The New Kind of Education

by Jan Baughman

November 26, 2001

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The power elite, with their war on terrorism, anti-free speech, don't criticize the government, and either you're with us or you're with them, have declared their next victim: America's universities and colleges. Farewell to critical thinking, freedom of expression and having the world at your fingertips. Unfortunately, from the looks of the report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It," any rebuttal will be about as constructive as debating abortion or prayer in school. Now add to that list of hands-off subjects any anti-war sentiment or criticism of the US government. But let's give it a try.

According to the report, "The fact remains that academe is the only sector of American society that is distinctly divided in its response [to the 9-11 attacks]. Indeed, expressions of pervasive moral relativism are a staple of academic life in this country and an apparent symptom of an educational system which has increasingly suggested that Western civilization is the primary source of the world's ills — even though it gave us the ideals of democracy, human rights, individual liberty, and mutual tolerance."

We gave the world democracy, so we are forever immune from criticism.

I gave you life; therefore, I control you. Logic as flawed as that contained in this pathetic report on the state of education today and the future of civilization as we define it, produced by an organization that claims to support the free exchange of ideas.

ACTA was founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney (wife of our Vice President) and Joseph Lieberman (our would-be Vice President) and "...is dedicated to working with alumni, donors, trustees and education leaders across the country to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically-balanced, open-minded, high-quality education at an affordable price." Lofty ideals, which unravel when the free exchange of ideas delves into uncomfortable and unacceptable territory.

ACTA's web site includes a section on Academic Freedom, which begins with the following quote:

The most serious problems of freedom of expression in our society today exist on our campuses.... The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind.
–Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University (1991)

It's worth noting that ACTA states that "The report calls on college and university trustees to make sure their institutions offer strong core curricula that pass on to the next generation the legacy of freedom and democracy." Sounds to me like a blatant attempt to induce correct opinion.

The section then begins:

"Academic freedom is a modern term for an idea with roots in ancient Greece: the right to follow an argument, wherever it may lead. It is the belief that intellectual inquiry must be protected against those who, for whatever reason, may try to deny it, shape it, silence it, or punish it; and that the unfettered pursuit of truth is central to the purpose of the college or university and fundamental for human progress."

I guess it all depends on what your definitions of "truth" and "human progress" are.

Anyway, in response to 9-11, they launched the "Defense of Civilization Fund." "The Fund will be used to support and defend the study of American history and civics and of Western Civilization. The Fund's first project is this report." The "Defense of Civilization Fund" should have been called "The Defense of US Civilization Fund." But I guess that goes without saying. That is what this war's about, after all.

This report has received much criticism in the press for singling out professors and taking their quotes out of context to support its claims. It includes 117 examples of anti-American, anti-war statements made on campuses and collected from news reports around the country. Some are as innocuous as this comment by a Stanford University professor: "If Osama Bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United states should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity." Others are more 'daring' as this statement by a University of Washington professor: "[M]any people consider the United States to be a terrorist state."

And the report is filled with sweeping statements such as the following:

"Rarely did professors publicly mention heroism, rarely did they discuss the difference between good and evil, the nature of Western political order of the virtue of a free society. Indeed the message of much of academe was clear: BLAME AMERICA FIRST." In other words, they didn't spew the party line.

If one could find a ray of sunshine within the clouds of this war, it is that many Americans are taking an interest in learning about Islam, Afghanistan, geography perhaps. Yet the report sites that "Ironically, instead of ensuring that students understand the unique contributions of America and Western civilization — the civilization under attack — universities are rushing to add courses on Islamic and Asian cultures...It is indeed important that Americans know about the ideas and achievements of all of the world's cultures. But in the rush to add courses, these institutions frequently reinforced the mindset that it was America — and America's failure to understand Islam — that were to blame."

We are not at war with Islam, and ignorance is bliss.

Yes, if we only teach our children about the history of this country and the virtues of democracy, and not of the outside world, then perhaps we won't have to contend with another generation of conscientious objectors. They won't know any better or anything different, and they'll undyingly support our government's actions. Don't teach children about other countries, and they won't care when we obliterate them.

If we can't even learn from studying America's own history, let alone questioning it, then we are doomed. Perhaps I'm biased — I'm just another scientist educated in America. Please read the report, and form your own opinion.


Jan Baughman is a scientist in the Biotech Industry. When Jan does not travel around the world on behalf of the company where she manages a clinical research department, she spends most of her time devouring books like candies and relaxing over the preparation of the finest recipes in Northern California. She started writing at a very young age when she found this mode of expression easier than having to answer the perpetually boring and conservative chit-chat around her. Jan's sense of observation is directly related to her sense of humor. She is a founding member and co-editor of Swans, and brings to the site wit and a lightness of being.

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Published November 26, 2001
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