Yet, while students, teachers, and administrators in unison proclaim students advanced and sophisticated thinkers, studies, like one just released by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, show that knowledge of civics is rapidly declining — and that a college education makes little difference in alleviating ignorance. Test scores in reading comprehension and writing (argumentative) skills — the real tests of being able to think “critically” — continue to slip downward. These studies are backed up by my observations in the classroom, where I find myself increasingly needing to provide a definition for communism, and pointing out that, despite a scholarly estimation of the “brilliance” of Mao Tse-tung’s political strategy, he was a brutal dictator.
So what is going on in the classroom? If there is no bias and if teachers are simply teaching the material, and if students are such good thinkers, why don’t students know more about history and civics? Isn’t “critical thinking” a step beyond basic knowledge?
A lot of discussion and reading is going on. Anthologies are thickened with each new edition with verbiage from editors’ colleagues. Students come into class versed in vague theories about postmodernism and social justice, and esoterica like habits of a polygamous tribal chief of “African civilization.” They see Islam as the Religion of Peace, while Christianity is seen as handmaiden to Western imperialism.
I doubt that such a well-researched alternative as A Patriot’s History of the United States would find its way onto many reading lists, or its view into the introductory material of anthologies. Soviet dissidents like Alexander Solzhenitsyn are dismissed. The instructor is likely to follow the lead of most universities, and most recently Harvard, and substitute other types of literature, like “protest literature,” for formerly required British surveys.
Professors use school funds to attend conventions, where they meet at “round tables” and share strategies for surreptitiously introducing “gender” — all nine by famous feminist theorist Judith Butler’s count — into discussions about Russian history or Renaissance literature. Even where core curriculums are still in place, be aware: these teachers are infusing such Marxist-inspired theories. Even schools affiliated with Christian denominations have professors who brag, “Nobody knows. I teach the way I want to” — as one did to me last weekend.
So terms like Obama’s “spreading the wealth” and “redistributing income” clang pleasantly inside a freshman’s skull, echoing such cozy nostrums as “social justice” and “sharing.”
Yet, while asking one of my students why he was voting for Obama, I learned that he was for “change.” (Full disclosure: this was after the student brought up “change” as point of comparison to another “historic” personage whose speeches we were discussing.) But no one in class knew who Bill Ayers was, who the Weathermen were, and what they did. Such evidence of ignorance, however, does not dampen their estimation of their own decision-making abilities.
As anyone who has dealt with the four-year-old who insists “I know how to do it!” understands, arrogance is inversely proportional to age. Professors who themselves are perpetually in the stage of rebellious adolescence are not likely to recognize or report their own biases on surveys. Their students don’t know enough to know what they don’t know, and how much of it their professors are keeping from them.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, there are “studies,” and then there are damned studies.