Education Reporter
NUMBER 140 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS SEPTEMBER 1997
 
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FOCUS:

What Are They Teaching in College Today?

by Lila Arzua

What are they teaching in college today? Unfortunately, we all know the answer to that. Weve seen the classes in our course catalogues, weve heard the stories through the grapevine, and some of us may even have taken them, even though we may not like to admit it.

These are the classes we delicately refer to as "politicized," which usually means a radical professor trying to impose his freakish philosophies on hapless students like us. It is a dire problem, indeed.

At Yale, classes are offered in topics such as womens studies, homosexual studies, and ethnic studies. Credit can be earned in courses ranging from "Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Cinema" to "Race, Class, and the Urban Crisis." Other courses include "Alcohol and Other Drugs in American Culture" and "Feminist Theory," and there have even been offerings such as "Piracy and Prostitution on Asias Pacific Rim."

Each of these crazy classes is merely a manifestation of an even more frightening phenomenon overpowering academia. This is the specter known as "multiculturalism," though it has little -- if anything -- to do with "culture." In reality, the schools that bow to this agenda do next to nothing to strengthen their foreign language requirements, expand their exchange programs, or offer courses in ancient civilizations. Indeed, just as the leftists claim that the "Western canon" is merely a codeword for "dead white males," "multiculturalism" seems to be code for "oppressed diverse minorities."

Yale (along with every college in the Ivy League save one) now offers more courses in womens studies than in economics -- if the curriculum can be called economics. With titles like "Labor Economics" and "Economics of Natural Resources," it is no surprise that one-third of graduating seniors cannot identify Adam Smith as the individual who coined the term "invisible hand."

Meanwhile, the English department offers courses in "Gay and Lesbian Literature and Literary Theory" and "Ethnicity and Dissent in American Literature and Art." I could go on, but the list of courses is just too depressing.

As if this werent enough, entire departments are being dedicated to the pursuit of this nonsense. While Yale administrators were fumbling around with Lee Basss 20-million-dollar gift, they were secretly setting up a new major in "Ethnicity, Race, and Migration." While interested students are being turned away from the supposedly uncapped major in the humanities, they are encouraged to peruse the "Pink Book" delineating gay-friendly courses. Traditional fields of study are being replaced by ethnic playpens and cults of sensitivity.

In regard to the demands of the multiculturalists: If one is truly that fascinated by deviant sexual practices, then this topic should be studied under the auspices of a legitimate academic field, such as psychology. If one wants to explore the roots of poverty of a given race, then he should major in economics. But this creation of entire departments to suit every passing whim in departments devoid of established scholarship, intellectual rigor, and academic substance, is ridiculous.

Still more insidious are the cases in which these courses masquerade as legitimate classes within otherwise sound departments. Innocent students are bamboozled by seemngly normal course titles and descriptions that turn out to be classes driven by militants trying to push through their ideological agenda. Sometimes students select these courses out of ignorance, but in other instances the courses are required for graduation or for a particular major.

Let me share an example from my own academic career. For the most part, the Yale Spanish literature department is excellent, and I have had opportunities to study with some tremendous scholars. Unfortunately, I discovered that serious scholarship is not always the rule. Last semester, I took a class on modern Latin American writers. It sounds innocuous enough, but the course was politicized from the start, concentrating more time on obscure slave poets and homosexual fiction than on respected authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Then, shortly after midterm, I discovered that one could substitute the final paper with a "group project." I spent the last several class periods of the course listening to presentations on topics as diverse as the tango and Latin rap. The Spanish class developed into a dance class, with even the professor twirling about. Now, I like the tango as much as anybody else, but I am convinced that courses in an accredited university should concentrate on more substantial material.

It is this sort of curriculum that is jeopardizing education as we know it. Regardless of what the multiculturalists claim, education is a process that should conform to a certain standard. Some material is simply more relevant and valid than other topics. Yet, to a great extent present-day academia either prioritizes its own agenda ahead of traditional learning or denies entirely the existence of any objective criterion. As students in the 90s, we are being deprived of the opportunity to learn about the great works our predecessors took for granted.

It is one thing to supplement your learning with contemporary material; it is entirely another to fill your transcript with a litany of inane courses. Every time a student is permitted to graduate as an English major without having read Shakespeare, or as an economics major without knowing who Adam Smith is, it devalues the diploma and the name of the school written on the document.

What can you do about this crisis? As tempting as the easy grade may be, dont take these crackerjack courses. Not only will you find yourself intellectually unfulfilled, but the opportunity cost of not taking a real class will affect you in the long run.

Jeffrey Hart suggested in his article in the National Review that students ought to avoid courses with what he calls "flashy come-ons." He warned against enrolling in those classes listed under "studies," classes that mention keeping a diary, and courses whose descriptions include the words "interdisciplinary," "hegemonic," or "empowerment." He adds that any male professor who comes to class without a jacket and tie should be regarded with extreme prejudice unless he has won a Nobel prize. From personal experience, I would say the same in regard to any female professor wearing knee-high boots of any sort.

If you find yourself forced to enroll in a politicized class, either directly or due to complex distributional requirements, ask your professors why. Go to your department heads and tell them that you wish they offered more courses on Plato or Federalism or Milton or whatever it is that they are lacking. If you have the courage, report the trend in a campus publication, contact alumni, or do whatever it takes to instigate improvement in college courses.

Your diploma will identify you to institutions of higher learning and to prospective employers for the rest of your life. Endeavor to make sure the diploma actually means something.

Lila Arzua is editor-in-chief of Light and Truth magazine at Yale University. This speech was given at the Fourth Annual Eagle Forum Collegians Summit on June 27 on Capitol Hill.