For middle-class parents who spend a king's ransom to send their children off to college, there is the expectation that their offspring will receive an education in science, math, the humanities, and the social sciences. This rite of passage is not merely an expensive dalliance; it is regarded as a union card for success. After all, the education pundits are always saying that a college degree pays for itself in increased earnings. What these parents don't know, however, is that universities have become reeducation centers on the model of the old communist institutions that manipulated opinion for "higher" purposes.
Professor Richard Rorty, the much acclaimed philosopher who shuffled off this mortal coil last June, argued that professors in the university ought "to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own." Rorty noted further that students would be fortunate to find themselves under the control "of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents." Indeed, parents who send their children to college should recognize that professors "are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable."
These were not comments made at Marxist Leninist University or by the Red Guard. Nor was this the ranting of a deranged atheist who opposed the Commandment to "honor your father and mother." These views were those of a greatly respected senior professor who not only influenced his colleagues but, to a degree, embodied their sentiments.
At one point in the history of the university, "educate" was a reflexive verb. You educated yourself through exposure to great books, scientific analysis, and logical exegesis. In the Rorty age, students do not have this privilege. Now they are obliged to be browbeaten into submission, mere clay in the hands of ambitious professors who are bent upon shaping students' beliefs.
Unfortunately, most parents who pay the tuition do not have the foggiest idea of what it is they are indirectly promoting. What they see with rose-colored glasses are their sons and daughters completing a chapter in their lives that will help them as they enter the workforce. They rarely consider what the university experience means or the extent to which their own bourgeois and religious beliefs are being assaulted in our colleges and universities.
Without knowing it, Professor Rorty has actually done us a favor. He said openly what many professors think and what many students experience. Lamentably, parents have not yet made the connection. But that day may be coming. When it does, the university will have a hard time defending itself.
Let me offer a personal illustration. In order to fulfill a requirement for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called "The Cold War at Home." As one might imagine, left-wing views predominated. The students read Ellen Shrecker rather than Ronald Radosh; Joseph McCarthy was transmogrified into Adolf Hitler; and victimology stood as the overarching theme of the course.
Despite the recent scholarship on the period, such as Alan Weinstein's well-researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evans's biography of Senator McCarthy, views that did not fit the prevailing orthodoxy weren't entertained. Pounded into students instead was the notion that America engaged in "totalitarian practices" not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.
Class session after class session was devoted to the drumbeat of criticism. I asked my daughter if she had read anything about Gus Hall and the American Communist Party, if she had ever heard of I. F. Stone, or if any class time was devoted to the Venona tapes. She looked at me perplexed. There was only one theme in that course: The US government was wrong. There wasn't any justification for harassing communists, and Edward R. Murrow and Victor Navasky were the real heroes of the period.
Needless to say, the historical story of that time is much more complex than this professor let on. McCarthy was over the top, sure, but communists of the Alger Hiss variety did insinuate themselves into key positions in the State Department. Not every communist in the U.S. was a threat to national security, but many were, and some gave military secrets to the Soviet Union.
Looking back, it is not so easy to discern heroes and villains—unless, of course, the instructor reflexively parrots the standard left-wing version of events. Here is the rub. I don't mind having my daughter exposed to the jejune interpretation of Navasky apologists. What I do mind is the lack of balance—the unwillingness to consider another point of view.
When I suggested that she write her final paper on the role of anti-communist liberals such as Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Stephen Spender, and Midge Decter, among others, my daughter said, "My instructor doesn't admire these people, and I don't want to jeopardize a good grade by writing about them." So much for open discussion.
Such bias is not atypical, unfortunately. Courses in the soft disciplines have largely become propagandistic exercises, as instructors have increasingly arrogated to themselves the role of moral arbiter. Invariably, the United States is wrong; our historical role in the Cold War was malevolent; and our civil liberties are still being put at risk by demagogic politicians.
I can only wonder what historical scholarship will look like in a generation, once my daughter's brainwashed cohorts enter the ranks of the professoriate. •
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