For quite some time now the libertarian faction of the right has been privy to a fact that bleeding heart liberals and moderate scholars alike have either overlooked or blatantly ignored: that our education system is fundamentally damaged. Not just damaged, but internally disrupted—possibly beyond repair. It’s a disheartening reality that seemingly no one, save for comedians and entertainers, wants to acknowledge. To add to that, nobody cares to identify the root of the problem.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, many schools took the initiative of hiring new age thinkers. White, left-wing teachers were employed and used their positions of power to combat the rampant racism and sexism prevalent in those eras. The idea was to promote acceptance and a broader span of empathetic thinking. To which I say, for the most part, “Mission accomplished.” Now it’s 2016 and some of these teachers are still working… which would be fine if their mentalities were updated and applied to today’s generation. Remnants of the hippie movement (and their figurative burdened offspring) have continued their ways and kept a tight grip on the education system. Moreover, in the past twenty years, they’ve weakened it.
That’s not to say that racism and sexism have been eradicated. They certainly do exist and are unfortunately common. But the narrative being driven is that every layer of American society is laced with hatred and patriarchy. And thus, the smallest action of any individual, such as saying “hello” to a passerby or even just tying your shoe a certain way, has dire consciences on the marginalized. This is being pushed in schools throughout the United States. In effect, ‘fear culture’ is now more popular than ever. You have students seeking out ‘safe spaces’ and attempting to identify problematic behavior. They’re protesting against ‘harmful’ and ‘triggering’ art and literature – not for the sake of themselves, but selflessly for the 3% of adults with PTSD. Is this a reaction of sensitivity or is it a fear of being marked racist or sexist by a lack of sensitivity? Emotion has counteracted learning in a now wide scale epidemic. But this isn’t necessarily something new.
In seventh grade my classmates and I were introduced to the concept of feminism by an English teacher we’ll refer to as Mr. Abram. Mr. Abram was roughly 55 at the time (keep in mind this was 2003, 2004) and really just couldn’t get enough of the women’s movement. Over the course of four semesters, we learned about female pioneers. He lectured us about the importance of women in history and how their strides had been downsized as a result of sexism and societal decay. And nothing he said was incorrect. It truly was educational. But this was an English class. There was never any mention of Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickins, Maya Angelou, or anyone else that might have been, you know, relevant to the curriculum. What’s more, he concentrated on that as much as he taught us English.
Everyone in my class noticed this but dismissed it as a weird quirk of Mr. Abram’s. Nothing more, nothing less. What’s perhaps more intriguing now, in hindsight, was that he rarely ever brushed upon the history of other marginalized groups. I can still recall an incident that occurred early in the school year where a black student named Julian tried to equate Tupac Shakur to one of the many movers-and-shakers Mr. Abram had been harping on about. The result? He was promptly shut down. When Julian and two other black students took grief with this, Mr. Abram and his pale, sweat-screened face quickly changed the subject and brought it back to the ladies. Before the year was over, Mr. Abram would reveal that he partook in racist bullying in the 1960s, because “it was part of the time.”
Fast-forward eight years and a high school diploma later and I, along with many other college students, found ourselves in mandatory ‘elective’ courses dealing with gender and discrimination. Valuable knowledge, sure, but everything we learned had been covered to that point in both high school and middle school. It wasn’t worth doling out well over a thousand dollars a course to learn more of the same. Not to mention that at least one of the classes – Men & Masculinity (taught by the same professor who covered Twenty-First Century Feminism) had, ironically enough, very little to do with men and masculinity. The woman who taught the course carried her ideologies into it and, instead of delving into the psyche of hyper-masculine men or helping us piece together why males act the way they do, it turned into ‘How Masculinity Affects Women 101.’
In ‘Ecofeminism: Philosophy & Practice’ we gradually drifted into the topic of racism. In the 2014 film Dear White People, Tessa Thompson’s character Sam informs the dean of her school that black people cannot be racist because racism is power and prejudice. The same thing occurred in my class – but replace Tessa Thompson with a middle aged white woman and the dean with me, a then twenty-one year old, pasty-faced Greek zilch. It was like an ethnically bland special episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years.
This was not my first encounter with the rebranding of racism as ‘power and prejudice’ but it was the first time I had stumbled upon its origin. Having actually read the text book, I was informed that Peggy McIntosh—a white lady—had taken it upon herself to overrule Webster’s Dictionary and its definition of racism as being ‘hatred of or violence against people because of their race.’ A white woman, burdened by the sins of her race, had reshaped how the word was viewed. She tailored it to fit the white guilt complex, thus erasing the ability and notability of racial minorities being able to discriminate against one another. So when my Ecofeminism professor cut through what little line of subtlety there was and made the argument that only white people could be racist, I made it a point to showcase an example from my old neighborhood. There was an Asian housing director who had been investigated and demoted for turning away a disproportionate amount of low-income black and Hispanic families after having served the position for nearly a decade. The professor’s argument was that this was an act of ‘White Supremacy.’ An Asian woman, who had immigrated to the United States, discriminating against blacks and Hispanics was White Supremacy. This was something we were taught in class.
Similar traits of the discussion I had with that professor were found in other, related courses. When feminism was discussed, it had to be about western feminism. If you dared bring up, say, clitoral circumcision in Yemen or the inordinate amount of violence against women in India, Russia, or Sudan, it would immediately be dispatched from the conversation in favor of cat calling and high-heeled shoes. One professor replied with, ‘many activists are taking care of it’ and another was as bold to say, ‘it’s their culture.’ Again, this is what we were paying nearly $20,000 a year for.
There is an ever-present shallowness to the way these topics are handled in our schools and challenging notions regarding them is met with assumptions of prejudice and/or ignorance. But the truth is we have a number of working professionals operating with an ideology at the forefront of their brains and education at the back. It has watered down the ability to learn. Teachers should be like scientists, unless they’re presenting philosophical ideas and theories in the right forum, they should align themselves with facts. The goal is to expand minds, not to reel in thinking and discourse. Until this is dealt with head on, we’re doomed to a future where society will continue to assume the worst in people and limit constructive social analysis.