When it comes to higher education in America, the lunatics are running the asylum.
While academia’s leftist bias is nothing new (a 2005 study calculated a 72 to 15 percent liberal advantage), the increasingly extremist views of today’s educators means that bias may be more dangerous than ever. And that’s a national tragedy—few things outside of the Alamo and apple pie are more American than education.
Primary education was free nationwide by the 1920s; we are currently home to more than half of the world’s best universities; and although America makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we claim more than one-third of its Nobel laureates. But our dominance in higher education is now in jeopardy of falling victim to the current wave of political correctness
Few men would be prouder of this rich history, and wearier of its current lunacy, than Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia. Perhaps the most studied of the founding fathers recognized more than anyone the importance of educating a populace that would vote regularly on its leadership. As UC-Berkeley Professor Timothy Ferris puts it:
“Jefferson understood the importance of education sustaining democracy. He realized that government is the work of everyone and that learning is, ongoing learning is the work of the whole society.”
Jefferson, like so many of the Founding Fathers, was steeped in the European Enlightenment that revolutionized our ideas of everything from politics to philosophy. And perhaps nothing was more central to this transformative movement than was education; in fact, literacy in Europe increased immensely during this time.
The Enlightenment was characterized by the exchange of ideas and challenging the status quo, which in Jefferson’s era generally meant challenging the Church. The arts and sciences were blossoming like never before, with revolutionary theories such as Deism around every intellectual corner. If the Enlightenment can be summed up by a single phenomenon, it is the dissemination of ideas.
The challenge to orthodoxy was greater than at possibly any point since the fall of the Roman Empire. And now, centuries later, the battle rages once again.
These days, however, higher education has become the institution that refuses to be challenged, the rigid body of orthodoxy whose disdain for dissent has begun to seriously influence the nature and direction of American political thought.
Consider the latest academic boogeyman: microaggressions. These vague, and likely innocuous, expressions are things most of us take for granted as, well, normal conversation. Yet to academia they are blatant examples of verbal oppression—phrases such as “Where are you from?” or “America is a melting pot” now mean “You are not a true American” or you are “Denying the significance of a person of color’s racial/ethnic experience and history,” respectively.
This idea to ban certain phrases seems aimed at providing wider classroom comfort, yet free expression rejects an individual’s comfort over the larger good of, well, free expression. In fact, one might argue that discomfort is at the very root of actual education. It’s hard to imagine any student of the Enlightenment, let alone Jefferson, restricting speech for the sake of an individual when it goes against the greater good of debate and dialogue.
Whereas the Enlightenment welcomed the free exchange of ideas, today’s great thinkers, predominantly in the humanities and social sciences, seek to squash the questioning of academic orthodoxy as if it were a mosquito.
There are countless examples, but a few are especially poignant: take The Primary Source for instance, a Tufts University conservative student newspaper that was punished (and then backed by the ACLU of all things) for satirizing the school’s diversity policies; or admitted feminist Laura Kipnis, who was nearly led to the professional gallows by her own students for questioning the value of the newly en vogue idea of “rape culture”; or the rejection of Bjorn Lomborg’s Consensus Centre, to be housed at the University of Western Australia, because he dared to proclaim that perhaps climate change wasn’t the most dire threat facing humanity.
Enlightened yet? Academia both here and on the other side of the world has become too radical for the ACLU, career feminists, and the Danes! Any further left and you will fall off the flat Earth.
Last time I checked there was nothing “enlightening” about institutional groupthink. Today’s vaulted educational institutions are openly rejecting the central idea of the movement they claim to mimic—the dissemination of ideas—and they’re getting away with it. Americans, and much of the Western world, can no longer tell the difference between education and indoctrination, and that was truly Jefferson’s worst nightmare.
You see, despite Jefferson’s likely classical education, it seems clear that he was worried much less about our ability to recite Shakespeare than he was our vulnerability to the political class. After all, in a newly born nation made up almost entirely of frontier, American education would first and foremost require practicality.
There is no shortage of historical record in this regard, all crystal clear in its meaning. For example:
“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty”—to James Madison, 1787.
“If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education”—to Joseph C. Cabell, 1818.
Learned people were smooth talkers, he knew that much. And if democracy was to succeed, the less learned should at least be able to separate the pepper from the ant droppings.
But that seemingly trivial task has become increasingly difficult in the current media environment, in which the journalists that serve as information gatekeepers are steeped in the ideology of the very institutions that reject free thought.
While the majority of the media claim to be “Independent” (just as the majority of convicts claim to be innocent), barely over 7 percent identify as “Republican,” compared to 28 percent for the other side of the aisle. No matter how much they may resent the phrase, academia’s anti-Enlightenment orthodoxy is “trickling down.”
Hence the meteoric rise of senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders? Why, for even after American capitalism created the greatest nation in the history of the world, and after witnessing firsthand the fall of the Communist bloc, even as Greece begs for scraps and the shelves of Venezuela run dry, do we look to the very policies that destroyed our enemies to save ourselves?
The answer is simple: voters don’t know any better, because our educational system, and the journalists it has produced, has failed them. When journalists are steeped in the ideology of those they are supposed to be questioning, society suffers. Information becomes propaganda. The lines are blurred. The public, beholden to the media for “the truth,” are led like sheep to the slaughter, I mean, polls. History repeats itself.
And all this nonsense comes at a steadily increasing price tag: from 1985-2011 the cost of college increased nearly 500 percent, or more than four times the rate of inflation. If you think ignorance is expensive, try higher education.
But there is consolation, at least for Jefferson. If the left has its way, he will be erased from history like the socialist failures of the last few decades. In an irresistible yet tragic bit of irony, CNN anchors Ashleigh Banfield and Don Lemon have floated the idea of removing the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., while Connecticut Democrats have struck his name (along with Andrew Jackson’s) from an annual dinner.
No longer will America’s earliest champion of education be associated with the bastardization of his dream.