(Note: A version of this essay was previously posted to www.seethruedu.com, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation focused on higher education reform. I am pleased to be a contributor to this site and I invite Pilgrim readers to visit the site for enlightened commentary on higher education issues from a number of knowledgeable contributors.)
Congratulations to the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and its Texas affiliate on the release of a very instructive study of the American history curriculum at The University of Texas (UT) and Texas A&M University (A&M) and for the initiative to shed light on the required foundational American history courses at the state’s two flagship institutions. Credit is due to these schools for requiring these foundational courses and to state lawmakers for requiring the transparency that all course syllabi, course reading assignments, faculty backgrounds, and research priorities be made easily available.
However, the results of the study, Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?, are very disappointing and confirm growing suspicions that Texas is not immune to the national trend in the insidious growth of multiculturalism in higher education curriculum, the insular nature of the target audience for research priorities, and the growing politicization reflected in the heavy concentration in the various cultural identity “studies”, particularly those of race, class, and gender.
To briefly summarize several key points of the study:
- 78% of faculty members at UT and 50% at A&M were “high assigners” (over 50% of the assignments) of readings focused on race, class, and gender.
- Of the 100 foundational “milestone documents” of American history as identified by the National Archives, only 23 were assigned, and 89% of the faculty members assigned none of these documents.
- Three of the top four research priorities for faculty members were race, class, and gender, and these included 78% of the UT faculty and 64% of the A&M faculty.
I repeat the principle espoused by G. K. Chesterton, that “education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another”, which underscores a belief that a shared understanding and a shared knowledge help unify and advance civilization. The American system of self-government is uniquely premised on the need for a citizenry so educated in order to sustain it.
There has been considerable response to the study and, of course, much of it from the circled wagons within the halls of the subject institutions. But I was encouraged by the commentary of Richard Pells, an American historian who taught at UT for 40 years, who reported that, “based on my own experiences there, I believe the report’s main arguments are largely correct”. He further wrote that “what UT historians need to do is stop railing against the report and start re-examining their hiring practices and expand their far too limited intellectual horizons”.
Good advice. Let’s hope that this study, available at http://www.nas.org/articles, and its wide distribution will help spark a serious conversation among higher education and elected officials on this critical point and how the most damaging of the trends reflected therein can be addressed.