WHAT ARE WE TEACHING OUR KIDS?

BLOG #15, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHAT ARE WE TEACHING OUR KIDS?
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!

IN CONCLUSION

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?

DRILL SERGEANT MOTHER HENS

Without a doubt, those four words describe her perfectly. More on her later.

* * * * *

Most of the truly important lessons I’ve learned in life, I’ve learned the hard way. Unquestionably, my most significant growth occurred after I was fired . . . twice. Everyone ought to get fired at least once in life, just for the learning that follows.

It was at a book-signing that she came up to me, introducing herself with these trenchant words: “You don’t know me, but you ought to: Years ago, at ______, you fired me before you took over as Vice President. That was a big mistake, because I could have made you a success, so you wouldn’t have lost your job.” Turns out, she was right: upon the advice of my predecessor, I had fired the one person who could have saved me. In those days, I was incredibly naive about the real world outside cloistered academia. My relevant epiphany had not yet taken place.

That was the slow slogging result of years of door-to-door book sales and fund-raising. Can’t remember the breakthrough moment, only that my life has never been the same since. That’s one thing that really amazes me about life: the greatest truths are known and internalized by so few.

Here it is:     Every organization has two chains of command: de facto and de jure. The truly successful people know which is which, and act accordingly.

One of them, the de jure, everybody knows about instinctively–the logical one. The one on letterheads and power-flow charts. The person on top (usually a man) is the boss. The next one down is next in importance, and so on, each one proportionally less important, until you get to the bottom. These are the ones most everyone goes to when they need something. But is it valid? Ostensibly, yes. If you ask the person at the bottom for something, you go through your entire spiel, and chances are the answer will be, “Terribly sorry, but you’ll have to talk to _______ [the next person up]; and so it is that you keep getting bumped up to the top. Almost to the top, because the boss is always too busy to talk to you. Same with phone queries.

The other one, the de-facto, almost nobody knows about, because it’s not on letterhead or power flow charts. The only ones who know about it are insiders, and they won’t talk about it. Why? Because it’s too precious, coming under the abstract heading: “Knowledge is power.”

It works this way: in each department, there is a go-to person (usually a woman). There has to be, or the entire organization will collapse, for somebody has to be in charge, know how to negotiate the system. Combined in that one person are two oxymoronic qualities: being both a drill-sergeant and a mother hen. Externally no nonsense and hard as nails; deep down, loving, kind, caring, appreciative, tender, empathetic, and supportive.

What is really intriguing is that these de facto go-to people each report to another, higher up, just like them. Up and up and up till you get to the very top. That’s why, when I want to get or learn something, I by-pass the letterhead people and start with the top. Not the CEO, of course, but most likely his personal secretary (usually a woman); I call on her because she runs the entire organization. It would disintegrate without her.

Even her supposed boss trembles in her presence because he is powerless without her. Alienate her at your own risk because if she loses faith in you, you are history. All she has to do is cash in enough of the thousands of chips (“I owe you’s”) she has in her arsenal, and you walk. Since she alone has in her mental lock box all the corporate memory (also all the skeletons, and she knows in which closets they can be found), she cannot possibly be defeated. Not only is she a king-maker, she is also a king-unmaker.

I’m guessing the reason it’s usually a woman is that women (down through history generally being considered of less value than men) have learned to rule by networking among themselves and through empathetic men. They laugh at letterheads and power flow charts. They let those on them strut and preen their feathers as they grandstand on talk shows and to talking-heads. They laugh because they know where the real power is, how to use it, how to get things done—and how to stop everything in its tracks.

* * * * *

Now back to Sacramento two and a half weeks ago. On Friday evening, when we entered the restaurant meeting room, no one greeted us. We had to introduce ourselves to each one. Clearly, no one was in charge. All we had were middle-aged alumni who’d been told to show up; well, they had, but without a shepherd they were as clueless as milling sheep. Then suddenly, there was a shout: “She’s here!” “Debbie’s here!” It was almost spontaneous combustion in the room. Debbie Bighaus had finally arrived from the northwest. The one person, the Facebook Wagonmaster, who was single-handedly responsible for our all being there, had arrived—our de facto drill sergeant-mother hen.

Let the party begin!