There has been much attention recently about the state of American education and the mindset of today’s “millennial” generation to appreciate the country they live in and the nature of the polity and culture. Polls indicate that much of current sentiment has become wholly critical of America and believes that its history and belief systems are either hypocritical or completely absent of virtue.
The two main critiques of the country focus on equality and justice, virtues that are supposedly synonymous with the term America, but, allegedly, absent from any reality. In fact, the critique goes, exactly the opposite is true, and the sum total of American culture is dominated by the twin ideological expressions, racism and sexism. This, in turn, makes the white male guilty of historical crimes against humanity to the point that the slogan “dead white males” is all that remains for identity. “White Privilege” is an equal charge against these people and any achievement in life that they may have brought to the world (such as television, vacuum cleaners, and airplanes).
The classic exposé of such notions came in 1987 with Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, which dissected the origins and direction of the modern “movement” with a cautious, but pessimistic warning against recovery. “It is difficult to imagine,” Bloom concluded,” that there is either the wherewithal or the energy within the university to reconstitute the idea of an educated human being and establish a liberal education again.”
Bloom died in 1992, but should he reappear today he, undoubtedly, would be horrified as to how far his deepest fears have been realized. If the educational system represents the hopes and desires for the future, the current state of campus unrest and lack of civility overall attests to a very turbulent future for the nation, its core beliefs, and its supporters. These, all together, are in retreat (“stampede”?) and affect the entire polity as well.
The state of government today reflects this culture. The “blame game” has been ongoing for over two years but, after the longest government shutdown in history, it grows tired. It also leads nowhere, but at least acknowledging the problem as systemic and mutual is a beginning. And at the bottom of that human pyramid is education.
Instead of tranquil centers of reflection and learning, however, today’s campus environment has become a hotbed of protest, intolerance, and social activism. “Identity” politics and class division have replaced traditional learning, while outdoor demonstrations substitute for the library. Throughout the country, the word “school” has been transformed from its original to a place for social movement, especially for identified sectors, races, genders (or none at all), and ethnicity. Many universities have inaugurated whole departments for “Diversity, Inclusion, and Identity” as the centerpiece of campus importance. The California system, as one example, began their centers in 2015, with millions of dollars in grants, hundreds of staff personnel and “Deans” making three to four hundred thousand dollars annually (almost as much as the average coach).
A new generation of “educators,” children of the 1960’s and preachers of “deconstruction” theory, seek to unmask Western civilization as the perpetrator of global injustice. Traditional values, “truth, justice, and the American way,” are disparaged routinely as obstacles to progress and as barriers against “oppressed” minorities of all stripes, classes, races, and genders. Inside the Academy, “victims” of the three main “isms,” colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism, has provoked counterattacks through a series of “identity” curricula, including Women’s, Black, Queer, and Chicano Studies. This, too, has affected the political class, as, for example, when a California State Senate Committee recently outlawed the use of the pronouns “he or she.”
Allan Bloom’s book, above, became a best-seller, with over 200 worldwide reviews. And it was pathbreaking. As reviewer Camille Paglia wrote, the book was “the first shot in the culture wars.” A quarter century later (2012) author Bruce Bawer wrote a sequel, The Victims’ Revolution, The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind.
Bawer, an American living in Norway, notes how the educational revolution has affected the political culture en masse. “The ideas that have increasingly dominated American universities since the sixties,” he noted, “have followed the graduates of those institutions into the larger society. The results are all around us, from workplaces where an innocuous statement can brand one as a bigot … to election campaigns in which legitimate criticism of a black or a female candidate can be discounted as racist or sexist.”
Yet, as Bawer also notes, these movements “remain an almost complete mystery” to the average citizen. The walls that hide the “ivory tower” remain intact, but they are destroying the fabric of society right under the nose of the general public.
As Aldous Huxley once put it, we are indeed in a “brave new world.”
Benjamin Franklin was asked after the Constitutional Convention (1787) what they had created. “A republic,” he replied,” if you can keep it.”
More than two centuries later, the jury is still out, but getting more “outer” with each passing year.