Monday, December 04, 2006




Over the past several months there has been an incessant drumbeat about the failure of American higher education to produce civically virtuous citizens. We know the usual suspects on the right on this issue. Former Federal Education Czar William Bennett comes easily to mind. Another is David Horowitz who after spending three minutes in the New Left about forty years ago has created a virtual cottage industry out of ‘documenting’ the alleged liberal bias of the American professoriate. The more johnnie-come lately types like Columbia Proessor Todd Gitlin have written whole books about the treason of the liberal intelligentsia for not marching in lockstep to every imperialist adventure any American government decides to engage in. Recently, within the space of one week two separate articles appeared in the weekday OP/Ed pages of the Boston Globe by regular columnist Cathy Young and then by guest commentator Elizabeth Kantor. What gives?

What gives is one of the old themes of the ‘cultural wars’ that have been with us since the first New Leftist of the 1960’s traded in his or her bullhorn and placard from the streets and adjourned to the nearest ivy-covered campus to bask in tenure-insured theoretical contemplation about the dangers of the world and the nasty betrayal of the struggle by the masses. If one really thinks about it the theme has been going on every since they made old Socrates take the hemlock. In any case, the commentators mentioned above believe that the liberal bias of the American professoriate has dulled the senses of patriotism, civic duty and history of today’s crop of students. For proof they rely on recent studies, particularly a University of Connecticut survey, which indicate that most college seniors know less about the world when they leave the leafy campuses then when they arrived.

But are the poor, bedraggled liberal professors with their quirky little theories, their alleged distain for the Western canon, their self-doubts and their penchant for bravely signing petitions for every worthy cause as their “radical’ acts of political awareness really the causal factor behind the apparent decline in civic virtue of the past half century. I think not. While this writer LIKES the Western canon and will freely admit publically for the first time, horror of horrors, that he LIKES John Milton’s poetry it has never hurt anyone to look at other bodies of literature and history from the’ forgotten’ of world history. Moreover, although the liberal ‘fight’ led by the professoriate to create pockets of ‘political correctness’ in the cloistered academy has sometimes set my teeth on edge it hardly is on the scale, of say- an average day of treachery by the Bush Administration and the Congress- in accelerating the decline of civic virtue.

Just to get a feel for what is going on among college students I recently walked around several campuses here in Boston, where you practically stumble over a college student with every turn you make. Here one can find all manner of student from Harvard’ ruling class in training to the lowly struggling junior college student studying hard to keep out of Iraq, and everything in between. That walk has led me to a very different conclusion from those faint-hearted conservative commentators. I witnessed first hand the intersection of 24/7 iPod nation, cell phone nation, and My Space Internet nation. That phenomenon, dear readers, is where the ‘death of civility’ is to be found. While on average today’s youth is probably smarter than previous generations there is just no time to go beyond the hyper-individualized trance necessary to balance all that technology. That long touted ride down that ‘information superhighway’ has taken a greater toll on the body politic than one might think.

Additional note: As an alternate theory to the conclusions from my tour above I offer this. The “enhanced” prospects for increased social life (read-party time) created by campus life and the mania for sports events such as big-time college football and March Madness college basketball should be carefully analyzed as factors in the decline of civic virtue. Hell, wait a minute- how is that so different from the generation of ’68, my generation. We did the same damn things? Let the college students breathe a little, make their mistakes and learn from them. Maybe we will even make a few revolutionaries in the process. Enough said.

1 comment:

  1. (sin nombre) (sin nombre)
    Que la justicia del hombre sea haga verdadera, esperamos que caigan los cómplices fascistas que sembraron odio en nuestro pueblo. Que este paria se nos fue impune. Saludos Carola