THE VOICE OF REASON
Buckley

ON “GETTING EDUCATED” 

The late William F. Buckley, Jr., legendary editor, columnist, and television personality, authored a critique of Yale University upon completing his undergraduate degree there. In this work, entitled God & Man at Yale, first published in 1952, the precocious Buckley blasted his alma mater for its faculty’s skeptical and otherwise disparaging attitudes toward Christianity, as well as for its espousal of collectivist approaches to economics. The book was a careful attempt to explain and to analyze what Yale students were then being taught that was glaringly contrary to the institution’s founding principles. It is understating the case simply to contend that the book changed its author’s life.  It also dramatically influenced the conservative movement in America. Reading it over a half century after its initial appearance is still an animating experience. 

Buckley took a scalpel (often, a machete) to certain popular arguments, among others, that (1) Yale professors are entitled to teach whatever they please because of the dictates of “academic freedom,” and that (2) neither the president of the university nor its alumni should be able to do anything about it. Buckley contended, to the consternation of those favoring the status quo, that Yale professors were hired to teach in accordance with the beliefs and goals of the institution and that, if unwilling to do so, they should be compelled to resign their cushy appointments. 

Those today that contribute financially to educational institutions, whether public or private, are scarcely aware of what Buckley recognized years ago: that propaganda is promulgated as unquestioned truth within them. Since the advent of Buckley's book, the faculties of the nation’s leading academic institutions have become, if anything, increasingly insulated from teaching accountability, and the wealthy donors who contribute to the institutions have become exponentially ignorant of the character and content of what is being taught. 

Consider a few of the revelations in David Horowitz’s book, One-Party Classroom, published in 2009. How many donors of the University of Texas in Austin know that Dana Cloud, a professor of communications there, has described herself as “a longtime activist and socialist”? Ms. Cloud is a member of the International Socialist Organization, a Bolshevik group that seeks a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the United States, and teaches a course called “Communications and Social Change,” the stated purpose of which is “to encourage your engagement with the tradition and ongoing practice of movement for social change in the United States.” Ms. Cloud seems mistakenly to assume that “social change” and “reform” are synonymous terms. It might be helpful if the thrust of her course were to encourage students to understand society prior to trying to change it.

The writings of Marx and Engels could, as Horowitz observes, be offered in various departments, such as in philosophy, economics, or government.  But at the University of Texas this subject matter is also dished out in the Department of Comparative Literature, by Katherine Arens, professor of Germanic Studies. She expounds upon various interpretations of Marxist thought, without so much as assigning a single text critical of the ideology. Marxism, taught by a professor of comparative literature, makes as much sense as a professor of art history teaching the fundamentals of architecture. But, of course, if the primary goal is indoctrination, who cares? 

Robert Jensen, an associate professor of journalism at the same university, teaches Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, and The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels, as “exemplary journalistic works on social justice.” The only problem with his choices is that neither is remotely journalistic. Both are pamphlets trumpeting political revolution. 

Higher education in this country, especially but not exclusively in fields other than the hard sciences, is saturated with political propaganda. If a person would not want his son or daughter to be indoctrinated by a religious cult, or subjected to a “re-education center” in a communist or fascist country, why on earth would the person desire to send his son or daughter to most private or public universities in America today, much less to pay dearly for the privilege? 

If genuine education is one’s goal, I suggest learning how to read and, then, doing so for as many hours a day as one possibly can. There are great books readily available in any and every subject. When one of them proves delightful, then I recommend conversing with another person about it, especially if he or she has read the book or one similar to it. In this manner, a person becomes intellectually engaged, and education becomes an exciting, open-ended adventure. 

Public education in America's inner cities and elsewhere has proven to be an unmitigated disaster. A student is processed through metal detectors as a security threat.  He or she must learn to contend with feculent, graffiti-filled restrooms and many with intellects to match. After that, there is the problem of avoiding school bullies and adhering to rules of political correctness. Is this really education?  Not the kind most of us have in mind anyway. 

Taxpayers spend millions of dollars a year to construct and to maintain school buildings and to pay one-dimensional, uncreative educational administrators to accomplish little or nothing year in and year out. After a student completes twelve years in a string of these institutions, he is lucky if he can construct a grammatical sentence, or otherwise express an idea clearly and coherently. Students are herded into classrooms, where the conscientious ones take copious notes, and later frantically memorize them in order to pass examinations given by instructors who, more often than not, have only a partial grasp of the subject matter at best. If one is unfortunate enough to be in a class presided over by a football or basketball coach, then an enormous amount of additional time is wasted. 

Yet at least two caveats are in order here. First, many students have admittedly emerged from this kind of stultifying regimen to realize enormous success, not only academically, but also professionally. Most of them, I dare say, have been successful in spite of the system, not because of it. They could have arisen to greater heights had they stayed at home, read and studied great books, and discussed them in small peer groups. Second, there are surely a few memorably notable teachers in everyone’s experience, who inspire students to think, but these are rare.  In my experience, this paucity of instructors did not come close to justifying the countless hours I spent warming a seat in classrooms. Besides, the most thoughtful people I have been privileged to meet in my life were far removed from academe.

Contrary to Jeffersonian ideology, all men (and women) are not created equally, except perhaps in a limited moral and political sense. It is therefore an absurdity to insist that everyone should be put through the same educational program. Many students would profit immensely from learning a trade. Automotive mechanics, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, and many other skill sets are sorely needed in our country today. They are honorable and pay well. Maybe some students will also desire to read and study the great books while learning welding or landscaping. What could possibly be implausible about this? 

When professors speak of “diversity,” a term they belabor to platitudinous extremes, they should realize that, first and foremost, it means that the preponderance of those they “teach” have no legitimate place in that setting. One might likewise add that they should further realize that it is doubtful whether anyone has a place in such a setting, unless he is availing himself of one or more of the libraries or the discussion centers on campus. 

If and when we abolish the traditional idea of a “college education” or of a “university” where one supposedly “gets” such an education, reform may then be on the way. In addition to the Left having one less bully pulpit, another benefit will be that “spring break” debaucheries, “pot” festivals, fraternities, sororities, and athletic events will be forever severed from the educational experience. Who knows, once these changes occur, we may begin to see an astonishing renaissance of the arts and sciences, not to say of civilization itself.

April 27, 2014