This article first appeared in the American Spectator (https://spectator.org/an-open-letter-to-american-academia/)
By: John C Wohlstetter, Senior Fellow
During my educational lifetime — K4-12 in private school (Riverdale Country School, NYC 1956-65); college (University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, 1965-69); law school (Fordham University School, NYC, 1974-77); and graduate school (the George Washington University, Washington, DC, 1983-85) — I was under the tutelage of over one hundred professors.
My instructors encompassed a broad political spectrum, from progressive far-left to conservative far-right. Needless to say, none were true extremists — avatars of imposing totalitarian belief systems on free societies. Most were disciples of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, a political philosophy that dominated American life from FDR’s first presidential win in 1932, to the revolutionary year 1968 that shattered the Roosevelt Coalition.
I can remember most of my teachers whom I encountered during those 18 years spent in educational institutions. A few were truly great teachers; many were good to excellent; others were so-so; and inevitably there were a few who were bad apples. A few regarded me, in turn, as excellent or good; many thought me so-so; and a few thought me a royal pain. All of them were correct: like many pupils, I did well when I liked the teacher and subject, so-so when I liked one but not both, and awful when I liked neither.
Although their pedigree spanned most of the American political spectrum, and their competence levels ran the gamut, so to speak, from A to Z, they all had several things in common:
- None of them even attempted to indoctrinate me, nor did I witness them trying to do so with my fellow classmates.
- None of them would have considered grading me poorly if I did not share their political beliefs.
- None of them would have refused to reveal to parents what material they were teaching us — let alone brazenly lied outright.
- None of them worked in schools that would have denied the rights of parents to know what was being openly taught in the classroom.
- None of them would even have dreamed of encouraging students to inform on their parents, monitoring their elders for any of the myriad, and constantly expanding, violations of multicultural political correctness — “micro-aggressions” in today’s debased parlance.
Yet today we find ourselves in such a poisonous academic environment that school boards around the country openly scorn parental rights, as they seek to do to this generation’s students what was never done to us. Ground Zero for today’s movement to hyper-politicize Academia is the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state whose ancestors provided more Founding Fathers and Constitutional Framers than any other — all now under withering fire from the “woke” professoriate and other occupiers of the commanding heights of American culture.
The Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, a former occupant seeking to return to the Statehouse, also the leading fundraiser for the Clinton machine during its dominant years in power, openly proclaims that parents have no right whatsoever to know what their children are being taught in the state’s schools. We will know this November if the voters of Old Dominion share his view of the power and prerogative of the professoriate and their teachers unions.
Once before, after the former Soviet Union shocked the world on October 4, 1957 by launching Sputnik I into low-Earth orbit to ignite the Space Race, Americans saw education recast to place more emphasis on mathematics and the hard sciences. America rapidly responded by launching its first satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958. The culmination of that effort was the July 20, 1969 Moon landing. But Americans last walked on the Moon in December 1972. The unified America that rose to meet that grand challenge is a distant memory. In the event, sparking cultural revival today is a far more complex challenge than was merely revamping parts of the educational curriculum.
In a country whose factions have become divided to the point of civil war, it will take serial mass voter uprisings against educational tyranny to restore educational institutions to their traditional role — or if need be, replace the current deeply corrupt system if it cannot change. If Academia continues its current course, it will produce an America less free, less prosperous, less civilized, a former superpower permanently weakened on the world stage.
And American Academia will then discover the truth first revealed by Jacques Danton in 1794, as the French Revolution turned on its creators:
All totalitarian revolutions, like the Roman agricultural deity Saturn, eventually devour their own children.
As we come upon the 64th anniversary of the challenge to explore the Heavens, there is some good news. For its part, NASA has put land rovers and a helicopter on Mars — the first-ever flying machine to circle another planet in our Solar System. And private spaceflight with reusable rockets has become a prominent feature of present and future space exploration.
The next step should be to reform academia so as to promote and preserve the society that made so many things possible that were once thought impossible. We cannot do this if our elite educational establishments graduate students with more credentials in “woke” pseudo-studies, and fewer in disciplines airily dismissed by today’s totalitarians as “white supremacy” studies.
Those remaining in Academia who wish to reverse the downward spiral in student achievement and academic freedom must make their voices heard. They must ally themselves with voters of all persuasions who share the same goals. It may already be too late to undertake this endeavor. But if it is not so, the time to begin rebuilding our educational institutions is now.
John Wohlstetter is a Senior Fellow at the Gold Institute for Interanational Strategy.