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Back to December Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 179 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS DECEMBER 2000

Education 451
By Stanley K. Ridgley


In Ray Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451, the insouciant fireman Captain Beatty burned books with missionary zeal. But Captain Beatty did not consider himself villainous. Beatty's book burning was rooted in a crude philosophy: "If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one," Beatty said. "Better yet, give him none."

Now we find that San Diego State University (SDSU) has labeled its compulsory introductory education course Education 451, and such rich irony deserves scrutiny. This is so especially in light of the course's endorsement by former Texas Education Agency's Commissioner Lionel "Skip" Meno, who now serves as dean of the SDSU school of education.

The course "Introduction to Multicultural Education" embodies the worst pathologies plaguing American higher education, so it is not surprising that Education 451 evokes Bradburian images of censorship, coercion, and bookburning. This year, the SDSU course won the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's (ISI) Polly Award. ISI awards the Pollys each year to the wackiest anti-intellectual happenings on the college campus. Education 451 won handily.

In Education 451, they don't burn books . . . there are no books to burn. Nor are there written tests, nor is there a written syllabus, nor is there rigorous academic course content. The course consists of programming and indoctrination in the form of Maoist-style "workshops" run by campus political pressure groups that require students, among other things, to stand before the group and proclaim one's homosexuality, reciting "I am gay" or "I am lesbian" and then to discuss their feelings about being gay or lesbian (unless, of course, one is designated a "bisexual"). All of this, moreover, is required of graduate students who wish to teach in the state of California.

Particularly egregious are the required "cultural plunges" in gay bars. These "plunges" equate "gay culture" with what one finds in bars catering to homosexuals, as if the single-sex meat market epitomizes the cultural apex of this lifestyle. Is it really necessary or proper to require future elementary school teachers to participate in an alcohol-and-drug-driven bar-centered nightlife that, frankly, the majority of Americans have no time for, gay or not?

Education Dean "Skip" Meno offered a straight-faced defense of Education 451 on a recent nationally televised Fox News report, saying that "We're preparing people to work in a diverse society with a diverse student population; that requires them to have an understanding of the students that they're going to work with."

Meno did not address the coercive aspects of the course; he gave no indication that he was even aware of them. He did not explain how cruising the gay bar scene prepares teachers to work with children. Meno simply touted the course's ostensible benefits.

Not everyone at SDSU is convinced that the course is beneficial or even benign. Some students vehemently oppose the course's content. "To mandate the course . . . that's sick and twisted," says the editor of the San Diego State Daily Aztec student newspaper, senior Jennifer Kabbany. "What does standing in the middle of a gay club have to do with reading, writing, and arithmetic?" Indeed, the arguments against the course go well beyond ideological disagreement over the proper place of homosexuality or multiculturalism in the college curriculum, although those can certainly be debated.

Low academic standards - Questionable content aside, Ed 451 is a jaunt in the park. There are no written tests.

Aimlessness - There is no syllabus, just an erratic lurching from class to class. The anonymous course designers seemed determined not to leave a paper trail that might come back to bite them.

Trivial and politicized content - Some class sessions are "taught" by a student group called the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Association (LGBT), which runs "workshops." Why this student group is providing material for a required and accredited graduate level education course is something perhaps only Dean Meno can fathom.

Indoctrination - Reeducation camp techniques are used. Remember Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate, sitting on the stage, reciting his lines? The Soviets used similar techniques to indoctrinate workers, of course. These samokritika sessions coerced workers to recite beliefs they did not hold and admit to sins they had not committed. Similar "role-playing" is a mainstay of Education 451.

Compulsory at taxpayer expense - If you want a teaching certificate through SDSU, you're at the mercy of SDSU's gay student group and, presumably, its political agenda. And it's all funded by the California taxpayers. Aside from its particular eccentricities, Education 451 represents a broader trend in higher education regarding faddish and politically driven courses. Courses with "feminist," "diversity," "multicultural," "race," "gender," or "gay" in the title or description are becoming synonymous with intellectual vacuity, lack of rigor, poorly qualified instructors, and trivial and politicized content. University of Colorado classics professor E. Christian Kopff contends that, when administrators say "multi-culturalism," they don't mean increased foreign language requirements or immersion in the history, geography, or economics of particular cultures. What they mean is more lightweight survey courses taught by junior faculty presenting leftist Western views of particular cultures. There's a big difference, but most college administrators apparently cannot recognize it.

Perhaps it is only coincidence that one of Dean Meno's previous positions was as the Texas Education Agency's Commissioner until 1995, when newly elected Governor George W. Bush sacked him. According to Austin Chronicle columnist Kevin Fullerton, "Public education was a lot like a troubled teenager when Bush took over as governor - it was unfocused, traumatized by neglect, and lagging behind its peers."

One searches in vain for a redeeming quality in the course, but finds only the coercive and the trivial. It is easy enough to see that Education 451 is designed to break down a student's capacity to tell right from wrong, good from bad. It's about substituting moral paralysis for critical judgment. It's about inhibiting a person's ability to make the kinds of value judgments one learns in the home environment, the kinds of judgments which derive from a person's moral compass and are essential for survival in the modern world.

Of course, the pesky "home environment" is the bane of the folks running Education 451. This home environment is presumably the universal province of racists and bigots. How else to explain the raison d'etre of this course, which promises to inculcate "tolerance" in - again, presumably - the intolerant graduate students of San Diego State University? The destructive and value-morphing dynamic of Education 451 is mirrored in its novel counterpart, Fahrenheit 451. The novel's villain Captain Beatty reflected on the "problem" that some people might not willingly embrace the government's officially approved attitudes. Says Captain Beatty: "You can't rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school."

It seems that at SDSU, at least, the Captain Beatty attitude is regnant, and that's a shame. In an era of skyrocketing college costs and declining educational standards in America's public schools as well as its universities, Education 451 seems a particularly cruel joke on the taxpayers of California, and an even crueler joke on the students required to take it.


Dr. Ridgley is executive director of the Collegiate Network, a division of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and the editor of Start the Presses! A Handbook of Student Journalism, published by ISI Books. (Edited for space; reprinted by permission.)


 
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