College and the Continued Closing of the American Mind
Whether curriculum or COVID, colleges and universities continue to lurch further and further away from their original mission.
Thirty-five years ago, University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom published a highly controversial book called The Closing of the American Mind. He could’ve written it yesterday, so lasting are its lessons. The book’s subtitle says it all: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students.
Bloom, a closeted homosexual who died most likely of AIDS in 1992, was what we then would’ve called a liberal, and what we today would’ve called a classical liberal, or perhaps even a conservative. He believed in free speech, in discourse, in the great books, in higher education. He was troubled by the campus riots of the late 1960s, and he was inspired to write Closing, which stunningly rose to number one on The New York Times Best Sellers list, because of what he saw as the modern university’s failure to serve the needs of students. He wrote chapters about the self, about relationships, about creativity and culture, and he wrote regretfully of the new “meaninglessness of values.” He wrote disparagingly about Marx and of what he magnificently called “the Nietzscheanization of the Left.”
His book invited torrents of criticism from a wide range of critics, but it also connected with millions of people. And it still does. One wonders whether, were he alive today, he’d view his book as a success or a failure, given what he’d see on today’s college campuses: the runaway costs, the bizarre courses, the nihilism, the intolerance, the COVID paranoia and statism.
Take, for example, this observation from Evita Duffy, a student at Bloom’s own University of Chicago: “‘Marxism, Anarchism, and the Black Radical Tradition,’ ‘Witchcraft and the Cultural Imagination,’ ‘Trans-bodies in Horror Cinema,’ ‘The Problem of Whiteness,’ and ‘Transnational Queer Politics and Practices’ are not course titles invented by ‘The Babylon Bee’ to mock the state of America’s universities. Rather, they are real classes I came across this year while scrolling through the course listings for the University of Chicago’s winter quarter.”
And this is what we find at one of our nation’s most prestigious universities. No wonder parents and students are beginning to wonder whether college is worth it. As for the illiberal environment of the modern campus, Duffy writes:
A more recent 2021 study done by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that 66 percent of students said they supported shouting down speakers. Shockingly, 23 percent of student respondents support using violence to stop a speaker. Both numbers have spiked since 2020.
By indoctrinating and coddling young people, American universities are breeding intolerance. We are already seeing the effects of this indoctrination. Young leftists have disavowed our founding documents and fathers, and they censor, fire, harass, and publicly slander anyone who dares think differently from them.
Beyond the academic shortcomings of today’s colleges and universities is another deeply troubling development: the veritable police state brought about by COVID-19. As Yale alum and political analyst Aaron Sibarium writes:
In October 2020, nine Yale professors signed an open letter decrying the “inhumane” treatment of college students during the pandemic. “Across the country, students have been blamed, snitched on, policed, sanctioned, suspended and dismissed for violations of COVID-related guidelines, including minor infractions,” the letter read. “Students who fear harsh disciplinary action will become expert at hiding their activities, exposures and symptoms, contributing to the breakdown of contact tracing efforts and potentially increasing the risk of ongoing transmission.”
Interestingly, one of the 111 signatories of that letter — which also warned that students’ “mental health may be heavily impacted by the loss of positive social connections” — was none other than Rochelle Walensky, who now runs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even beyond the social costs of the COVID crackdowns, we’re not so sure there’s much risk in the “ongoing transmission” at our nation’s colleges and universities. After all, members of this age cohort are more likely to die in an automobile accident than of the coronavirus. But taken together with the lack of educational return on investment, with what professor Bloom lamented about the failure of colleges to do what they were originally intended to do, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify the time, the expense, and especially the forbearance required to obtain a college education.
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