Activism: The New Goal of ‘Liberal’ Education

gardner_activistbazaar-13-630x420The ideal of liberal learning is among the most noble, the most beautiful, that has ever been thought. Though never perfected, it was an ideal toward which generations of academics strived.

Academia was always supposed to be a place devoted to “the disinterested pursuit of truth and knowledge,” a place where prejudice is subordinated to reason, wishful thinking to the demands of logic and a cultivated sensibility.

And because it is the pursuit of truth—and not Truth itself—for which a “higher education” prepares students, a liberal arts education, then, has always been interpreted, at least in part, as an education in certain types of habits, excellences of character or virtues without which the pursuit could never get under wayIn pursuing truth, students (and teachers alike) cultivate the virtues needed to pursue truth.

In short, liberal learning is designed to produce a certain type of person, a person who, to put it in the terms in which the educated of the eighteenth century described it, could effortlessly navigate his way around “the conversible world.” A liberal arts education, that is, is an education into a conversation between the many academic voices—disciplines—that have defined and, in ways yet unbeknownst to us, will continue to define Western civilization.

Yet one disposition that is indispensable to this quest for truth is a particular orientation toward time.  More exactly, liberal learning presupposes partiality toward the past and the present: to be “conversible,” to be conversant in the inheritance of his civilization, the educated person obviously needs to know his past.  However, beyond this—well beyond this—he needs to genuinely appreciate his ancestors, for there can be no conversation with those toward whom one is contemptuous or dismissive.  If his reverence may be too much for his ancestors to ask of him, his honor is not, for in paying them with this coin the educated person humbles himself—an act in the absence of which he can hope to learn nothing.

The present is also of value for the educated person, for the pursuit of truth, this conversation across the generations, is not valued on account of anything other than its own intrinsic pleasures: it is delightful, even exhilarating, in itself.

How things have changed.

Whether today’s academy trains students for the labor force or for political activism, the point is that, all too frequently, students are supplied with a training—not an education.  And whether it is for the sake of making money or saving the world, this training focuses on—indeed, is obsessed with—the future.  The past is either neglected or disdained, and the present is viewed as, at best, an unavoidable stepping stone to future bliss; at worst, a hindrance to be surmounted.

The great tragedy to have befallen our times is that liberal arts programs throughout the West have succumbed to this love for the future (at the cost of marginalizing the past and the present).  But here, for the most part, academics are interested in producing good little activists.

And what this amounts to is good little political leftists.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Anthea Butler is beyond a classic textbook illustration of the activist academic. In fact, she’s bordering on being a caricature.

This past summer, immediately following George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Butler—a professor of religious studies—blogged that God is “a white racist god with a problem.” She added that “he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.”

Racism in America has its underpinnings in Christianity, Butler wrote, and “the good Christians of America” are “some” of the country’s “biggest racists” “who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is.”  She likened Christians to the KKK and blamed Republicans like Governor Rick Perry of Texas, the NRA, “capitalism,” and the Koch brothers for bringing about Trayvon Martin’s death.

Now, Professor Butler is at it again.

According to Campus Reform, she has recently tweeted that the Republicans have shut down the government for no reason other than that of Barack Obama’s race. 

Unlike Bill Clinton, our country’s first “fake black president” under whom the last shut down transpired, Obama is America’s “first real black president” that the GOP has had to “mess with.” Butler told her followers that they must “be blind to think race does not play into this stupidity.” If only Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner—who Butler charged with being “drunk”—“would quit trying to regulate vaginas they could practice governance.”

Sadly, Butler is not at all atypical of today’s academics.  For this reason, perhaps like the Western world itself, academia—traditionally the place where students could engage in the unhindered pursuit of knowledge by learning how to become conversant in the modes of imagination that compose their civilization—will be destroyed from the inside.

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  • herb benty

    The Marxist perversion of our children in our schools, colleges and universities is a planned perversion, for a purpose. Like” fundamentally transforming America”.

    • ca1

      with their community activist in chief sitting in the white house..he is their god and validation of their deeply engrained,flawed world
      view….”fundamentally transforming America”.

      • herb benty

        On the button ca1 ! The Dewey/commie Education system needs to be abolished. States need total control over Education, the natural competition between States would raise us out of the “progressive” mire. Fight the good fight

  • Jason

    For anyone who has read 1984 and has seen education in the west today, there is a striking parallel. Having just come out of the Australian system, which is dominated with leftists, I can tell you right wing thought is so heavily frowned upon that to even mention it will get you into a detention, except in business. The whole process is less about information, and more about wishy washy concepts.

    This type of education invariably raises children that are left wingers. Of all my friends and in a class of 160 people, I’d say there were 40-50 left wingers against 10-15 conservatives, with the rest not caring.

    We need to take education, for too long we have seen it as a fortress for progressive thinking, and it is. But if we dont take it, we’ve lost the war without a battle being fought.

    • anor277

      And yet in the recent Australian election the conservatives returned to power. If in fact students are indoctrinated with leftwing politics as youths, they grow out of it. Academic radicalism seems to be confined only to liberal arts faculties.


        It’s not necessarily true that because conservatives won an election, the rot and corruption of the academic Left is not working its poison. Unchecked, that poison will spread until conservatives can no longer win because the game is too stacked against them, that is, society has reached the tipping point. This involves growing the government and/or mass immigration to such an extent that the society is transformed from freedom to servitude.

        You can see that quite plainly here in America – I think it is no exaggeration to say that Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama because the Left had succeeded in consolidating its hold on our major cultural institutions. It may still be possible for Conservatives to win a Presidential election here, but just barely.

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    By coddling kids in our public schools, the Marxists that run them ensure that the future will be DOA.

  • m4253y

    Jack, decent article, thank you. Here are a couple of points you could choose to expand upon in future articles.

    Firstly, keep in mind that nothing has changed in education being Liberally bent since the ’60s and that there is nothing more than self-serving. If the world is flat, who are we to argue? If we are responsible for warming the planet, who are we to argue? If blacks can’t get off their rear ends and work, who is to say that it’s not the fault of a white man? If any injustice, as interpreted by the ‘higher’ learning establishments occurs, who is to question their authority?

    Students have always been the most susceptible audience given their age, uncertainties, lack of experience, and their ‘automatic’ disenfranchising routine, as if robotic, when they come of age. Their university ‘thought provocateurs’ are finely tuned to this vulnerability and they masterfully turn this massive appetite for learning to pre-programmed gullibility to their benefit and their’s alone. Nothing like programmed robots doing your bidding for you. Thankfully, the majority of these ‘slaves’ wake up and have their emancipation moment later in life when jobs, family, responsibilities and father time kick in.

    Here is the real kicker to your story that is interesting; like any ‘market’, ironically in free market, capitalist methodology, a producer of goods and services is always on the lookout for more sales and bigger business.

    With that in mind, the breaking down of physical barriers barring students from going to other worlds in the past 30 years has created a massive appetite for these new found tabula rasa elites to express themselves in their new found temporary homes in a much more animated way because a) they can do it here wherein they typically couldn’t back home and b) they have all the new found rights and freedoms to do so encouraged by a culpable, native audience cheering them on. All masterfully guided by the ‘teaching’ elites.

    Today it’s the discussion of the future; tomorrow it’s the discussion of a future lost.

    keep the faith

  • professor X

    When will consertatives stop ignoring academia and actively seek full and part time teaching positions? I am there and must remain stealth, but I desperately wish I were not so rare.

  • Erudite Mavin

    Public Schools and Universities have been Far to Radical Left for decades.
    The teachers and textbooks along with the Teachers Union.
    From Kindergarten to Universities.
    When I was in high school in the early 60s, the Left wing propaganda was in full
    swing. I spent much of my time countering the teachers right in the classroom.
    Have wondered why most conservatives still put their kids in public schools.
    You do know for each kid, the federal gov. gives the school money per student.

  • Rehana

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  • AbsoluteEssays

    By pampering children in our government funded schools, the Marxists that run them guarantee that the future will be DOA.research paper