What Do Our Schools Tell the World?

14 comments Posted on June 1, 2013

by Donn Taylor

About forty years ago as a graduate assistant at The University of Texas, I had the privilege of teaching technical writing to special class sections of international students. Their origins varied, with about equal numbers coming from the Orient, South America, and the Middle East, with a few from Eastern Europe mixed in. Along with teaching the subject, I was equally concerned with the image of America that I might be presenting to them.

Today, some 800,000 foreign students attend our colleges and universities each year, and I am even more concerned with the information about America that they take back to their home countries. For today’s college experience is quite different from that of forty, thirty, or even twenty years ago, particularly in what is taught about the United States and Western civilization.

In the days of Senator Fulbright, who promoted the post-WW II scholarships for international exchange of students and faculty, the generally accepted belief was that the influence of the United States on foreign students would be beneficial to their nations and to the world. That was probably true then, for most undergraduate curricula included required courses in American history and Western civilization. These courses presented the founding ideals of the United States and the gradual climb of Christendom from the barbarism of the ancient world to the relatively benign culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (They would also include the reversions to barbarism of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, of course.) Further, the faculty of those times were largely devoted to teaching the traditional “whatsoever things are true” without regard to politics.

DeadlyAdditiveConsequently, foreign students would return home with an appreciation of the unique and dramatic successes of Western civilization as well as its failures to live up to its founding ideals. The students might well work toward promoting those ideals in their home countries.

But today’s educational world is quite different from that world in both curricula and the objectives of faculty. Beginning with the 1960s students’ demand for “relevance,” curricula have been watered down, so that the previously broad required courses have been largely replaced by limited, specialized courses in the general subject areas. (My grandson met his American history requirement with a course on history of US Naval Operations.) A study by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) found that American history courses at two major universities were built around narrow focus on issues of race, class, and gender. (Gone was the concentration on US founding ideals.)

A similar NAS study of a top liberal arts college concluded that it had “supplanted the ‘classical liberal’ principles of reasoned argument, the West, the universally true, and the potential for discovering the truth. Instead, its regnant orthodoxies [became] ideas such as ‘global citizenship,’ ‘social justice,’ and ‘sustainability.’ That school has abandoned traditional learning in favor of indoctrination in current “progressive” ideas. And other studies show that the same situation exists at many others nationwide.

Further, many campuses, public and private, are actively hostile to Christianity, one of the defining idea systems and influences of Western civilization. This takes its milder form in coercing student Christian organizations to accept nonbelievers not only as members but as acceptable candidates for positions of leadership. Its more aggressive form has included expelling a psychology counseling student because her faith would not let her counsel that homosexual practices are “normal.” Another student was expelled, temporarily, because he refused to obey his instructor’s direction to write the name of Jesus on a sheet of paper and stomp on it. (The student was reinstated after public outrage, but no action was taken regarding the instructor.) More examples could be cited, including required dormitory “classes” indoctrinating students in approved ideas about sexual activity and race (i.e., “white guilt”). And required summer reading for incoming freshmen has largely shifted from classics to advocacy books on contemporary social issues.

As may be gathered from the above, faculty and administrations have largely abandoned aiding students’ search for “whatsoever things are true” in favor of graduating students ignorant of the founding ideals of their civilization but possessing an approved set of currently fashionable social and political ideas and attitudes.

This brings us back to my original concern with the view of America and the West that foreign students take back to their home countries. The previous objective of studying western civilization “warts and all” has been discarded in favor of studying “all warts all the time.” So these students will have been prevented from experiencing what Matthew Arnold called “the best that has been thought or said” in all ages. They will have been taught the defects of Western civilization without being taught the West’s ideals and its struggles, often noble and heroic, to live up to them.

Instead of creating friendship toward the United States and the West through the study of enlightening ideas, as intended by the Fulbright programs, the antagonistic view our educational institutions present to the world is more likely to create either indifference or enmity. And, except in technical fields, this educational experience is not likely to lift their home countries toward the level of the West. Unfortunately, I see no solution to the problem until another generation of scholars reinstitutes the genuine quest for truth. Let us hope that the NAS and other similar organizations will continue working toward that end.

Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he completed a PhD degree at The University of Texas and taught English literature at two liberal arts colleges. He is a member of the National Association of Scholars and a frequent presenter at writers’ conferences. His books besides Deadly Additive include The Lazarus File, Rhapsody in Red, and Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. He and his wife live near Houston, Texas, where he continues to write fiction, poetry, and articles on current topics. You may contact Donn at donn@donntayor.com or visit his website www.donntaylor.com.


  • 06/15/2013
    Jody Bailey Day said:

    Donn, you’ve written such an important article. The education system is another area where I don’t recognize our beloved country any more. Much rides on the next generation. My prayer is, as you say, that future scholars will reinstitute the genuine quest for truth.

  • 06/15/2013
    Linda Glaz said:

    Very sad, actually

  • 06/15/2013
    Deborah Dee Harper said:

    Donn, how sad, but true. It’s seems to be very unpopular nowadays to present America in a good light and we seldom see patriotism on a daily basis–aside from the chance to blow up fireworks on the 4th of July, that is. America isn’t perfect by any means. We’ve failed on many occasions, but our failures are so much better than the successes of ;many other places around the world. If our schools and universities don’t start telling our country’s students, as well as the students from foreign countries, how we’ve dealt with these situations (and prevailed), all will be lost. Thanks for a very through-provoking article.

  • 06/15/2013
    Dee Yoder said:

    It’s utterly senseless for a country to promote only a negative side to a jealous world eager to invoke evil and destruction against what once was (and in many cases, still is) offered as a land of promise. Eagerness to run down a path to your own demise is the epitome of foolishness. Higher learning? The evidence suggests otherwise. Thought-provoking article.

  • 06/15/2013
    Cleo Lampos said:

    What an important perspective on what is happening in education. It really answered some puzzling questions that I have had as an elementary sped teacher for the last two decades. This article needs to be widely circulated.

  • 06/15/2013
    Linda Yezak said:

    It’s heartbreaking. Our colleges are giving those who hate us fodder for their hatred.

  • 06/15/2013
    Bob Wilson said:

    Thanks for taking the time. Well written. Hopefully, your article will cause some international students to pause to think.

  • 06/15/2013
    Donn Taylor said:

    Thanks to all who commented. One common academic fallacy is thinking of nations in terms of individual persons. As individuals, we compare ourselves to the perfection of Christ rather than comparing ourselves with other individuals. But there has been no Messiah nation, no perfect nation. Consequently, the only valid comparison for any nation is comparison to other nations. By that standard, the US is head and shoulders above all others, and Christendom is head, shoulders, and beltline above the rest of the world.

  • 06/15/2013
    Cathy Elliott said:

    So insightful, Donn. I saw rapid, drastic change even in the classes offered at my community college workplace over the last eight or ten years before retirement. I used to cringe every time I had to hand over Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States from the Reserve Desk. Poor students had no idea what they were digesting. And no choice in the matter, either.

  • 06/15/2013
    Dwayne Lovely said:

    Excellent article Donn; after going back to college a few years ago for my BME, I did find that one of those specialized history courses soon became my favorite class; “American Political History; from the Forefathers to Lincoln”. We had some great discussions and lectures. So there are a few gems out there…

  • 06/16/2013
    Donn Taylor said:

    Thank you, Cathy and Dwayne. The good news is that a few schools are offering reform. Texas Tech is beginning a series of studies in Western civilization, with founder and former president of NAS Stephen Balch directing it. And Hillsdale College accepts no federal funds and teaches whatever it pleases.

  • 06/17/2013
    Peggy Ellis said:

    Thanks, Donn. As always, you nailed the subject. For 30 plus years, I worked with advanced degree candidates in several U.S. universities and one Canadian university. During those years, I saw a dismaying trend toward a negative comparison of the United States and othjer countries and, in the final ten years, ALWAYS negative toward the U.S. On a few ocasions I allowed myself to say, “If this is such a terrible country, I wonder why it is the most desired country for immigrants worldwide.” Did I sway anyone’s beliefs? I doubt it. My words need to be repeated ad infinitum by people in a position to influence people’s thinking on a consistent basis.

  • 06/17/2013
    Donn Taylor said:

    Thank you, Peggy. Many people have had the same experience you had regarding academics’ presentation of the US. We can hope for something better from a new generation of scholars.

  • 06/17/2013
    Sam Pakan said:

    Absolutely, Donn. Immediately after graduating, I took a job at the University of California at San Diego working in a field totally unrelated to my degree–or capabilities, for that matter. While there, I met a graduate student studying political science. A native of Ethiopia, he joked that his fellow countrymen had to go to Eastern Europe or the United States to do advanced studies. He said those getting advanced degrees from universities in the US invariably went back to their country advocating for a socialist system. At the time I found that shocking. Today I find it ubiquitous and sad.


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