An Anatomy of Indoctrination

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If you’re on the lookout for first-class ideological indoctrination in America today, there’s plenty of it to be found, of course, at such sprawling, internationally famous universities as Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley. As a rule, however, these places are so big that there’s room for pockets of dissent. They’re so big that they can’t totally cut themselves off from the real world, as much as they might want to; many of them, in fact are located in or very close to major cities, whose authentic diversity only underscores the factitiousness of the kind of “diversity” promoted on those campuses. Plus they’ve got departments of physics and engineering and so on, staffed by brilliant, serious people who deal not in dogma but in rigorous analysis and demonstrable scientific fact and whose work has valuable and important real-world consequences.

No, if you want to see ideological lockstep and rinse-and-repeat brainwashing in their very purest form, it’s best to look to the small, elite liberal-arts colleges – preferably those that are located out in the middle of nowhere or in adorable little college towns where the colleges themselves set the local tone. Case in point: Bowdoin, the alma mater of Hawthorne and Longfellow, no less, which was founded in 1794, is located in Brunswick, Maine, has just under 1800 students, and (as it happens) is the subject of a new report by Peter Wood and Michael Toscano of the National Association of Scholars. What Does Bowdoin Teach?: How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students not only offers a comprehensive anatomy of Bowdoin’s curriculum but also implicitly invites the students, alumni, and trustees of similar liberal-arts colleges, from Williams and Carleton to Amherst and Haverford, to ponder the extent to which their own institutions suffer from the same failings as Bowdoin.

Many of these institutions, after all, have a good deal in common, from tuition costs that are upwards of $40,000 a year to undergraduates who’ve been congratulated so often on being admitted to them that they make Harvard students look as if they have inferiority complexes. (Wood and Toscano quote one Bowdoin kid’s statement that “our student body represents some of the most intelligent youth of the world. Bowdoin’s worst student is by far and away [sic] much more astute than the vast majority of humans.”) These places are also, very often, worlds unto themselves – to their credit, the folks at Bowdoin openly acknowledge the existence of something they call “the Bowdoin bubble” – where students are encouraged to see the college itself as something of a city on a hill: a small-scale model of the better, more progressive world they should strive to help establish after they graduate.

A Wall Street Journal article about the report details its origins: after NAS board member Tom Klingenstein chided Bowdoin president Barry Mills on a golf course about his college’s ideological uniformity, Mills (without mentioning Klingenstein’s name) cited the comment condescendingly in a convocation address, implying that his golf partner was some racist, right-wing plutocrat who didn’t cotton to Bowdoin’s magnificent diversity – when, in fact, Klingenstein had been criticizing the college precisely for its lack of real diversity, namely diversity of opinion. After Kingenstein got wind of Mills’s speech, he wrote a piece explaining what he’d really said on the links and ended up funding this study. Wood and Toscano underscore a crucial fact about this story: namely, that no one who listened to Mills’s speech is on record as having noticed its utter self-contradiction – namely, Mills’s implicit definition of diversity as the exclusion of the kind of views held by people like Klingenstein.

If no one at Bowdoin noticed this self-contradiction, it’s because this kind of self-contradiction is the woof and warp of contemporary academic orthodoxy – an orthodoxy whose goal, note well, is not to teach young people to think rigorously and analytically about all types of ideas, and thus enable them to recognize such logical lapses, but rather to endlessly reinforce the iron grip of leftist ideology on their minds, which is far easier to carry out if their critical skills remain as lax and lazy as possible. So it is that when such kids, in later life, are challenged by persons who don’t share their views, they rarely have anything to offer in response other than name-calling, personal attacks, and accusations of “racism” and the like (and most of the time they don’t even realize they’re not actually engaging in intellectual discourse).

At Bowdoin, as at other such colleges, diversity in the contemporary academic sense – meaning a fixation with group identity – is at the root of academic life today. “Bowdoin,”  Mills told students in a speech, “is truly a place of real diversity in the broadest sense as compared to the communities [in which] you may now choose to live.” So diversity-minded is Bowdoin, in this sense, that identity-studies programs constitute no less than 18 percent of the curriculum. While Bowdoin doesn’t demand that students take any courses in “English, philosophy, foreign languages, European history, American history, world history, government, religion, psychology, or sociology,” and doesn’t even require history majors to take so much as one course in U.S. history, it’s compulsory for history majors to take a certain number of courses in non-Western history. Not to mention that there’s a proliferation of student clubs based on group identity. Long lost is the idea that it should be an objective, when bringing together kids from a wide variety of backgrounds to be educated, to transcend such categories; on the contrary, the idea is to produce young adults for whom class, race, and gender labels are the very pillars of self-knowledge.

While it’s just not done, at a place like Bowdoin, to praise America and American values, absolutely no superlatives about the college and its values are considered too hyperbolic. When Mills gave a speech immediately after 9/11, he had nothing whatsoever to say about America, choosing instead to take the opportunity to celebrate Bowdoin’s values: “we at Bowdoin above all stand for what is just and right.” Such absurd parochialism is typical of these colleges. So, Wood and Toscano point out, is the inculcation of “knowingness” – a trait that they describe as “the antithesis of humility,” “the enemy of education,” and “the formula for intellectual complacency.” These aren’t, in other words, ignorant students who are starving – and striving – for knowledge; they’re ignorant students who have been trained to be smug and self-satisfied, to think that they’ve already got all the answers and that they themselves are the solution to the world’s problems. Why, after all, should they be eager to learn? Academic ideology has already answered all the important questions. Besides, it’s been made clear to them that there’s nothing in particular they need to learn. All of life is an elective. Course content is irrelevant; what matters is that you approach every topic with a reflexive, unquestioning belief in social construction, “social justice,” and “global citizenship.”

Wood and Toscano have provided a magnificent, and alarming, anatomy of the curricular crisis at Bowdoin. But they’ve gone further, taking on such topics as campus drinking and sex. I wish they hadn’t. This shift of focus muddies the waters, risks leaving the impression that they view these age-old aspects of college life as somehow linked to left-wing academic orthodoxy, and invites critics to dismiss them as reactionary fuddy-duddies. In fact, the triumph of ideology so effectively delineated in their report should be of the deepest concern to all conservatives and genuine liberals (as opposed to leftist ideologues) who understand just how vital the preservation of classical liberal education is to America’s future.

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  • AdinaK

    As a blogger, as a mother. and as someone who "tracks and traces" campus indoctrination (via leftism and Islamism money laundering by various radical/Islamist entities) this where it's at –

    It is worse than most can imagine –

    The same leftist putsch is destroying Israel's academia, as such, am "monitoring" them as well.

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

    • laxbro67

      Bowdoin is known to be one of the more conservative NESCACs. President Mills is a republican. No one I know takes identity studies, and classes are not "politicized". Rush Limbaugh just spoke about this report, which officially puts the "bullsh!t" stamp on it.

      Sure there are some kids who want to study identity stuff, so its more a function of supply & demand. If there are students who want to study this, why not let them? You can study what you want.

      P.S. No one is forcing you to come to Bowdoin, if you don't like it go somewhere else? Everyone seems really obsessed about this school, clearly you're just jelly they didn't get in.

      • Enemy of The State

        I count at least eight grammatical errors in that little diatribe of yours. Given your apparent inability to master the English language at an eighth-grade level, it's highly doubtful you've ever seen the inside of a Bowdoin lecture hall.

  • AnOrdinaryMan

    Hmmm….let me see…Bowdoin was the school where war hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was president…back in the 19th Century. What would he have thought of "the Bowdoin bubble?"

  • Chezwick

    Through my own daughter's experiences (and that of her friends), I've come to realize that there are three types of students graduating from our universities these days.

    1) The smallest group is the genuinely conservative students who had all their right-wing preconceptions validated by the mindless leftist orthodoxies their professors attempted to impose on them. They are akin to the rebellious left-wing students of yesteryear (50s/early 60s), challenging established doctrines and thinking critically.

    2) A far larger group is the liberal/left students who either entered the universities malleable to indoctrination or became so in the course of their four or five years. These are the shock-troops for "social-justice" being churned out like a factory, future educators, community activists and – let's face it – lawyers…who are determined to remake society in the image of their university ethos and experience. Even those who pursue non-political vocations are left uncompromisingly left-wing in their world view.

    3) By far the LARGEST group are apolitical students who just want their degrees and willingly submit to the bastardization of education in order to graduate and move on into the job market. Sadly, many are inevitably influenced by what their professors have drilled into them…and what little interest they DO exhibit in politics and sociology is often peppered with fealty to the sacred cows of leftism.

    It's an unmitigated tragedy. Our kids rarely stand a chance. In my daughter's case, I took my parental responsibilities seriously and over the years, revealed to her the daily examples of hypocrisy and oppression by the left. I like to believe I have blunted the ideological Juggernaut of her primary-school and university education. She's a non-ideologue with a healthy skepticism for all orthodoxies.

    Parents, do your duty. Educate your kids. And the most effective tool at your disposal is the exposition of Islamic intolerance – manifest everyday around the world – and linking it to the multicultural credo that validates and perpetuates it.

    • AnOrdinaryMan

      Amen, sir, to your efforts with your daughter. Another good way to fight creeping Sharia: join ACT for America.

      • defcon 4

        The ACT for America chapter I belong has shockingly few people under the age of thirty ever showing up to their meetings. There doesn't seem to be any outreach program to any educational institutions of any kind, but maybe only because it's hopeless to even try.

  • Brujo Blanco

    There are roo many who identify with the communists while enjoying the bounty of capitalism. There are many students who fall in this category.

    • Spider

      Yes i wonder what the little college tikes would do if they were subjected to real Com-munism? They would probably Cr-*-p their Drawers!

      • Mary Sue

        not if they think they could be part of the Party Elite, who are the "rich" among Communists and get all the comforts that the plebs are denied.

  • Alex Williams

    It is ironic to praise Hawthorne as a Bowdoin alumni, and then support a report that mocks a class on "Sexualism in the Colonial Era" – as this is the subject of his greatest work (i.e. The Scarlet Letter).

    The NAS report has done a tremendous disservice to the conservative cause. It's only effect will be to foster greater hostility between the public and institutions of higher education. This will inhibit the reform that it wishes:

    As a Bowdoin alumnus, I can promise you that the vast majority of professors and students are apolitical when it comes to academic issues. We are open-minded and eager to improve our school. The NAS (and other conservatives) should approach academic reform in an apolitical manner. Exactly like Chezwick says – most students are apolitical, they are looking to learn useful skills and knowledge.

    If Bowdoin fails to teach critical thinking (I don't think it fails, but yes we can always do better), then the NAS should have outlined specific suggestions to improve the situation and presented in depth criticisms of the classroom environment. Unfortunately it does not. There are no extensive interviews with student or faculty (even though I emailed the writers of the report while it was being written, I was not asked for an interview). There are no direct observational studies. In fact, for all courses, the report doesn't even look at syllabi or read the entire course description listing in the college catalogue.

    Conservatives can do better than this. Read more on my website:

    • Jack

      The Praise for Hawthorne is no doubt indoctrinated into students in American literature classes in High school and college. Having been around for a while now, I do not think so highly of a work like The Scarlet Letter. I regard it as junk.

      • defcon 4

        I remember the Scarlet Letter was used as a device to pillory Christianity by my lieberal teacher in H.S., yet in the islamofascist states of today (and of yesteryear I'll bet) having to wear a scarlet A wouldn't be much of a punishment at all.

        • Jack

          @ Defcon 4

          I think down voted your post by mistake. I plead fatigue (4 hours of sleep).

          After reading Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" and his description of Pacific Island life, their laws and the reasons for said laws, I will back "12 Angry women" over Hester Prynne and her faux nobility any day.

          I checked Alex Williams out. It appears that he does solid work in hard science. But when it comes to wisdom, that network takes longer to build usually.

  • EthanP

    Palestinian/American auther Rashid Khalidi recently said that the Palestinian narative had become THE narative on American campus'. That even young Jews were being turned by this narative. This is all part of the same leftist sickness that has infected Amerian schools.

  • Spider

    Colleges are teaching (at least in the humanities / lib arts) nothing but self delusion and dysfunction. Modern day graduates are going to get a harsh taste of reality when they have to deal with the real world.

  • cxt

    Another excellent, if scary, article.

    I have deep concerns over the smug attitudes of the students–history is chock full of examples of really smart people that made horrific choices that often resulted in tragic outcomes for many OTHER people.

    The folks described in the study/article have all the attitude but I question if they have the smarts–a really bad combo.

    • Enemy of The State

      Walter Williams said it best a couple of years ago when commenting about the financial crisis, and the Obama administration's response to it: "The ignorant didn't cause our problems. The smartest guys in the room are responsible for every last one of them."

  • clarespark

    It is not just the universities, the federal government is determined to meddle in all the grades of school. See…. "American [Fascism?] and the future of English and American literature."

  • Socrates

    With rare exceptions, professors in the humanities are a gaggle of dimwits and dumb clucks.

    The one true achievement they have in common is kissing ass to win tenure.

    Once that's over, one thumb goes in the mouth, the other further south, and the brain shuts off for good.

  • Joe

    Blah Blah Blah Blah.

    Everyone is complaining and concerned about the leftist indocrinaion of youth, in fact, the leftist take over of the United States, yet no one has a solution to stop all this or if they do, it is squashed or diluted with help from the media.

    May be that it is too late to do anything. The Trojan Horse is secure within the city gates and the infiltrators have left the wooden horse and are now part of the establishment power structure.

    • look who's talking

      blah blah blah yourself, what's your solution

      • Joe

        Depend on Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity and others in the conservative media movement to get the word out to the public. Depend on the American people to see what is right and take action including voting out the progressives leftists in government. Have an honorable person run for president with impecable credentials and sterling character including the ability to manage a national fiscal crisis in the most responsible manner, in contrast to the big government spenders in D.C. and to understand American exceptionalism.

        Oh that's right; those things were tried last year and the election was won by a Saul Alynsky Leftist with a 4 year record for all to see clearly, and the results of those 4 years openly avaliable.

        Like I said, the wooden horse is empty, and the occupants of that horse run the show now.

        • me, again

          like I asked you, what's your solution

          sounds like it's bend over and take it

          • Joe

            Le's see now:

            How about starting a grassroots conservative movement, which draws from the heartland of the USA, proposes Constitutional adherance, and finds candidates from its ranks to run for office and oppose the status quo including the Rinos. We'll fight the entrenched lobbiests and progressives in Congress and the Senate and stop the tearing down of our country since the passion and patriotism will be at the heart of it. Let's call it the "Tea Party".

            Oh forgot, that's already been done.

            OK then let's rally behind the Republicans to preserve conservative ideals and principles.
            I forgot, they are being advised to move to the Left and compromise to win elections.

            Let's see, now, hmmm? mmmm?

            Nope I cant think of another thing to do, sorry!

            Give me some ideas.

          • Micha Elyi

            My solution begins with no more hiring from Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Berkeley, Michigan, and even little Bowdoin. And no more government funding of schooling; we must have separation of schooling and State for many of the same reasons we rightly have no State establishment of religion. Then slash the federal and State budgets by half – at least – and regulation by a minimum of two-thirds. The resulting desk-drones who are freed up from the government parasite corps to join the productive private economy will run headlong into reality; the shock therapy will swiftly wipe away their prior indoctrination into the Nanny State.

            Let's roll.

  • Ex-saint

    It's not just students who are being indoctrinated at our universities. Employees are also subjected to ignorant PC nonsense.

    A lesson learned from four years of working in student services at a private liberal arts college.

    • defcon 4

      I taught for a while at a small Christian college. The annual convocations made me gag every time their resident muslim slimeball would begin spouting his insincere babble about coexistence, islamic tolerance etc. I despise academia now. I wonder if technical colleges are better because at least they don't act as leftist indoctrination camps that specialize in lying about islamofascism.

      • Ex-saint

        Sounds like we are on the same page!

        It seems that nowadays the only requirements for being a professor are hating America and being a hypocrite.

  • Infovoyeur

    Both sides preach that they favor dispassionate objective fair-minded truth-seeking. (Which is possible to strive toward even if never perfectly attain..) But Both Sides Gotta Wanna! Instead, seems that the Right wants more conservative profs on campuses (David Horowitz recommended same). But what would happen? Both sides would risk just keeping on spouting their ideologies, students remain mired in rampant relativism, "whos to say whose right after all [sic]." Or at least the teachers would NOT bother to try to teach dispassionate objective fair-minded truth-seeking–the method of, its desirability also. (*) Ever hear of a public discussion where Both Sides hear the other, admit their pulsions and possible biases, etc.? More often it's a fracas Pro-Con with one's key First Principles left tacit unstated, maybe not even recognized, and facts flung back and forth like food in a college cafeteria food fight. […well, not always, but sadly too often, eh…]

    • UCSPanther

      If you haven't noticed, many University campuses have been more comparable to the Soviet Union than you care to admit. Just ask the Mens' Rights groups about places like University of Toronto, where they cannot even present their viewpoints without harassment, obstruction and violence from the feminazi crowd, or the other assorted various attempts (Yes, even violence) to silence campus conservatives or other beliefs contrary to the party line.

      In some places, like Berkeley, you so much as indicate leanings towards politically incorrect beliefs, like Conservatism, gun ownership, support of the military, support of petroleum, mining or forestry, and that will make you fair game for harassment.

      If that ain't intolerance, then I don't know what is.

      • Mary Sue

        oh yeah, because a Men's Rights Group is simply to put women back in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant! [/sarcasm while being totally serious with how radical feminazis see men's rights groups]

        You know, it's not so much "tolerance" as "tolerance of the opposite things that one should be tolerant about", and even then it's not really "tolerance". It's flat out acceptance and forced acceptance of the opposite of what should be accepted.

        South Park got it right.

        Mr. Slave: Tolerance means putting up with something you DON'T like!

  • Jim

    Imagine some parents willing to shell out $40,000. to send their children to be a member of a left wing cult for 4 years.

    • Mary Sue

      to be fair, some of the parents, having been thusly indoctrinated in their own youth, are perfectly happy seeing their kids turned into little mind numbed robots like themselves.

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  • locotj

    apparently the NAS report was a lot of fact-twisting (at best):