Summer is here and incoming freshman at hundreds of universities will soon be receiving summer reading lists, an increasingly popular trend among American colleges, particularly the more selective. Their purported objective is to create “common ground” for students and to bring them up to speed on key concepts they should be aware of upon entrance into their institution of choice.
The National Association of Scholars has issued a concerning report, however, which reveals that many new students will receive a left-wing education even before they step foot inside the classroom. These “common reading” programs, which the NAS likens to the Oprah Book Club, present overwhelmingly left-wing material and a woefully impoverished — almost negligible — selection of conservative-oriented books. The NAS writes:
Of the 180 books, 126 (70 percent) either explicitly promote a liberal political agenda or advance a liberal interpretation of events. By contrast, the study identifies only three books (less than 2 percent) that promote a conservative sensibility and none that promote conservative sensibility and none that promote conservative political causes. 51 books (28 percent) are neither liberal nor conservative.
What is typical of books on in these common reading programs (which sometimes involves only one book) is a pervasive emphasis on the hear and now — books which address contemporary “hot button” issues like the “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” There is an appalling dearth of classics such as works from antiquity and the Enlightenment. The NAS shockingly reports only four such books and — predictably — one of them is the Communist Manifesto.
The NAS also notes the relative “shallowness” of many of the books in common reading programs. They are generally not intellectually challenging for even the demographic at which they are aimed. Not the least because many of the books repeat the same left-wing anti-American, multicultural, overcoming-the-unjust-establishment pablum most students have been immersed in since kindergarten. The most popular content area described by the NAS was “Multiculturalism/Immigration/Racism,” followed by “Environmental/Animal Rights/Food.” They describe the general content as so:
Many of the books are grim assessments of American life; the most positive books generally extol non-Western cultures or individuals who have heroically survived injustice. The nine colleges that chose books about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina neatly capture both elements: the disaster serves to indict America for its callous treatment of the mostly poor and black residents of New Orleans and at the same time celebrate the heroic contributions of outside-the-system saints. (It will be interesting to see in a few years whether the Nashville floods of 2010 warrant a similar level of attention from authors and common reading committees.
Among other things, in the end, the NAS describes,
The choices by and large reflect leftist political perspectives. Even where the books themselves may convey more complex social views, most of the books on the list fit neatly with the agenda of the campus left: anti-Western, anti-business, multi-cultural, environmentalist, and alienated. The books do signal what lies ahead for students in many colleges: a four-year program of more of the same.
We found dozens of assigned books that promote liberal causes and dozens that represent a liberal sensibility. We found none that promote conservative causes and only three books (The End of the Spear at Grace College, Searching for God Knows What at Abilene Christian University, and Cry, The Beloved Country at John Brown University) that promote any kind of traditionalist sensibility. Both of these exceptions are books about Christian faith assigned at Christian colleges. Again, we do not seek an artificial “balance” of liberal and conservative books, but our study brings to light a now well-documented instance of systemic liberal bias in American colleges and universities.
It’s disheartening to read such reports about our universities, the alleged bastions of free-thinking and unbiased thought, even if most of us would already surmise that such circumstances were the case. In my own undergraduate institution, SUNY Geneseo, we had a wonderful core requirement called “Western Humanities” where we read thinkers like John Locke, Plato, Marx, the Bible and other contributory works to Western thought. The point of the course was to understand where Western values come from and their rational, objective worth — not to determine by what criteria they should be despised. I also studied in a philosophy department under a healthy contingency of conservative professors. The academic atmosphere was healthy, open, free and alive. It’s deeply saddening that most students will never experience this kind of diversity in their education.