teacher at a public high school, I can personally attest that the problem has also been exacerbated by public education policy and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Related: Pushing American History as a Long Tale of Oppression

First, a bit of background. In 2009, Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion competitive grant funded by the Education Recovery Act, incentivized states to adopt the CCSS. Opting-in would allow states to earn points toward much-needed education funding and waivers from federal regulations required by No Child Left Behind. Since funding is tied to Common Core assessment measures, when the standards for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics were first released in June 2010, many states scrambled to find Common Core aligned curricular materials.

One such state was New York, whose Education Department (NYSED) developed the EngageNY Common Core Modules, a fully-articulated Pre-K to 12 curriculum program designed to “assist schools and districts with the implementation of the Common Core.” Although local districts, the NYSED, and then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan were explicit that the CCSS was not to be a curriculum, but merely a set of standards, New York State had suddenly made it a curriculum. Across the state, rather than training teachers to align their curriculum and classroom content with the standards, numerous districts began ordering teachers to use the EngageNY modules and, in many cases, to teach them verbatim.

Related: How Your Tax Money Promotes Grievances

Originally introduced as an optional resource for teachers to “imagine how classroom instruction could look,” EngageNY quickly became a curriculum program that teachers, depending on their district and its reliance on state aid, were forced to adopt wholesale. My own district informed me early on that I had to teach “all modules in their entirety.” This meant not only that I had to teach the texts assigned by EngageNY, but I had to teach them how EngageNY thought they should be taught. At the grade 12 level, for instance, this involved cutting Catcher in the RyeFrankenstein, and Much Ado About Nothing, to instead teach The Autobiography of Malcolm XThe Namesake; Guns, Germs, and Steel; and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Though loyal to the CCSS mandate to increase student exposure to nonfiction “informational texts,” the texts and lessons used in the ELA modules tend to slant left and focus largely on themes like social injustice, racial and gender oppression, immigration, and cultural identity. One grade 11 module, case in point, focuses on W.E.B Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk, and includes other texts that represent “voices, experiences, and perspectives… united by their shared exploration of the effects of prejudice and oppression on identity construction.” Students then “broaden their exploration of struggles against oppression in America to include issues of gender and sexism,” and so on.

In an ELA classroom, these topics are certainly valuable and worthy of discussion, but not to the exclusion of introducing students to imaginative literature, aesthetic analysis, and themes that are universal to the human condition. Instead of immersing students in an in-depth survey of classic and contemporary literature; instead of guiding students through the great conversation of history; instead of helping students to discover how words and ideas can reveal our common humanity–the EngageNY modules focus on topical social or political issues and often limit students’ exposure to one side of the story.

Consider this module, for example, in which 9th graders read How Sugar Changed the World, by Aronson and Budhos, and examine America’s role in exploiting slave labor in third-world countries. In the module, students “learn to think of the products they use and consume everyday as part of a complex web of global production.” They then go on to study “the working conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh” and “consider arguments against the exploitation of sweatshop labor,” the goal being to understand “what it means to be an ethical participant in the global economy.” Just remember that these are 14-year-old kids, many of whom are still learning their parts of speech.

What happens when literature and critical thinking become, as Camille Paglia would say, “subordinate to a prefab political agenda”? Over time, one possible result is that a state-approved victimhood narrative begins to emerge and students begin to draw dividing lines. Rigorously molding high school students into aggrieved leftist cultural critics is not the job of public education, nor does the practice bode well for the public’s perception of teachers.

To be clear, my purpose in writing this essay has not been to call the CCSS into question.

Along with most teachers I know, I am of the opinion that the standards themselves are well-written and emphasize important grade-level skills. What troubles me is that, in many cases, states and local districts are using a top-down “one size fits all” approach to education that sucks the joy out of learning and does not adequately prepare students to engage with opposing perspectives. The EngageNY modules–which have now been downloaded close to 50 million times and are being used by at least 36 states, as well as Washington D.C.–represent just one example of how public schools are creating an echo chamber and planting the seeds of victimhood culture.

Reprinted from Heterodox Academy

How Political Correctness Corrupted the Colleges

How can it be that, in the face of daily news of murders, grotesque punishments, and open oppression by radicals abroad, here at home American college students, who have grown up with degrees of freedom and autonomy virtually unknown in most times and places, agitate for restrictions on their own campuses, demand rules, regulations, and censorship in the name of their versions of justice?

I don’t think the answer to this question is that “this generation” of American college students is just more authoritarian in their way of thinking than their predecessors, or more impassioned about their political commitments. Nor do I think that they have been brainwashed by their families or school teachers – though this too plays a role.

Related: Limp Administrators Let the Angry Few Take Over

What has happened is that over the past couple of decades “political correctness” became mainstreamed: it went from characterizing only certain parts of the university (above all “identity” programs, such as women’s studies, openly committed to particular kinds of social change and intolerant of divergent views) to enjoying an obligatory and sincere endorsement by many faculty and administrators. This involves a massive redefinition of what higher education is and ought to be.

All the Dread Isms

Not that this is news. In the early 1990s, when I was still in women’s studies, some professors required their white students to disclose their first experience with blacks, and, if they declined to do so, the recalcitrant students were accused of being “in denial”  about their own racism.  Charges of racism were proving very effective in shutting down discussion and leaving even people who knew better speechless.

What has changed since is that charges of racism, sexism, and other dreaded –isms have become ever more commonplace, so that entire institutions, not just individual professors and administrators, live in fear of having such charges lobbed their way. Thus, today, it is common for universities to have orientation programs for first-year students that explicitly aim to indoctrinate them about the attitudes and words considered not just rude or thoughtless but actionable. And to have speech codes and harassment policies that all too often are in clear violation of the Constitution.

Related: The Modern Campus as North Korea

The brouhaha at the University of Missouri and at Yale, for example, perfectly illustrates the shift: what a heady feeling, to be able to push administrators and faculty into resigning, with or without official self-abnegation. And with proliferating protective measures undertaken by universities (with their ever-expanding corps of administrators), is it any wonder that the supposed adults in academe become more disempowered, more fearful of being charged with one of the stigmatizing –isms?

Somehow, in America, the more students in fact enter universities, the more “flexible” our course offerings and activities, the easier it is to get a degree, the more aggrieved students feel by the persistence of complexity in their social environment. And the unsurprising result for students who know little history and less world politics is clear: what is being demanded by protesting students is a kind of control over others that would seem to have no place in a free society. But how are they to know this, if they have little knowledge and simple views of their own society and its place in the world?

The situation is not helped by the readiness with which what used to be serious intellectual venues now join in the fray. In The New Yorker, on Nov. 10, 2015, for example, Jelani Cobb has an article whose very title lays out the parameters of acceptable speech.  It is called “Race and the Free-Speech Diversion.” Such a juxtaposition both dismisses free speech and delegitimizes concerns about it at the outset.

Related: What Students Are Demanding Now

It’s hard to believe Americans would be so quick to adopt such a cavalier attitude toward one of our most valuable rights if they had actual experience of the repressive dictatorships that existed and still exist in various parts of the world. But the worst part is that these angry students and their academic abettors know and understand the First Amendment. Yet, they actively and open blatantly oppose it, believing that only the speech they approve of should be protected. The same attitudes prevail with rights of due process, routinely violated on college campuses. Why should those accused of using a racist slur or engaging in an unwanted touch or tasteless joke have any rights? Why shouldn’t they at once be punished? Forced to apologize, to grovel, to resign? This is the climate of vigilantism and instant (in) justice that prevails. And it should surprise no one that students will use whatever weapons come their way.

The Oppression Sweepstakes

Way back in 1994, Noretta Koertge, a philosopher of science and I used the term “oppression sweepstakes” in our book Professing Feminism to describe the unseemly competition in academe (though not only there) for most oppressed status. We lamented that young women were opportunistically embracing the rhetoric of victimhood. Students were also learning to spot “sexual harassment” everywhere around them, thanks to regulations that became ever broader and looser, the better to catch any offending word, look, innuendo, or gesture. Due process, like First Amendment rights, became just another quaint notion to be despised by campus justice warriors.

I remember the first time that a student asked me (in class) to give “trigger warnings” about material I was assigning.  That was perhaps ten years ago. Now that term, too, is commonplace.  Since then, hypersensitivity and the search for grievances have only intensified. As big problems disappear, little ones are forced into their place, and so we get “micro-aggression,” a sublime new term by which victim groups can keep complaining when the main sources of complaint have all but disappeared. Imagine the difficulty if one had to give up victimhood.

What are the implications of the fact that accusations of racism and sexism are so popular?  One obvious one is that, far from being a society riddled with social injustice, the U.S. has made so much progress that such charges are cast routinely and fearlessly for they prove amazingly effective in delegitimizing others. A neat one-up move that has effortlessly worked its way into our culture.

Being called a racist automatically cripples (excuse the ableist language) the accused, since any response is immediately cast as evidence that one is simply in denial and trying to protect one’s privilege. And having “privilege” has itself become a slur, another tool in the arsenal designed to impede opposing, or even just differing, points of views. Scores of dystopian fictions, films, and realities have done little to dissuade these campus rebels from a belief that their version of equality and justice can be imposed by fiat, with no serious negative consequences to themselves.

It’s Who Says It, Not What’s Said

Identity politics, rooted in race, gender, sexual orientation (and an ever-expanding list of other protected categories), creates a climate in which the key element is not what one says but who says it. The result: only certain people have the right to say certain things.  And since identity in fact does not tell us all we need to know about a person’s views, beliefs, commitments, or actions,  many additional terms have been created to curtail the speech and attack the legitimacy of those with dissenting views, terms like “Uncle Tom,”  “Oreo,”  “not a real woman,”  or “heteronormativity.”    Thus, identity politics has morphed from actually requiring evidence of discrimination to merely verbalizing the claim to a supposedly oppressed identity and constantly hurt feelings.

When truth and falsity are determined by who speaks, not what is said or what relationship it bears to reality, we’re in free fall, and one can expect that those who yell loudest and claim the greatest oppression will rule. Not a pretty picture, and certainly not the way a democracy is supposed to function. Bertrand Russell referred to this many years ago with his ironic phrase regarding “the superior virtue of the oppressed.”

Intolerance with Moral Superiority

But this snapshot of some of the most popular gotcha games of our time does not suggest to me that students want to be treated like children, or that they genuinely want university administrators to protect them from unpleasantness and discomfort.

That is far too innocent a view of their energetic protests.  Their actions suggest more worldly aims:  they want to be tyrants, able to impose their will while disguising that drive with claims of moral superiority to those around them.

And a good deal of the responsibility for this state of affairs rests with faculty and administrators.  Universities are not the only places attacking liberal values and the Western tradition, but what is perhaps surprising is that they’re not even willing to defend themselves as places where serious learning intellectual efforts are supposed to go on. What else does their desperate commitment to so-called social justice, community activism, and all the rest of the litany amount to? Having long ago abdicated intellectual leadership in favor of feel-good phony politics and self-defeating new definitions of their missions, these agents of the university are hardly in a position to protest students’ endless pursuits of these selfsame goals, which must rest on grievances and slights, real or imagined.

But, alas, when professors stop defending their academic endeavors  in intellectual terms and opt instead for ersatz politics, they are rapidly outclassed by young people who can do that better: with more energy, more time, more anger. Hence, unable to compete, professors instead attempt to ingratiate ourselves with students, hoping (not very effectively, it turns out) to avoid getting caught up in their attacks.

Related: A Targeted Teacher at Yale Quits

Why, then, be surprised when students use turn against those very administrators and faculty who have been capitulating to them for years?  And so students demand respect without earning it, status without achievement, and instantaneous action against the offenses they ferret out all around them.

Like other tyrants, petty or not, students engaging in phony revolutionary claims, these students just want to have their own way, impose their ideas, and be done with it.  Hence they shout down speakers, get invitations rescinded, and disrupt campus activities.

They may be infantile in their yelling and screaming, but that doesn’t mean they are actually seeking adult guidance. Not at all — they’re trying to intimidate their elders into further subjection and are achieving marked success. And they bravely do this in the comfy atmosphere of the modern university.

Isn’t it time for faculty to say:  How you feel is your own affair. Feelings get hurt; that’s life. People can be unpleasant, true.  But what matters here is what you do. You’re here to learn, to develop intellectually, and that requires effort and commitment, not moments of high drama and self-exaltation. Not every slight is an assault, every unkind word an instance of discrimination.

You want to know about inequality and pain? Just travel around the world and see what the absence of liberal values and functioning civil rights leads to, and then come back and see if continuing to complain about the horrendous inequities of your university is still your best bet for creating a better world.

This Is Not a Day Care Center—It’s a University!

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love! In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic! Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims! Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

We Don’t Do Coddling Here

tI have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience! An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad! It is supposed to make you feel guilty! The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization!

So Here’s My Advice

If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.

Learn Things, Like How to Grow Up

At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up!

This is not a day care. This is a university!


Dr. Piper is president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

‘Diversity’ Anger at UCLA

If there were a Heisman Trophy for the most articulate angry black undergraduate, Sy Stokes, a recent UCLA graduate, would surely have won.

Subject of a fawning, sprawling 3200-word profile by Eric Hoover in the Chronicle of Higher Education (“A Young Man of Words” — access may require subscription), Stokes made a name for himself in a video, “The Black Bruins,” attacking UCLA as a “racist corporation,” a “place of privilege, callous to the challenges” black men face. “So with all my brothers’ hopes and dreams that this university has tried to ruin,” he cries poetically, “How the hell am I supposed to be proud to call myself a Bruin?”

“The Black Bruin” went viral, which “has been viewed almost 2.3 million times,” and made Mr. Stokes a star. Youlanda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management,” the Chronicle writes, “took to Mr. Stokes. She invited him to a College Board conference where he spoke to a standing-room-only audience. When he started applying for jobs, she wrote him a letter of recommendation.”

Sy Stokes
Sy Stokes

By now Mr. Stokes should be used to being regarded as a rising black voice. A year and a half ago he was also the subject of Scott Jaschik’s equally adoring profile in Inside Higher Ed, “To Be a Black Man at UCLA.” Given this repeated treatment of Mr. Stokes as today’s emblematic — and hence to be embraced — angry young black man, as virtually a young James Baldwin in waiting, I think it is worth looking more closely at the “diversity” that he both demands and represents. There are more than a few ironies.

  • According to the Chronicle, Stokes is “the son of a black father and a Chinese mother.” Thus he could have as accurately identified himself as “Asian,” but if he had done so he might well have not been admitted to UCLA — despite the fact that it is not allowed to take race into account — and would certainly have had a much harder time getting accepted to any selective university not obligated to be colorblind.
  • There is at least some evidence that he arrived at UCLA with a chip on his shoulder. Consider this sad, revealing anecdote reported by the Chronicle:

Mr. Stokes had first tasted racial tension at 14…. One day a girl from another high school invited him to her homecoming dance. Cool, he thought.

On the big night, he wore a Yankees cap, T-shirt, and Nike basketball shoes. As soon as he got to the school, he felt uncomfortable. Nobody was dressed like him, and just about everyone was white. For the first time in his life, he thought about how his skin was darker than others’. “People stared at me like crazy,” he says. “Whatever I did, I had eyes on me.” Standing on the crowded dance floor, he felt alone.

  • Less star-struck observers might think the above was not so clearly racial tension. Moreover, there is also evidence that Mr. Stokes himself is not so enamored of “diversity.” According to the Chronicle, his dance experience was simply one example, continued at UCLA, of “years of feeling unwelcome among peers who didn’t look like him, who came from different kinds of neighborhoods.” Wait. Isn’t exposing students to peers “who don’t look like” them, who come from “different kinds of neighborhoods,” the very essence of the “diversity” that educrats at UCLA and other selective institutions insist is the sine qua non of an effective education?
  • Perhaps Mr. Stokes was angry because he realized that the “diversity” preached and practiced by UCLA was not intended for people like himself. On the contrary, its rationale and purpose was and is to enable “peers who didn’t look like him” to benefit from being exposed to the “difference” he represents. Indeed, concerned as he was with racial exploitation, he might well have been aware of the unwittingly revealing defense of “diversity” then University of California Chancellor Robert Birgenau offered to the San Francisco Chronicle in February of his freshman year: “We no longer can live in our own world surrounded by people who are just like us.” One need not be a deconstructionist, as I argued here, to figure out who “we” and the “people who are just like us” are, and in fact discerning minorities have realized that they are merely the instruments used to provide “diversity” to others, not its beneficiaries.

There is a final irony fueling Stokes’ anger, an anger usually expressed in the language of underrepresentation — “Of men at UCLA,” he told Inside Higher Ed, “black males make up 3.3 percent; of the 2,418 entering male students this year, 48 were black,” etc. He claimed it was “‘a big cop out’ for UCLA to blame its low number on the ban on consideration of race.” As for what he wants, he insisted “We are not asking for a handout. We are asking for a level playing field.”

“Level playing field,” of course is never defined. I have defined it, here, as “[t]he political, social, and economic terrain that will ensure that two or more teams with different levels of ability, experience, equipment, interest, attitude, coaching, etc. always achieve equal scores and win the same number of games,” but I do not think that’s what Stokes has in mind. I think he means “admit more blacks.” But insofar as the goal of admitting more “underrepresented” minorities is so that colleges can “mirror the community,” demographic statistics do not support Stokes’ demand.

“Blacks were 3.8% of the freshmen who entered UCLA” in the fall of 2013, I noted here in discussing Stokes’ video. “According to the latest census data, blacks are 6.6% of the population of California. Thus, by whatever calculus ‘underrepresented’ and ‘level’ are determined, whites are left holding a considerably shorter end of the stick than blacks: they are 73.5% of the population of California but only 27.1% of UCLA undergraduates.”

The only practical way for UCLA to have a higher proportion of students who look like Stokes’ father is to impose a rather strict quota on the admission of students who look like his mother. As of Fall Quarter 2014 Asians were 33.5% of UCLA undergraduates but only 14.1% of California’s population.