American non-education

A magazine cover story about postmodern life on the American college campus depicts three monkeys in cap and gown, covering their ears, eyes and mouth, a parody of the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil caricature. But students at many colleges actually get quite the opposite. They're required to hear, see, speak and study all about evil, as long as it's the evil oppression of everybody in American society.

Parents, inoculate yourselves. It may be too late for your children.

There's an emphasis on multicultural studies and few campuses have escaped the disease, and it's not yet Halloween. The title of a course taught to undergraduates in American studies at New York University, for example, is called "Intersections: Gender Race and Sexuality in U.S. History and Politics." You might think this is a strange way to get at American history. The class spends a week analyzing the murder of Teena Brandon (aka Brandon Teena), a young woman who pretended to be a man, and includes the screening of the movie, "Boys Don't Cry," the narrative version.

The following week students study the life and murder of Tupac Shakur, the "gangsta" rapper whose rough and raw lyrics glorified drugs, abusing women and the violence that finally took his life. There's "Queer Lives and Culture," "Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora," and a discussion of the relationship of gender, race and war in Haiti through the lens of "Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism." One teaching assistant of this course describes herself as an "anti-racist queer activist feminist." That covers just about everything, except the tuition for a year at NYU, which parents shell out $40,000.

Smith College, the elite school that once was only for women, and still is, sort of, has a different problem. About two dozen women who arrived as female have become male, more or less. The Financial Times reports that some of the more traditional "girls in pearls" on campus think the new "guys" should transfer to a co-ed college. Smith has long been "gay friendly," but now that girls have become "boys" Smithies joke that the school motto is "Queer in a year or your money back." It's not a joke, and it costs $37,000 a year.

Somewhere Sophia Smith is spinning. The Massachusetts woman who left her fortune to create a college where women "could develop as fully as may be the powers of womanhood" did not have a third sex in mind. Once known for their dedication to academic rigor, Smith students voted to change the school constitution to purge all "gender-specific" language. No "she" and no "her," but an all-purpose "student." The Rev. L. Clark Seelye, the first president of Smith College, said that the study of English should produce clarity of thought and expression. Other seats of higher learning have gone farther, creating synthetic pronouns, using "hir" for "her" or "his," and "ze" for "she" and "he". You thought "herstory" for "history" was a joke.

Smith is not alone in disfiguring what passes for education. A popular introductory freshman course at the University of Pennsylvania deconstructs Herman Melville and other dead white males (if not white whales), seeking hidden meanings of homosexuality, pederasty and incest. Majors in the humanities are down, and why not? In "Binge: What Your College Student Won't Tell you," author Barrett Seaman finds lots of colleges that promote gay-ity. Vassar College has a "Homo Hop" and the Queer Student Union at Williams College holds a "Queer Bash" with gay pornography, widely attended by straight students. Adrienne Rich, a lesbian poet, encourages young women to experiment with homosexuality and bisexuality.

An authentic liberal education promotes both character and understanding with a rigorous study of what Matthew Arnold called "the best that is known and thought in the world." When dead white males like Thomas Jefferson and John Milton are replaced, or must compete with popular studies about transgendered males and newly-minted homosexual heroes in classic novels, students are deprived of any trace of disciplined thought. They're doubly vulnerable when at the same time they're encouraged to indulge in undisciplined social experimentation without anchors of moral reference.

"Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Afro-American Studies, Women's Studies, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Studies," writes Roger Kimball, author of "Tenured Radicals," in New Criterion magazine, "are not the names of academic disciplines but political grievances... Parents are alarmed, rightly so, at the spectacle of their children going off to college one year and coming back the next having jettisoned every moral, religious, social and political scruple they have been brought up to believe." These studies inhibit debate, corrupt young minds and infect learning with a virus for which, like bird flu, there is not yet an antidote.


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