Why Dollar Bill can’t think: the destruction of the liberal arts curriculum

John Silber would have liked me – for lunch

Those readers of a certain age may remember when a degree in philosophy, history or even, sometimes, English was evidence that the holder had been trained to think independently and write clearly. Perhaps that’s a false memory, created from a nostalgic dream of Eden, but I had some pretty demanding professors in school. Even by the early 70’s, though, the dingbats had invaded and begun to dominate their respective fields of study.

But today? Well, here’s how our top academics intend to occupy themselves  at the upcoming national convention of “historians”. These are the people you are entrusting your children and your money to. The collapse of the higher education bubble can’t happen soon enough.

If you doubt that leftist activists now dominate the study and teaching of U.S. history, take a look at the program for the 2013 American Historical Association conference in New Orleans. The pattern  is similar to the University of Michigan’s history department, discussed here yesterday—a heavy emphasis on race, class, and gender, with more “traditional” topics frequently reconfigured to conform to the dominant paradigm.

On a panel entitled “Using Oral History for Social Justice Activism,” scholars look at their partnership with “activists” seeking to undermine “the dominant historical narrative.” Yet the “narrative” that these social justice activists pursue seems to conform to, rather than undermine, the academic status quo—Chicano activists, anti-war activists “working in G.I. Coffee houses,” and “Shirley Chisholm’s best friend, secretary and hairdresser.” It’s hard to imagine much opposition in the contemporary academy to exploring the history of any type of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups—or certainly anti-war activists.

The sweet spot, however, are panels that found a way to combine all three elements of the academy’s holy trinity: race, class, and gender. (Indeed, it appears that for U.S. history panels, the AHA has selected as many papers on African-American women specifically as on U.S. women’s history as a whole.) Take, for instance, a panel entitled, “Beyond Sally Hemings: Sex, Race, and Memory in Nineteenth-Century America,” which features such papers as “Progressive Fictions and the Sexing of Jim Crow.” Using only-in-academia language, the panelists state that they want to “consider the political and cultural work composing, sharing, and historicizing these narratives does, and how it has allowed historical subjects to speak—even obliquely—about lives experiences, desires, and anxieties that otherwise might have remained obscured.  We try to make sense of these stories—and their reception—as part of the incomplete historical record, and in light of the pressures on people in those times and ours.”

The most striking element of the AHA program, however, came in how many of the panels devoted to topics that could be deemed “traditional” (U.S. diplomatic, military, political, constitutional) are arranged  to conform to the race/class/gender paradigm. …

The existence of such topics should provide a reminder to outside observers of the academy—that even when colleges and universities have on staff professors who describe their research specialties as subfields considered more “traditional,” much of the time it’s just more obsessive concern race, gender and class. Few people outside the academy, after all,  would expect to study the Cold War through “the conflation of sexual and political agendas.”


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3 responses to “Why Dollar Bill can’t think: the destruction of the liberal arts curriculum

  1. Balzac

    From God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckely, Jr. in 1951 to America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) by David Gelernter in 2012, left-wing polemics have been crowding out genuine scholarship in our universities’ humanities departments.

    Which hasn’t diminished our determination to spend $50,000 a year sending our kids there.

  2. CatoRenasci

    Like you, CF, I hold a liberal arts degree from the era before the mid-1970s. Back when a degree from a decent college or university in history or philosophy or English implied that one had read a pretty fair chunk of the Western canon, knew a good deal about the history of Western civilization, could think coherently and write both correctly and clearly. The emphasis differed according to the major, but there was significant overlap.

    By the time our kids were simultaneously in college, history was already the mess described in the post, philosophy was largely post-modern with dollops of queer theory and feminist deconstructionism, and one could obtain an English degree from a top tier liberal arts college without taking a single Shakespeare course.

    I’m glad my kids enjoyed their free educations (i.e. they paid nothing, the parental unit did, through the nose), but I have to say I remain somewhat angry, even bitter, how badly one English department and one history department failed to provide my kid with a real education (other than in leftwing bias and bs).

  3. Libertarian Advocate

    On a panel entitled “Using Oral History for Social Justice Activism,” scholars look at their partnership with “activists” seeking to undermine “the dominant historical narrative.”

    Sounds like a program Lizze “Lieawatha” Warren might have designed. Pffft. And we wonder why the U.S. ranks so low in math and science today. It’ll be interesting to see how these moron “Professors” put food on their tables when that bubble does finally pop.