Sunday Blog

Peter Wood

An Anniversary

The National Association of Scholars’ website in its current form came online last March.  Our thanks to Princeton Online for the original design and technical work and continuing support.  And my thanks especially to Ashley Thorne who, fresh out of college, threw herself into this project with imagination and flair.  Her many articles speak for themselves.  She is also responsible for the continuous improvements and for the light ironic touch with selection of photographs that illustrate most of the articles.  And thanks as well to the numerous guest contributors, “Argus” volunteers, and folks who leave comments.   

In Short

The mainstay of the nas.org has been feature-length articles, at the rate of one or two per day.  While we post short announcements and—lately—videos, we have intentionally stayed away from the form of blogging that consists of a series of pithy observations, hotlinks, and (sometimes) competitive retorts. 

But since many more things come up in a week than we can write articles about, I thought we might give short-form commentary a try.

Steve Balch Receives Award

The Bradley Foundation-sponsored Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award was awarded to NAS chairman Steve Balch on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting in Washington, D.C.  More on this tomorrow.

Learning How to Write

The indefatigable William Fitzhugh, who for decades has been single-handedly publishing the Concord Review in which he presents the best essays by high school students, sent along a letter from Ginger Gentile, valedictorian of the East Hampton High School Class of 1998.  Miss Gentile wrote to thank Mr. Fitzhugh for publishing her essay on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, but what caught my eye was this: 

I considered myself a lover of history but a possessor of second-rate writing skills. Part of the reason for my lack of confidence is that I attend a school where students are given few opportunities to develop their talents in this field (it is assumed students will learn how to write in college).

Yes, precisely.  Grade schools and high schools in the U.S. typically do a perfunctory job at teaching students how to write.  They’ve realized that students need not be able to do more than string a few sentences together to get into college, so they have bucked the task to college instructors in freshman English. 

Freshman English, however, cannot replace the six or seven years of disciplined instruction it takes to turn a student into a competent writer.  The kick-the-can-down-the-road approach of school teachers is a major reason why so many college students are unable to write even simple expository essays. 

What makes Miss Gentile stand out is that she realized that she didn’t know how to write and sought help.  More commonly, school students receive extravagant praise for their fumbling efforts and come to believe by the time they reach college that they do know how to write.  

Lubriciousness Watch

Wendy Shalit’s review essay Hookup Ink, posted here a few weeks ago, comments on the widespread campus phenomenon of romance-free sexual relations between men and women.  Shalit, whose books, A Return to Modesty (1999) and Girls Gone Mild (2007), and numerous articles champion the value of self-restraint, has been subject to heckling and abuse when she has spoken on campus.  She often hears afterwards from students who are distressed by the current sexual norms but feel unable to speak up.  In her Academic Question essay, Shalit says the "political climate of intimidation" on campus "makes college students feel powerless to end painful college experiences."

I just got back from a visit to Hamilton College in upstate New York, where I picked up copies of both the official student newspaper, The Spectator, and an independent student newspaper, DexterThe Spectator includes a feature by Johanna Pajak, '09, “Spectator between the Sheets:  The Weekly Sex Column.”  Stuff like this—generally written by women—is drearily common in campus newspapers.  Miss Pajak’s theme of the week is…well, never mind.  The game she and her newspaper are playing is exhibitionism, where a soulless sexuality is displayed in a jaunty tone. 

The Spectator strikes me as a pretty bland newspaper.  The headline story reports on a task force discussing where to site a new building, and the rest of the front page divides between an account of a visit to campus by the purple Bio Bus, promoting vegetable oil fuel, and the Asian Cultural Society’s Lunar New Year festival.   In this light the sex column appears as the Spectator’s hapless attempt at edginess. 

But it is worth keeping Shalit’s point in mind.  However much Miss Pajak might feel liberated by her opportunity to display her vulgarity, the practical effect of this sort of thing is not liberation.  It is conformity. 

By contrast, the November copy of Dexter that I picked up reported on a “Take Back the Night” demonstration organized by the “Womyn’s Center.”  A separate article was devoted to the Womyn’s Center program in October on “The Female Orgasm.”  (“The audience was invited to share their impressions of the female orgasm.”) And a column dealt with the dubious claim displayed on a banner on Family Weekend that “one in five students gets sexually assaulted on campus.” 

Hard Times

 The New York Times had a front page story on Saturday, "To Keep Students, Colleges Cut Anything but Aid." This is essentially about “tuition discounting,” higher education’s equivalent of the graduated income tax:

“The full-pays are few and far between,” said Greg Eichhorn, the vice president for enrollment management at Albright. “What we’re looking for are better-pays.”

The goal is to fill as many seats as possible with people who can pay as much as possible.  “As possible” varies from family to family, so the “price” of college is adjusted student-to-student.  Calling this “student financial aid” is a bit ridiculous. 

The comments on the story are worth reading too.  The public appears to be awakening to the economics of higher education, including the degree to which college administrators make financial decisions that tend to benefit themselves.  A reader named “ras” in Chicago also mentions the reality that hardly anyone wants to talk about:  “massive overcapacity in higher education.” 

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