Monday, April 20, 2009

American Education: Where Do Bad Ideas Come From?


By Barry Rubin

A friend of mine is an expert on education. We were in his apartment in New York maybe 6-8 years ago. He said: the schools are so bad that I bet my son doesn't even know about George Washington. He called in his 12 year old son and asked what he knew about George Washington. His son said--no kidding, "George Washington Carver?"

In subsequent discussion, he couldn't tell us anything about the American revolution, the Constitution, or the Federalist papers. And he was a smart young man. He just hadn't been informed.

When I was a visiting professor at a U.S. university a couple of years back, a colleague told me that he had been ridiculed in a meeting for saying that teaching should be balanced. "Your idea is very old-fashioned and boring," another professor told him. "Here's how I teach my course on international environmental issues. In the first class I tell the students that the United States is the main cause of international environmental problems. In the rest of the classes I prove it."

Now, if you are asking yourself what people are being taught nowadays at American colleges, take a look at this:

and then at this:

Professor of Politics Shampa Biswas explains that Edward Said's Orientalism is her intellectual foundation; that you can't criticize female genital mutilation since, after all, the Western world has anorexia, and that you can't say the September 11 attacks were immoral.

In a convocation address, she explains that the Bush adminstration seeks to relaunch nineteenth century imperialism and the main job of higher education is to fight against it.

If you think I'm exaggerating, go and see for yourself--it's even worse.

The fact that a person with this world view is teaching "politics" is pretty frightening, though protected by academic freedom. But please note, however, that the college is bragging about her and her views as something it's proud to have representing it. And they chose her to explain to the entire student body that its main task was to rebel against the evil American system's policies.

Indeed, the university site's celebration of her says that she, "is as much instigator as educator in her academic life." She does go on to say her goal is to make students think and open up their ideas. But I hope I'm not being unfair when I reply that I can just imagine what her classroom is like.

Oh, and yes she even ends with a quote from Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist party and the great theorist of making a revolution through gaining control of intellectual and cultural institutions.

Please note, as a liberal and even the parliamentary candidate of a social democratic party, I am not coming from some reactionary political stance. The kind of thinking she represents is anti-liberal and profoundly subversive--in a bad sense, not the positive one that such people put on it--of the university's purpose.

So ask not where all the people with terrible, anti-democratic, and anti-American ideas are coming from. As Karl Marx once put it, even the educators must be educated.

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