Correcting Course

Carol Iannone

I’m writing this at one solstice and it will be read as we move toward another. You no sooner arrive at the longest day, than the days begin to contract, at the shortest, and they begin to expand. “What we call the beginning is often the end,” writes T.S. Eliot. “And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”1 In this issue we look forward and back, past and present, and find that they are in a sense the same, and both important.

The main reason for the “National” in National Association of Scholars is our state affiliate network, established by NAS’s indefatigable first president Stephen H. Balch in the early years of the organization. Some of these state and local affiliates are still thriving but some have fallen silent. Now in a For the Record entry, “For the Flourishing of Our State Affiliates: A New NAS Policy,” current NAS president Peter Wood calls for a revival of this vital activity, both to encourage “a sense of community” among like-minded members and “to further the substantive work of the National Association of Scholars,” that is, “to uphold standards, to foster intellectual freedom, to search for truth, and to promote virtuous citizenship.” Wood emphasizes the importance of local initiative in forming and sustaining chapters, but also presents a virtual manual of practical guidance and specific instruction in how to go about it.

While Wood looks forward, Balch looks back, commemorating the organization’s thirtieth anniversary in “I Came. I Saw. I Confess. My Years at the NAS.” He captures the sense of dire necessity and sunny possibility that prompted the founding, and relates its many achievements through the years of his leadership, for example, in the formation of spin-off organizations such as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and in programs furthered by NAS member Bruce Cole as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, with bracing input from the NAS.

Thus, even before we get to our special section, “Wrong Turns, Dead Ends, and the Way Back,” we feel the connectedness of ends and beginnings and the importance of charting, following, and correcting course.

Correcting course is likely what dean of students John Ellison at the University of Chicago had in mind when he sent a welcoming letter to the incoming class last August, stressing the university’s commitment to freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry, and repudiating such notions as “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” in the pursuit of knowledge. But as KC Johnson details in “Safe Spaces and Defending the Academic Status Quo,” Ellison was met with furious opposition from progressives who insist that students do most certainly require such protections, along with, at times, “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma,” as one journalist cited by Johnson recorded. Such “trauma” might arise, for example, when a student feels “bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.” For years campus liberals have insisted on what they call “critical thinking,” which is indeed meant to challenge “dearly and closely held beliefs,” only not those, one concludes, of the progressive Left.

In a way, though, one can sympathize with that last complaint of being “bombarded,” at least in its generalized form, given the cacophony of chaos and confusion on the contemporary campus, and the lack of commitment to truth, logic, evidence, and any sober and orderly means of undertaking intellectual inquiry.

Ironically, however, even as the social justice stalwarts defend the right to be protected from such horrors as “microaggressions,” Althea Nagai shows how very slim to nonexistent is the evidence on which their supposed harmfulness rests. In “The Pseudo-Science of Microaggressions,” she explains the fallacies in some of the major studies, many of which are based on a handful of subjects and are, as with much so-called social science nowadays, non-repeatable, given that they are based on subjective responses to ephemeral circumstances.

Likewise, in “The Dangers of Racial Thinking,” Dan Subotnik exposes the intellectual impoverishment of campus discourse on race, and highlights how “critical race theory,” especially in the law schools, intensified and justified the anger and resentment of blacks, and made honest discussion of racial issues impossible, both in the academic setting and beyond.

Of interest apropos Subotnik’s essay is the news that, after strenuous efforts and an embattled FOIA request, University of Arkansas law professor Robert Steinbuch was able to obtain true information on the first-time bar exam pass rate for the university’s law school graduates. He persisted, even in the teeth of opposition from colleagues who believed that his research into such differences was “distressing” to students. In the event, Steinbuch discovered that the pass rate was 78 percent for whites and 53 percent for blacks. “Notably,” according to an article on Campus Reform, “Steinbuch also found that of all the students admitted whose LSAT scores were below the benchmark of 150, just two managed to pass the bar exam on their first try.”2 The question arises, who really benefits from affirmative action?

If Nagai reveals the shaky foundations of the recent social science on microaggressions, “Compounding Error: The Afterlife of Bad Science,” by Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva and Judit Dobránszki, two scholars who live in Japan and Hungary, respectively, shows serious erosion even in the rock underlying hard science. Pointing out the alarming way in which errors and fallacies in scientific literature continue to be perpetuated through ongoing citation, sometimes after the original faulty article has been retracted, the authors advance the need for what is being termed “post-publication peer review.” Readers might recall the sudden seizure of public fear regarding studies claiming that childhood vaccinations can induce autism, a finding since repudiated. Read how that started.

It may come as a surprise to our readers, but a national network of economic education was established after WWII for all levels, and has continued, more or less, to this day. One of those economic educators, Robert Highsmith, details the history of this effort in “Economic Illiteracy: Why Has K–12 Economic Education Failed?” and admits its relative lack of success—at least among the general population, who seem accustomed to accepting such ideas as advanced by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign: “Obamacare is the biggest job-killer in this country—millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work.”

I confess to being one of the economically ignorant, but I dare say that many Americans can recognize the hyperbole in such statements, while still accepting that they carry a general truth, so the economic education of recent decades may have been at least moderately successful after all.

Meanwhile, the atheists are working hard to rid our public square of any sign of religious delight, even as they ape religious gesture. The publicity for Richard Dawkins’s 2013 three-part documentary, Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life, features him in a prayerful pose, in which he must be contemplating his own magnificence since he eschews any higher power. But even the atheists are no match for the relentless insistence on the righteously preached “inconvenient truths” of the radical environmentalists, as shown in this issue’s poem, “Religious Climate,” by William Irwin and Read Mercer Schuchardt, a pointed little rhyme that asks the reader to fill in the ending. See how well you do.

In review essays, we have “Really Safe Spaces,” in which James W. Springer comments on two books about the crucial work of preserving the past: Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended Up in Museums—And Why They Should Stay There, by Tiffany Jenkins, and Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums by Samuel J. Redman. Controversy exists over whether the art and artifacts of civilization and the human biological past should be returned to their “rightful” owners, those with some preexisting claim. Pointing how very slippery the idea of rightful ownership can be, Springer argues that the proper place for such treasures is in museums, where they can be properly curated and exhibited for all to study and enjoy.

Jeff Zorn contributes our second review essay, “Studied Ignorance,” in which he reviews two books from A.J. Angulo, one authored by him, Diploma Mills: How For-Profit Colleges Stiffed Students, Taxpayers, and the American Dream, and another edited by him, Miseducation: A History of Ignorance-Making in America and Beyond. Zorn finds that both are linked by interest in the production of ignorance, which is, believe it or not, now a burgeoning field of study called “agnotology.” While Zorn finds some substance in Angulo’s criticism of for-profit colleges and their failure to deliver true education, he questions why the author cannot acknowledge their areas of success. Agnotology reprises our article by Teixeira da Silva and Dobránszki, inasmuch as one official definition is “the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data,” according to Bloomberg.com.3 Not surprisingly, however, Zorn finds that the areas of ignorance that concern the contributors to this volume mainly arise from the one-sided concerns of diversity consultants.

In reviews, Richard Arum appreciates Toward a More Perfect University, by Jonathan R. Cole, while noting some shortcomings, and Mark Bauerlein finds value in The Long Crusade: Profiles in Education Reform—1967–2014, by Raymond Wolters. Donald A. Downs remembers the campus atmosphere of the sixties, when it all began, in consideration of Thomas M. Grace’s Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.

And something completely different this time, Peter Wood’s “Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest” surveys some of the campus response to the 2016 presidential election and its unexpected outcome, as detailed in the journalistic record.

In all the wrong turns and dead ends, we can always find the way back. Whatever the challenge, the outcome is a blessing, to know better that which we love, to understand it ever more clearly, to embrace it even more fully, and to be forced to defend it. “A people without history / Is not redeemed from time,” Eliot writes, “for history is a pattern / Of timeless moments” uniting past and present. He writes toward the end of “Little Gidding,” the last part of his Four Quartets, with lines often quoted without the first, and most important, below:

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.4

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