The education of our children is a sacred trust. It’s perhaps the single most important task given to parents and local communities. Education shapes the moral, intellectual, and vocational trajectory of the rising generation while informing their understanding of the past and hopes for the future.
Today, debates over the content of curriculum generally, and the infiltration of “critical race theory” into the public schools in particular, are provoking heated disagreement among Americans precisely because the stakes are so high. Whom do we want our children to become? Will they love what is beautiful and hate what is ugly? What story will they tell about our country and the duties we owe to one another as citizens?
These are fundamental questions that deserve to be debated and discussed at length and with care in the public square before we radically alter or revise the course of civic education taught in our nation’s schools.
Given the seriousness of such debates, I was disappointed to read Lauren Lassabe’s critical history of the organization where I serve as president, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), in the Made by History section of the Washington Post last week. In her column, Lassabe argues that conservative “panic” over critical race theory is disingenuous because it represents another chapter in a long history of conservatives’ “war on campuses,” which supposedly began in the 1950s with the founding of ISI by Frank Chodorov and William F. Buckley Jr.
According to this reading, conservative organizations such as ISI have a track record of successfully “monitoring, exposing, and banning perceived liberalism in higher education” and are poised to once again exert their influence on timorous trustees and administrators who will serve as their willing accomplices in silencing progressive voices on campus, especially on matters of race and American history.
In a country where liberal professors outnumber conservatives by 17 to 1, where student activists shout down or even physically assault conservative speakers, where students vandalize and tear down historic monuments, where elite colleges such as Yale School of Medicine welcome lecturers who share fantasies of guiltlessly murdering and burying white people, and where university administrators are the tip of the spear for advancing progressive social agendas, by what standard are conservatives the ones waging a war on campuses?
Over the past 70 years, progressives have been busy “decolonizing” humanities curriculums by removing the great books and injecting both the humanities and the sciences with reductionist theories that present race, class, and gender conflict as the primary, if not exclusive, framework for approaching any discipline. And they have used federal subsidies to expand the administrative bureaucracy at universities — one of the leading causes of rising tuition costs and student debt. During that time, ISI and other conservative groups have been filling the void in the higher-education system by educating students in the words, deeds, and creeds of the great men and women of American, Western, and world history.
In the past, ISI provided a supplement to a student’s undergraduate education — a place where like-minded students and faculty could escape the politicized climate on campus to engage in vigorous debate and discussion about the permanent things and pressing issues facing the nation. Today, in light of progressives’ monopoly on higher education and routing of conservative and classical-liberal professors from the faculty, ISI functions more like a counter-university, providing students with a moral and intellectual formation in the principles of liberty and public virtue that they no longer have access to in most university classrooms.
With progressives having waged — and nearly won — the decades-long total war against conservatives on campus, perhaps college administrators like Lauren Lassabe are publishing pieces critical of conservative institutions because they know that the current trajectory of American higher education is financially, morally, and politically unsustainable. Perhaps they fear the backlash when the public catches on — as it has regarding CRT in K–12 education.
Could the growing conservative backlash against wokeness generally, and critical race theory in particular, inspire a broader coalition of moderates and old-school liberals to examine the costs and content of their children’s university education with a critical eye? In doing so, a new majority of Americans might realize what conservative luminaries like Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk knew all along: The American university system — as presently constituted — is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme benefiting bankers, bureaucrats, and social engineers at the expense of middle-class taxpayers.
If the United States is to have a future as a great nation with a dynamic economy and engaged citizenry committed to the principles and traditions of a free society, it’s imperative that Americans of goodwill from across the political spectrum unite to reform, rebuild, and reimagine our higher-education system. On its current trajectory — with the exception of pockets of resistance formed by groups like ISI — universities will continue to graduate managers of American decline instead of agents of American renewal.