April 10, 2013

Recently, in an organization I regularly attend, one of our members, with an uncharacteristically grave expression on his face, silenced us by a statement followed by a question.

In essence, here is what he said: “Our daughter came home from school yesterday afternoon deeply disturbed, confused, and bordering on tears.”

By this time, there was total silence in the room.

After pausing a moment, he continued, “Our daughter, her voice quivering, said, “Daddy, our teacher today told us that we live in a wicked nation, that we committed genocide against the Indian people—is that true?”

Continuing, he told us that he tried to explain to her the complex story of the last four-hundred years. Then he asked her what else the teacher had been saying about America. And what next came out of his little girl’s mouth stunned him and his wife, for it was clear that the teacher had been undermining all the positive things in our history generations have died to protect. He continued, saying, “We’re appalled! And are wondering whether or not to pull her out of school now—or wait until later. . . . Quite candidly, we’re at sea. We need counsel. What do you think we ought to do?”

For the rest of our meeting, little else was talked about. Reason being that, even those of us older than he, were so flabbergasted by the dilemma he and his wife faced that I’m afraid we weren’t much help.

But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Not long afterwards my attention was caught by a Wall Street Journal headline: “The Golf Shot Heard Round the World,” a column written by David Feith (issue of April 6-7).

The story began with a 2010 golf game during which philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein got acquainted with Barry Mills, the president of the highly respected liberal arts Bowdoin College in Maine. During their far-ranging discussion, the subject of “diversity” came up. In a later article for the Claremont Review of Books, Klingenstein wrote, “I explained my disapproval of ‘diversity’ as it has generally been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference,” coupled with “not enough celebration of our common American identity.”

For this, wrote Mr. Klingenstein, Bowdoin’s president insinuated he was a racist, and the debate heated up from that point on. It so happened that Mr. Klingenstein was now curious enough about what was being taught at Bowdoin to commission, at his own expense, researchers from the National Association of Scholars to dig deeply into the matter. So deep that only now, a year and a half and hundreds of pages of documentation later, the report is out. The data was distilled from speeches by Bowdoin presidents and deans, formal statements of the college’s principles, official faculty reports and notes of faculty meetings, academic course lists and syllabi, books and articles by professors, the archive of the Bowdoin Orient newspaper, and more. “They analyzed the school’s history back to its founding in 1794, focusing on the past 45 years—during which, they argued, Bowdoin’s character changed dramatically for the worse.”

This report, according to David Feith, “demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.”

“The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to ‘sustainability,’ or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to ‘global citizenship,’ or loving all countries except one’s own.”

“The Klingenstein report also offers specifics: Bowdoin ‘has no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.’ Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic, or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.

“One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a year long freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: ‘Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,’ ‘Fictions of Freedom,” ‘Racism,’ ‘Queer Gardens (which examine the works of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces,’), sexual life of Colonialism,’ and ‘Modern Western Prostitutes.’

“Regarding Bowdoin professors, the report estimates that ‘four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative. In the 2012 election cycle, 100% of faculty donations went to President Obama.”

* * *

There’s more. But, considering that Bowdoin represents the norm rather than the exception to the rule in higher education today, I can offer little consolation to the distraught member of my service club.

What I can’t get over is being able to graduate from a prestigious liberal arts college, earning a degree in history, without taking so much as one course in American history!


But, let’s return to the beginning of this blog, and the heartbreaking question that father posed to us—how should I have answered him? How would you have answered him?

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think it was mostly self defense.

  2. Maybe it’s a bit much for a 4th grader, but the teacher is right: we as a nation were founded on genocide and slavery. Now, we had some really good ideas, too–and we need to celebrate those as well. Pretending that we are always the good guys does not serve us well.

    (We’re actually killing civilians indiscriminately right now, torturing both at home and abroad. Can’t fix it if you can’t admit it.)

  3. But I get a kick out of your success, Mr. W.– I am presuming my brother and I helped launch your career!

  4. And I know I’m piling on here, but actually Bowdoin’s history department offers courses in Colonial America, Reconstruction, Roman Republic, Roots of 20th Cent Christianity, French Revolution, British/German/Russian history. Just a few listed in the current catalog.

    Our three daughters have been quite well-educated (though not, perhaps, by classical Oxbridge standards, but who is?) at Beloit, Earlham, and Reed. Relax. The kids are gonna be all right. Those crazy liberal colleges do a wonderful job.

    Your club member friend can always send his kids to Andrews, Wheaton, Liberty, Oral Roberts, or Trevecca Nazarene or Hendrix or Brigham Young or Lipscomb or Union. Just to name a few. Where (except maybe for Andrews) I can pretty much guarantee that 100% of the faculty are conservative.

    So enough with the hand-wringing. (And my daughter’s freshman seminar in gender and sci-fi had a great reading list!)

  5. Sorry, Dr. W.– mistook this for an actual discussion. Apparently I was mistaken– I see my comments have disappeared into the ether.

    I would very much be interested in some reaction/discussion/response.

  6. It is decidedly worrisome to think that the history of this country is gradually being decimated by those who care little about anything but their own agendas, which lead to nowhere. It behooves parents to take up the challenge of finding and sharing excellent stories of the past as a family, planning vacations that take their children to the places of historical significance about which they’ve read, teaching their children to search for truth, to ask questions, to be alert, to be aware of the fact that they cannot accept as truth everything they read, see and hear. We used to talk about the innocence of childhood. Given this planet’s parameters, I wonder if such a thing can truly exist anymore.

  7. I guess I would encourage this father to remove his child from the school and either enroll her in a Christian school or home school her. If I had a small child now they would not be in a public school.

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