An Education Ain’t What It Used To Be
by J.D. Cassidy
Bridgewater State College is one of the oldest colleges in Massachusetts. Tucked away in a serene New England town, the venerable campus is marked with nineteenth century architecture and rolling, green hills. Originally a “Normal School”, founded to pass on the art of teaching, BSC used to be an institution dedicated to “the disinterested pursuit of knowledge.” Today, it stands as something quite different.
Like so many colleges that were once steeped in tradition and firmly dedicated to intellectual honesty, BSC has been transformed into an institution whose primary goal is ideological conformity among students and professors, and whose dominant religion is post-modern Marxism. I had the misfortune of experiencing this disturbing trend in the fall of 2001, when I was an undergraduate at BSC, pursuing a degree in history.
As I geared up to begin the fall semester that year, I did so with more than a little apprehension. About a week before the commencement of classes, I took a trip to the campus bookstore. There, I discovered that, of the sixteen books that I was required to purchase for my history courses, only two or three were worth reading. The rest of the books were out of place on an American campus, and were better suited to the University of Havana (a university with which Bridgewater State College is currently in the process of forming an alliance, so BSC students can travel to Castro’s hell to be indoctrinated, Cuban style).
Some of the titles included Engendering America; Gendered Pasts: Historical Essays in Femininity and Masculinity in Canada; Major Problems in American Women’s History; and Loom & Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls. The back cover of one of these books contains the following statement: “It is commonplace today to suggest that gender is socially constructed, that the roles women and men fulfill in their daily lives have been created and defined for them by society and social institutions….” I did not have to read any further than that to know that I was in for a very long semester.
The book in question includes such essays as No Double Standard?: Leisure, Sex, and Sin in Upper Canadian Church Discipline Records; The Miner’s Wife: Working-Class Femininity in a Masculine Context; The Case of the Kissing Nurse’: Femininity, Sexuality, and Canadian Nursing; and Sex Fiends or Swish Kids?: Gay Men in Hush Free Press. This is what passes for intellectual discourse in an upper level history course, in academia, in the year 2001.
And this is not the worst of it. Other texts for the course proffer essays by such radicals as the SDSer Casey Hayden, the Yippie leader Stew Albert and the infamous Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, as well as a group of female Panthers who refer to themselves as the “Panther Sisters.” Their essay is entitled: Male Chauvinism and All of Its Manifestations are Bourgeois. To make sure that the text is up to date, the editors also include an essay called The Real War is Between Feminists Themselves, written by the current rap star, Ice T— a man who came under scrutiny in the early 1990s for releasing the controversial “song” Cop Killer. (This is what liberals are referring to when they talk about diversity.)
When the semester began, the first class on my schedule was a course titled: Social and Cultural History of Early Modern Europe. Within the first five minutes of class, the professor informed the students that the course title originally included the term “intellectual history,” but upon reflection, the professor had omitted it because the term “intellectual history” is not in step with “contemporary scholarship.” According to the professor, this is because “intellectual history” deals primarily with “dead white males.” Going on this logic, if John Locke and Adam Smith had not had the misfortune of being born with male genitalia, they would still be considered important.
From there, I went on to my next class, which proved to be an enormous waste of time. This course was titled: North American Women’s and Gender History. It was everything that I expected, and more.
I arrived to the class a few minutes early. Sitting down at a desk, I tried making conversation with two girls who were seated close by, but they rudely snubbed me and turned away. Considering that I had never met these girls before, and they therefore had no reason to dislike me, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps they were socially allergic to future “dead white males.” At any rate, I dismissed their insolence and thumbed through a textbook until class began.
As the rest of the students filed into the room, I noticed something that made me feel a bit uneasy— I was the only man— outnumbered twenty-five to one. Normally, I wouldn’t even notice the male to female ratio in a classroom, but the thought of being the only man in a women’s history course is enough to strike fear in the bravest of hearts. My tension eased a bit, when, at the last moment, two other men walked through the door and sat down in a couple of empty desks on the side of the room opposite me.
As the last students were taking their seats, the professor entered the classroom. She was about thirty-five years old and wore thick, horn-rimmed glasses, which gave her an intellectual air. But any sign of intelligence ended there. When she opened her mouth and began to lecture, the classroom became engulfed in the noxious fumes of radical cant. What is worse, she took the most condescending approach to teaching that I have ever witnessed. She spoke softly, drawing out her words longer than necessary, as if all the students were emotionally unstable and might burst into tears upon hearing a loud noise. It would be only a minor exaggeration to say that she spoke to the students as if we were mentally deficient.
The professor was a flaming leftist, and the class was run like a cult. If anyone contemplated stepping out of the political line, they certainly did not follow through. The other students in the class not only refrained from challenging the professor’s absurd opinions, but actually egged her on by agreeing with her every time that she said something crazy.
I had gone into the class knowing that I was entering enemy territory. My plan was to challenge the professor each time her statements crossed the threshold of reason. In a classroom where a good percentage of the students are not leftists, this method is effective, because it stirs up the other students and puts pressure on the professor, forcing her to lecture in a more objective manner. But when every single student in the classroom agrees with the professor (i.e. they are all leftists), this method is ineffective. I therefore sat in quiet awe, just observing the anti-intellectual circus going on around me.
The professor began the lecture by putting two illustrations that she had cut out of newspapers on an overhead projector, then guiding the students in a lively critique of the cartoons, deconstructing them to show the ways in which they represent “gender.” The first illustration that she showed the class was a drawing of the Statue of Liberty, hunched over and weeping. Because the drawing was printed in the days immediately after the September 11th attacks, it was obvious to me that the artist had chosen the statue as his subject because it is America’s most recognizable symbol of freedom. By portraying the statue in such a way, the artist was expressing the grief of a nation.
My professor had a different opinion. She claimed that the artist selected the Statue of Liberty because American culture allows women to cry, but not men. In other words, the artist who rendered the drawing is not really permitted true artistic freedom but is, instead, controlled, if only subconsciously, by alien social forces that dictate to him what he can and cannot draw. He is shackled by a delusion. He is a slave to conformity.
When she said this, the young radicals in the classroom got excited and started pointing out the delicate (“feminine”) lines that the artist had used to render the drawing. The professor emphasized that the illustration in question proves that society sets down certain “gender roles” for men and women to follow. Our purpose as history students, the professor made quite clear, was to discover these gender roles and reject them.
The second illustration that she placed on the overhead projector was a depiction of a fat white man in a flannel shirt, making some slanderous comment about Muslims. Next to the fat man was a well-dressed man, ridiculing the fat man for his insensitivity. The professor again led the students through a “deconstruction” of the illustration, emphasizing that the well-dressed man was white, not black; nor was he a woman. Apparently this means that the artist cannot portray a black person or a woman as a figure of intelligence, because society will reject it. The whole process of analyzing cartoons took about an hour.
When this nonsense ended, the professor started a discussion about the September 11th attacks. At this point, a middle aged leftist in the front row began ranting and raving that the U.N. was not doing enough to feed the Afghan people and that the newspapers were not reporting it. The deranged radical raised her voice to the pitch of a yell, and her head, covered with long, sinewy hair, began bobbing back and forth so violently that she soon resembled a rag-doll.
I just sat there, staring at the back of this woman’s head and listening to her wretched voice turn the classroom into a full-blown, ideological freak show. Most professors would not stand for such an outburst. This particular professor, however, did not exactly demand respect. Her approach to the situation involved talking to the hysterical leftist with a gentle voice, assuring her that we all understood and empathized with the point that she was trying to make.
For whatever reason, the disgruntled radical in the front row decided, after a few minutes, that her demons had been exorcised, and she allowed the professor to continue “teaching.” The professor then divided the students into groups of four, and each group was given a specific question to answer concerning gender. I felt my stomach drop when the professor assigned the hysterical radical from the front row to my group. Although she was no longer flailing her head, the middle-aged leftist was wild-eyed and scary. When she sat down across from me and began speaking some form of left-wing jive talk, I got the feeling that her eyes were looking right through my face.
My group consisted of myself, two young girls, who were about eighteen years old, and the crazy radical who looked like she had just slithered out of the Woodstock film and landed in the desk opposite me. Our group was assigned the task of interpreting the following statement:
“At one end of the continuum lies committed homosexuality; between a wide-latitude of emotions and feelings. Certain cultures and environments permit individuals a great deal of freedom in moving across this spectrum. I would like to suggest that the nineteenth century was such a cultural environment. That is, the supposedly repressive and destructive Victorian sexual ethos may have been more flexible and responsive to the needs of particular individuals than those of the mid twentieth century.”
Before anyone else in the group had a chance to speak, the aging radical started talking about the history of homosexuality (she even included some of her own experiences). The two young girls in my group were apparently afraid to look at the radical because they timidly diverted their eyes from hers by staring down at their notebooks. I was left alone to deal with the leftist, who was a self-described “authority” on gay sex. She proceeded to convince me of this by laying out the history of homosexuality, from the Victorian era to World War II, through the 1960s and up to the present day. I got the feeling that this burned-out activist knew far more than anyone ever needed to know about homosexuality. According to the radical, she possessed this vast knowledge of gayness because she “took a class on it.”
After a while, the woman’s rambling became circular and I decided to interrupt. We were, after all, given an assignment (though an absurd assignment) to complete. I asked my group if they could find any evidence in the textbook to back up the author’s statement. It was a straightforward question and one that required only a minimal response. My question, however, offended the radical. She started nervously mumbling about being twelve years old and lying under the covers with her girlfriend, while they listened to Bobby Sherman records and kissed.
This was too much. I felt like I had been thrust into a scene from a Hunter Thompson novel where everyone has ingested too much mescaline and nothing makes sense. The young girls in my group started getting more nervous. They kept their eyes glued to their desks. I, on the other hand, grew increasingly frustrated with the obviously delusional socialist, who had done nothing but waste time while the other groups were completing their assignments. By this point, it was clear that we would not finish our collective task. Therefore, when the radical volunteered herself to be my group’s spokesman, I strongly encouraged her ambition.
When it was my group’s turn to present our information to the class, the radical stated some historical “facts,” with which the professor disagreed. This kicked off a minor argument between the professor, who spoke as if she was addressing an obstinate child, and the student radical, who somehow avoided yelling but still insisted that she was right. After this tension-filled episode, the professor gave the class a ten-minute break. By this point, I had realized the tone and scope of the course, and had decided that I did not want to waste my hard-earned money on a course that promised to be nothing but ridiculous. I used the break from class as an opportunity to gather up my books and escape the building.
As I walked away from the classroom, never to return, it felt like a yoke had been lifted from my shoulders— like I had kicked a bad habit on the first try. As fate would have it, this feeling only lasted for a few days.
Single Black Female: Race, Gender and Class in Latin America— These words stared at me from the top of a course syllabus, as I sat in a semi-circle, in a tiny classroom, with ten other students. I was startled to find out that this was the title of the course in which I had enrolled. The course catalog listed the class as a history colloquium concerning Latin America, so I assumed that the class would deal with Latin American history. I was wrong.
Within the first few minutes of class, the professor— a veteran leftist named Matilde Zimmermann, and author of a recent book called Sandinista— said that if the students had never studied Latin American history before, we should do some reading outside of class, because, “We’re not going to be getting that much into the history of Latin America.” Instead, we were going to read half a dozen testimonials written by pitiable women who lived in Latin America. We would then write papers about the ways in which these women are “oppressed” by their “race, gender and class.” In addition to these testimonials, the professor would supply us with essays by leading left-wing thinkers, among them, Marx’s writing partner, Friedrich Engels.
The main texts for the course included a book called Lieutenant Nun: Memoirs of a Basque Transvestite in the New World and, of course, the infamous title: I, Rigoberta Menchu— an autobiographical account of the life of a Guatemalan peasant that was recently proven to be an utter fabrication by David Stoll, an anthropologist who went to Guatemala and discovered that the key events in Menchu’s book are complete lies. Menchu’s screed, however, is still taught in American colleges because it glorifies the Castro-funded Marxist guerrillas who launched a short-lived assault against the Guatemalan government in the 1970s.
There were to be no tests in the course, only papers. Even these were not supposed to include many historical facts, but were designed to be outlets for the students to express our opinions concerning “oppression.” To my chagrin, I did not have the luxury of dropping this course. Doing so would have set me back an extra semester. I decided that I would sharpen my wits, be patient and choose my battles carefully.
The unmistakable left-wing slant to this course is characteristic of the situation found in many history departments today. By substituting radical tracts for real history, leftist professors completely insulate students not only from conservative ideas, but from history itself. The course in question did not offer me any substantial knowledge about Latin American History. And how could it? My classmates and I were not asked to purchase a single book that dealt with history, nor did the professor spend any significant amount of time lecturing about history.
My objection to the way that this teacher taught the class does not arise solely from my disagreement with radical ideas. If ever I enrolled in a course that was taught by a conservative who slanted the class unevenly to the right, my objections would be just as fervent. Imagine signing up for an American History course and then discovering that the main text for the course is a biography of William F. Buckley. Although this would never happen in a college, without the professor being tarred and feathered, for hypothetical purposes my objections would be the same— one simply cannot gain a greater knowledge of history, if one does not study history. Period.
The first paper that I completed for the class concerned a book called, Child Of The Dark, which describes the plight of a miserable peasant who struggled against great odds to provide a life for herself and her children in the favelas of Brazil, until, one day, a book that she wrote was published and she became a celebrity— receiving large royalties and becoming a highly sought after speaker on the college circuit. I focused my paper on this point and commented that the peasant woman’s accomplishments were a testament to the strength of an open market— by her own ambition, she was able to pull herself and her children out of poverty and settle them in relative wealth. My professor responded to my heterodox opinion by calling it “pollyannaish.”
This was war. I waited for the class discussion about Rigoberta Menchu. When it came around, I made a point to mention that the key events in Menchu’s book were nothing but garbage. After I made this point, the professor appeared to be caught off-guard and she readily agreed that parts of the book were apocryphal. Then, in a moment of desperation, the professor contradicted everything that she had just admitted by defending Menchu.
Trying to save face, the professor offered the class a truly pathetic explanation as to why David Stoll found Menchu’s tract to be a den of lies. Searching for an explanation, the professor stared at the ceiling for a few moments, in a contemplative gaze, then turned back to the class and informed everyone present that David Stoll is a very tall man and Guatemalans are very short.
From there, she expounded upon her theory, which possesses about as much intellectual oomph as any line from the Three Stooges. According to her theory, because Stoll towered over the diminutive Guatemalans, the little villagers whom he interviewed were afraid of him. In my professor’s words, “compared to Guatemalans, Stoll is a giant.” Because Stoll is so much taller than most Guatemalans, “they just told him what he wanted to hear.”
This was the best argument that my professor could formulate, in defense of the Nobel Prize winning Marxist, Rigoberta Menchu. When she finished making her case, it was evident by the looks on the faces of my classmates that both Menchu and my professor had lost some credibility. But there was no rebellion. In the weeks that followed, the other students did not question the professor’s opinions (which were presented as facts), nor, after the professor was revealed to be an intellectual joke, was there a mass exodus from the class. My classmates did not seem to mind greatly that the professor was a crackpot who inserted her own left-wing convictions in place of real knowledge. They all completed the remaining assignments without complaint and were always prepared to offer their opinions about the ways in which women are “oppressed.”
This is the great sin committed by radical professors. By substituting indoctrination for teaching, they deny students the intellectual foundation on which to form their own opinions, and leave them with a myopic, intellectually-lacking view of the world. In the case of my classmates, many of them had not the first clue about the history of Latin America, but were able to speak extensively about the way that a particular Nicaraguan or Salvadoran suffered “oppression.”
Such is the case for so many students of my generation— they graduate from college believing that they have been educated, but, other than the ability to think like a radical, they have actually learned next to nothing.
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