BreakPoint Blog

Of Reading and Indoctrination
Rating: 4.00

Fr. James Schall, teacher of philosophy at Georgetown, says, "If you do not have a pretty lengthy list of worthy books that you have not read yet, something is wrong with you."

Well, there is something wrong with a lot of college students because their lists include books like The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009, a anthology of comics and blog posts, and The Family Bible, a story about dysfunctional family life, but don't include classics like The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, or The Idiot.

But the problem might not be all their fault, because colleges are handing out summer reading assignments including only books like the titles mentioned above, or books that have a decided one-way slant toward radical multiculturalism or environmentalism.

Students' summer reading assignments consist of books that won't train the mind in knowledge and wisdom nor broaden their understanding of not only the world around them but of themselves.

Nor, apparently, will it challenge them as higher education should. One would think that summer-time reading assignments would be an important part of continuing the momentum of learning about Western civilization and the world.

One would be wrong.

The National Association of Scholars has analyzed summer reading assignments at 290 programs nationwide and found that while instructing the students in only one point of view, the literature students were required to read was "generally pitched at an intellectual level well below what should be expected of college freshmen."

My post title reflects the general state to which colleges have sunk in regard to our inability to wrestle with different points of view, and the shallowness of current learning. Our students are stunted in their ability to grasp substantive ideas because they haven't been taught.

For over a year, a number of students from various colleges and universities have worked for me. In the interview process, I always ask them what books they've read. There are a number of institutions where summer required reading includes masterworks from 2000 years of Western thinkers and writers. These students, I'm proud to say, have the ability to read advanced material because they've been exposed to great ideas handed down through the centuries.

Many students can't read and write nor think beyond the immediate popular fads because they haven't been made or taught to read great works. Sadly, they don't aspire to greatness because they've not been shown greatness.


Not so fast
on the Engineering School thing. I went twenty five years ago and CLEP'd most of my humanities courses so I didn't have to endure very mcuh zeitgeist. Nowadays they make the engineers take the CORE curriculum before they even get to Engineering school and now everything is couched in Green. It is still mostly fact based but the problem statements are leaning Green and the answers have an agenda. Comes with all that great goverment money.

Aren't we glad though that there are no really truly postmodern engineers.
Disinherited alma mater
V Lee,

There has been a pretty big splash over one individual who disinherited his alma mater, for some of the reasons you cite.
Story starts here:
but continues with later posts, and links to newspaper articles.

I've seen other discussions citing exactly the things you say.

I personally can't imagine ever giving to my alma maters, although I have bought clothing and sports tickets to events they've been in.

Adding to all of your legit points, is the Higher Ed bubble that will likely soon burst. I'm to the point where I would only send my kids to college under specific circumstances. One is going to engineering school (those are pretty focused on facts, and not so much indoctrination).

I wouldn't pay for a Comp Sci degree, since you're able to do as well or better w/o a degree.

Anything else I would expect my kids to have a demonstrated need for a degree (i.e. Med school) and enough successful work experience to show that they are serious about pursuing that path.
In any case, most of the Oldies are available for very low prices; sometimes for free, over the computer. Someone who wants to read himself can do so.
Do parents - prosp students QUIZ their prospective
Do we test our prospective college---to see how well (or how badly) they do at---teaching persons how to think...including rigorous versus fluff junkfood reading? (Think of a quality balanced meal versus marshmallows on white bread).

Do college alumnie/alumnae - QUIZ their alma mater BEFORE they write the check???

Who holds the collge profs accountable if they pick a lame overpriced textbook which INDOCTRINATES in current thought fashions...and doesn't do so well at its official subject?

(Here Ivisualize my college daughter's small speech & communications text...which (for the obscene price of $100) told me Pres. Bush was "bad" and Candidate Obama was "good" and gay marriage was "good" and helping save Terri Schiavo was "bad"...and had a LITE approach to effective speechmaking...and didn't bother to cite, examine any notable speechmakers (a contrast between a Churchill speech and a Hitler speech could have been written up!!)
Maybe the Breakpoint scholars could come up with interview questions, etc. for that college and its text selection process.

They surely would be more gracious than this post of mine...But surely the college interns have FRESH PAINFUL memories of forking out $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ for secondrate propagandized texts and for (sometimes) secondrate propaganda versus the rigorous exercise of learning to think and reason effectively!!!

And - as our moms/grandmas replaced white bread with the more substantive whole grain too can we replace somesecondrate speech text with a SUBSTANTIVE speech text which actually mentions some potent speechmakers from the past...

(i.e. study a Churchill speech versus a Hitler speech...Lots of great historical examples to draw on!!!)
As for what value you have taught them, Chris:

No.1 You have taught the truth. The Iliad really is about "Babes, blood, and bashing". It survived because it was recognized as doing that sort of thing well.

No.2 You have taught them to recognize that people in different ages and times are not aliens.

No.3 You have taught them not to be to sanctimonious, or over-refined in their literary tastes.

No. 4 Conversely you have taught them not to be overawed

No. 5 Finally, by comparing the Iliad's idea of a hero with later ideas of a hero, you can teach that there really is a difference between civilization and barbarism.
But that is exactly what Homer WAS about. That's what it's readers thought they were reading, and surely original intent count?

Aeneas was a much more civilized hero, as was Hector.

My point was that if you're teaching subtleties first without remembering what such works originally were, you are missing the point.
Oh yeah
I have 40 years each of X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four on DVD. So I know exactly what Fr. Schall is talking about!
Seems like Classic Comics
Are a fair compromise. I think I learned about most of the important things in life by reading comics. I'm looking forward to the day when I can be bombarded with cosmic rays, so I can be mutated. You don't get that from Dostoyevski! (Victor Von Doom >> Smerdyakov)

Jason- I thought education was the watering of deserts. If all you're going to teach the barbarians is about barbarian fighting, have you really provided value?

One thing about more people reading the Iliad...maybe the name 'Ajax' would come back into vogue. That's such a cool name.

(And I don't think Achilles was all about killing for reputation.)
It's not a bad idea Kim. In fact Victorian's used to almost do that sort of thing.

One message we can get from Homer is the difference between values. Achiles was not like the best remembered action-adventure heroes. Jack Aubrey fought because he was a professional, Aragorn fought for a cause, and even Michael Corleone fought to protect his family. Achiles fought to be a cool dude who gets a reputation for killing people-and for no other reason.
Libraries should carry Homer & Co. in the Action Adventure section--bookstores ought to consider it too. Love the idea, JT.
Or is it that college students don't aspire to greatness because colleges don't?

Or is it simply a dual mistake. First the false prestige given to scholarship at the expense of artisanship, and second the false egalitarianism that combined with the first error makes one think that everyone should be a scholar.

And then too, there is the self-defeating pomposity and pendantry of the lecture-room atmosphere which seems to be not only purposely designed to be boring, but to drown out the purpose of much Great Literature. When people think of Homer they should first think, "Cool dude; hot babe, barbarians smashing each others heads over her, blood...gore." Because that is what the first readers intended. Other subtleties are all very well, but if those points aren't gotten across one hasn't taught Homer-or any other comparable work. Such misleading pompousness may increase a students pride, but he will have nothing to be prideful about. Epics are written by barbarians, and for barbarians and they are to be understood that way, not picked apart as if they were the Talmud.
Maybe I am arguing against a strawman here, but sometimes I wonder.

In any case, only a few people are made to be scholars, and assuming different is hammering square pegs into round holes.