A few weeks ago I woke up to some very alarming news reporting that the San Francisco Teacher’s Union was offering a lesson plan to area high school teachers that describes U.S. President-elect Donald Trump a “racist and sexist man”. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, such indoctrination of high school students is reprehensible. To me it seems like an attempt to re-engineer society in the way that communist societies did. A quote I have used before, from Miroslav Vanek and Pavel Mucke’s Velvet Revolutions explains it nicely:
Among other things, they launched a campaign against ‘reactionary’ values and ‘bourgeois and petit-bourgeois relics,’ with the goal of controlling as many ‘human souls’ as possible and creating a ‘new human being’ within a ‘progressive’ society constructed (or rather re-arranged) according to the Soviet Model (Vanek and Mucke 2016, 10).
I have seen these sentiments in my own graduate seminars, when a student proposed that the best way to end discrimination in America was to “educate them at an early age”. She proposed teaching children as young as five about same-sex marriage. While her aims are certainly noble, I can think of at least a few parents who wouldn’t be very happy with this—and rightly so. Parents have a right to raise their own children as they see fit, that is not the state’s job. I argued that engineering societies—through education—is a slippery slope but it, predictably, fell on deaf ears.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s very readable novel Herland was assigned in one of my seminars and—if one gets past the extreme feminist perspective—one can see that Gilman is warning against a totalitarian, and borderline fascistic, society where the community, rather than families, educate children. The only result is a sort of brainwashing, where all emotions—specifically human emotions like love—have been erased. Of course my fellow sociologists could not see this, they could only opine on how utopic a society without men would be. They could only opine on how a misogynist male rapist is the same as the misogynist male who opens the door for a woman because “she is too weak”. As much as they may not like it, I personally will continue to open doors for women. It is, after all, the right thing to do to help out fellow human beings—male or female.
To me this kind of discourse, at a university no less, is disturbing. It is a totalitarian thought process completely detached from reality; this kind of societal engineering is the purest form of the rationalized society Max Weber warned against. The worst thing is that this hate emanates from ostensibly “progressive” people; the people who organize cry-ins and lobby for “safe spaces”, the same people who have made “I’m offended” the new buzz phrase of America. But do they ever stop to think about how equating rapists with those who open doors for women is problematic? Or that saying “being white is racist” is a racist statement in and of itself? The short answer is…they don’t.
At a small get-together with friends a few weeks ago the conversation came to my personal life. A student I am friendly with asked me if I was worried about my (Turkish) girlfriend coming to visit me in the U.S. I asked why I would be afraid? The student said “Because Trump will put her in a camp for being a Muslim”. I wanted to ask the person to specify what kind of camp—labor or death—but resisted. The truth is, this kind of discourse is offensive to me; insinuating that someone I love could be murdered is extremely hurtful. But I don’t blame this person for their misguided views since it isn’t their fault.
Arguably, it all boils down to the failure of America’s education system. Examples have been pouring in from campuses all across America in recent days. At UNLV, a math professor was shamed for daring to use the term “illegal aliens” rather than the politically correct “undocumented immigrants” on his personal Facebook page. Apparently, free speech is no longer the norm on American campuses. At my former school, the University of Texas, a professor of philosophy admitted that he cannot teach his course because of political correctness. Professor Daniel Bonevac said:
Students clam up as soon as conversation veers close to anything controversial and one side might be viewed as politically incorrect. The open exchange of ideas that used to make courses such as Contemporary Moral Problems exciting doesn’t happen […] For decades the University of Texas at Austin has been an ideal place to do that. Students bring a wide range of opinions. They’re open-minded. They argue for their own views vigorously while listening carefully to the other side and treating its advocates respectfully […] One or two students who don’t share those qualities mentioned above can shut down discussion and destroy such a course.
I can sympathize with Professor Bonevac because I have seen this toxic environment in my own classes.
The worst part is that, even when the metaphor of “battleground” used above becomes real, educators still don’t know how to react. After a brutal attack on students at Ohio State University, one student said administrators “are more scared of the Right and Trump than they are of this terrorist attack that just happened on our campus. It’s sickening to me because I feel like they are gambling with my life in order to reach this multiculturalism lie that they worship in all of my classes — and it’s crazy.” If you don’t believe it, just look at a Facebook post from The Ohio State University’s Director of Residence Life.
A Strange Post Made Stranger By the #Hashtags. Image Courtesy Of: http://usherald.com/liberal-apologists-already-urging-sympathy-osu-terror-attacker/
In short, this is ridiculous. There was a vicious attack, yet instead of condemning it a University official is saying something quite different. In a bid to pay respects to the attacker, the University is actually insulting the victims. It is an odd situation indeed, and it shows a fundamental lack of moral sense. The question is, how did we get here? I would argue that it is a result of the most glaring example of America’s failure to educate: the censorship of literature.
I am a proponent of literature since I believe that the best fiction can tell a person more about life than most positivist social science research. Auguste Comte may argue with me but I stand with my perspective, especially after a Virginia school district decided to erase certain literary masterpieces from their curriculum: “The Accomack County Public Schools (Virginia) have banned the classic books The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird because a parent complained about the racial slurs contained in them”.
This is saddening news since it doesn’t bode well for the American education system. Two weeks ago I saw at my own university library the perils of this failure to recognize literature’s value. I asked the student working at the front desk for a copy of The Great Gatsby. The student asked me the author, and I—incredulous—just said “Fitzgerald”. The response? “Which one…F. Scott?”. The idea of a university student not knowing the author of one of the most enduring classics of American literature is disconcerting to say the least. Education is not just about 2+2 being 4 or elementary Spanish or French. It is also about achieving a certain level of culture, a view of the world that only literature can provide.
A Masterpiece. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4671.The_Great_Gatsby
It would be helpful if educators focused less on political indoctrination and more on making the students of our country well-rounded citizens; giving students the valuable skills of critical thinking and emphasizing individual thought is one of the most important—and long-lasting—gifts of education. It is dismaying to see the quality of education slowly decline as educators are more focused more on presenting personal political views in the classroom than teaching things of real value. Politics are ephemeral, literature is eternal.