- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

If you have a son or daughter in college this year, you may be surprised to learn what kind of education your child is receiving, especially for the tuition you're paying. For while the price of a college education is higher than ever, it is conceivable that its value is actually lower than it's ever been.

Studies could never tell this story as well as the parent who first hears that his son or daughter has enrolled in a class called "Witchcraft and Politics." Hardly an anomaly at a second-rate institution, this is an actual course some students will be taking at Bucknell University this fall. Swarthmore College, often ranked first among liberal arts schools, offers several choices for English Literature courses: "Lesbian Novels Since World War II," "Whiteness and Racial Difference," and "Queer Media."

Brown University, among the elite Ivy League schools, teaches a course titled "Black Lavender: A Study of Black Gay and Lesbian Plays and Dramatic Construction in the American Theatre."

These course titles aren't just a few of the worst cases selected to exaggerate the circumstances. On the contrary, they are only a handful of the hundreds of courses highlighted in a recent survey of university curricula. The Young America's Foundation (YAF) has conducted this survey every year since 1995, and it continually reaffirms what scholars and students have said for some time that the quality of higher education in America is being severely undermined by the left's insistence that the classroom be politicized.

The trend actually has its origins in the political theory of the early 1970s, when radical theorists came discernably into a new school of thought known as postmodernism. Leftist philosophers such as Michel Foucault were largely influenced by the 19th-century writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who had famously called for a revaluation of values. These theorists aimed at deconstructing the value system which they claimed was hidden yet prevalent throughout all areas of Western thinking, including religion, art, philosophy, even science.

Most dangerously, postmodernists sought to destroy the notion that beyond discourse, there lay such things as truth and justice. Instead, they followed Foucault in claiming that reality was merely the product of power and resistance. Postmodernists argue that the values of Western culture have worked to marginalize certain groups. A hegemonic culture has long suppressed the voices of those labeled deviant, and those voices must now be heard. It is not surprising that these radicals focused largely on academia, given the power of thought control. To release higher education from the grip of "dead white males," the traditional canons of literature, science, and philosophy had to be destroyed and replaced with representation of those on the outside.

This includes all those groups that are not white, male, heterosexual, and able-bodied. Essentially, academia must devote itself to the expression of the victimized. The problem is that once academia postulates the premise that there is ultimately no truth, liberal learning itself is undermined. This destroys the tradition that began with Greek philosophers almost 2,500 years ago, was further extolled and developed in the Enlightenment, and has survived until today.

For Socrates, the meaning of a liberal education was indeed rational inquiry in pursuit of the truth. Philosopher means "lover of knowledge," and for Socrates, the unexamined life was not worth living. To politicize our most esteemed educational institutions by turning curricula into a battlefield of power destroys this ideal of liberal learning. There is much evidence that this is precisely what the postmodern agenda has done.

Areas of study are determined, not on the merits of ideas, but on the ability to represent oppressed groups. Fields of research and inquiry are a reflection of a certain perspective, not an attempt to uncover fundamental truths. YAF's survey continually demonstrates this. For example, it notes that in 1996, Yale University provided students with a Pink Book as a guide to over 50 gay and lesbian courses. Remarkably, this totals more courses than were offered in the disciplines of economics, linguistics, or computer science. At other schools, courses in witchcraft and bizarre religions have proliferated in order challenge scholarship in traditional religions, such as Christianity. Tendencies to reduce academics to a political power struggle extend even beyond university curricula.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that creates the SAT, has in recent years avoided reading passages related to sports or the military and added passages featuring women and minorities. Last year, ETS eliminated several questions on grounds that they reflected a bias toward certain groups. One was a vocabulary question involving a scientist's genetic discovery. The rationale behind its elimination was that even though the scientist was female, science makes women test-takers more uncomfortable than men. Of course, in a true marketplace of ideas, traditional canon cannot receive a free pass and be exempt from criticism from the left.

However, there must remain the assumption that the purpose of such inquiry is a more enlightened understanding of the truth. The postmodern idea of "perspectivism" must be rejected, and fields of scholarship must be determined on the basis of merit and their sustainability under rational scrutiny. For once academia descends into the nihilistic belief in only power struggles, the possibility of justice for all even the marginalized is itself abandoned.

Ryan Holston is an intern at The Washington Times.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide