Monday, October 02, 2006

Letter to the Boston Globe: Jacoby pretty dumb himself

To the editor of the Boston Globe,

Jeff Jacoby is right to decry that college students are ignorant of the basic facts of American history ("Dumbing down democracy", October 1). But he's wrong, as right-wing critics of universities so often are, to assume the culprit is that students are instead receiving "full exposure to every reigning value of political correctness". I attended Cambridge public schools for thirteen years and then majored in history at Columbia University. You can't find a more liberal education, but I was never lectured about any of the four bugaboos Jacoby names--"diversity", "secularism", "gay rights" or "global warming".

I can name all the presidents and constitutional amendments, and place all (well, most) of the world's coutries on a map, but that's thanks to Carol Siriani at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High, not the knowledgeable--but specialized--lecturers I had in college. That college doesn't do a good job of covering the basics is due to our nation's trend towards specialization in work and education, not due to the mythical indulgent leftist academics Jacoby likes to conjure. Right-wing culture warriors often seem to flounder when problems can't be neatly placed on a left-right axis.

We should push colleges to introduce survey courses that teach the basics of United States and world history. But in the meantime, Jacoby should pause and think about whether he could pass a test on history topics that are less traditionally taught, but equally important: the basic disagreement between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington's philosophies; when and why the black rights and women's rights movements split; how the American labor movement has interacted with women's rights, black rights and immigrants' rights.

Oh, and by the way, Jacoby is wrong to say the Bill of Rights "expressly prohibits the establishment of a national religion". It states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion", which supporters of school prayer point out does not prevent states or localities from allowing or even demanding Christian prayer, and leaves open the chance that states or even the president could declare a national religion. Let's be glad that some students, though clearly not Jacoby, are specializing in Constitutional law.

Ben Wheeler
Brooklyn, NY
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