Phi Beta Cons

Ranting about the Past Makes Students Feel Good

In both the U.S. and the U.K., college students have found a new outlet for their pent-up anger that the world has never been perfect — ranting that any symbol of an individual they dislike must be torn down.

Just as the Soviets used to make unpersons of those who displeased Stalin by airbrushing their likenesses out of photos, so too with the likes of Cecil Rhodes, Isaac Royall, and even a fellow named Lynch. Students demand that they be gone so as to purify the campus.

In today’s Pope Center piece, British academician Joanna Williams, author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, writes about this phenomenon. She maintains that students “ransacking the past reveals the moral bankruptcy of our education system.”

How did this come to pass? After all, it’s hard to see what good comes from digging into the past for dirt on long deceased people and then using energy to have any likeness or remembrance of them expunged. Williams argues that it has much to do with the way the left has taken over education from the earliest years on, with teachers and professors encouraging students to engage history emotionally. “In higher education,” she writes, “the instrumentalisation of history continues. For several decades, college students have been urged by postmodern professors to deconstruct knowledge to expose the workings of power. Too often, the take home message is that studying the past has no positive justification other than highlighting decontextualised examples of oppression or injustice.”

I agree, and would add that this phenomenon is tied up in the way “progressive” education theories have shifted away from content knowledge and toward how students feel.That is one of the many bad consequences of the way the left has used its control of most of American (and British) education to pave the way for its agenda of control.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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