Ignoring the Ideological Elephant in the Classroom

The state university system recently invested considerable time and money in the UNC Tomorrow Commission to see how North Carolina’s public colleges can “best meet the needs of the state and its people over the next 20 years.” The commission placed particular emphasis on how to provide for the future prosperity of North Carolina.

They traveled the state and spoke to hundreds of people from all walks of life. Yet one of the most important questions was not asked: is what we are teaching our students in the classroom going to produce a prosperous and free North Carolina?

At UNC-Chapel Hill, the answer is too often a resounding “No.” In fact, sometimes students are encouraged to adopt philosophies that are guaranteed to suppress prosperity and freedom.

During the fall semester, I explored in depth two courses at UNC-CH that would better be termed collectivist indoctrination than education. Both professors adhere to a belief system of radical anti-capitalism and use their positions to guide students to share their ideology.

One such teacher, Jason Moore, is a recently hired lecturer in the geography department who has not yet completed his doctoral dissertation. Moore has been a contributor to the Marxist journal Monthly Review, and the reading list for his course Geographical Issues in the Developing World last May was dominated by Monthly Review contributors and other well-known radicals.

Judith Blau, on the other hand, is a full professor in the sociology department. She has taught at Chapel Hill since 1988, and she chairs her department’s Social and Economic Justice program as well. Last semester, at her urging, her students produced a mock U.S. Constitution heavily laced with statements such as “resources should be distributed according to need” and “working for collective rights will create a more harmonious society.” It was precisely the document she wanted them to produce, for she praised their efforts effusively: “[I]f the determination of the students in these two classes were realized, the United States would be good citizen in the world of nations, and would live up to international human rights standards.”

Professors like Moore and Blau are not rarities in the UNC system. A cursory sampling of course syllabi available on the Internet suggests that some humanities and social sciences departments might even be dominated by those with collectivist inclinations.

This manner of thinking, whether it is called socialism, collectivism, or communism, is neither innocent nor productive. Teaching such beliefs will not keep our state prosperous, but will instead encourage those who have adopted them to hamper private industry through excessive regulations and taxation. Innovation does not thrive in such an unrewarding environment, no matter how much money you throw at research and higher education.

It wasn’t that long ago when most people understood that there was a real threat to freedom posed by the collectivist philosophy. The tendency for countries ruled by collective regimes to condemn many of their citizens to forced labor camps was well documented in books like Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, an expose of the former Soviet Union’s treatment of political prisoners, and films like The Killing Fields,” which chronicled how half of Cambodia’s population was either killed or driven into exile through a brutal system of “permanent revolution.”

Today, many people seem to feel that any danger from collectivist ideologies ended when the Berlin Wall was dismantled in 1989. Yet Russia is returning to the more authoritarian ways of the old Soviet Union. The educational systems in the supposedly benevolent welfare-state countries of France and Germany now teach elementary and high school students “that economic principles such as capitalism, free markets, and entrepreneurship are savage, unhealthy, and immoral,” as Newsweek writer Stephan Theil wrote in his recent article “Europe’s Philosophy of Failure” in Foreign Policy. When children indoctrinated to such beliefs from an early age reach their majority, they are likely to produce a society where the factors that determine prosperity, such as innovation and the accumulation of capital, will be eyed with suspicion or punished.

In the United States, these ideas have found long refuge in our universities, and their adherents are thriving. Of what value is an education, when the best that can be hoped is that the students sitting in their classrooms will ignore their lessons?

What is taught at Chapel Hill has an enormous impact on the state — this is where many of the state’s future leaders are traditionally educated. Current governor Mike Easley, General Assembly Speaker of the House Joseph Hackney, and UNC President Erskine Bowles all received their undergraduate degrees at Chapel Hill, while Easley’s predecessor Jim Hunt graduated from the law school. The UNC system in general is also the primary source for the state’s primary and secondary teachers, who also have a great influence on the young. If collectivists bent on conversion are teaching at Chapel Hill, the state’s future will likely reflect their beliefs.

Any steps taken by the UNC system will prove fruitless in the long run if the spread of a philosophy that destroys prosperity and freedom is continually ignored. Sooner or later, the issue must be dealt with, or we might have a “Tomorrow” that only a leadership driven by the type of collectivist rhetoric now taught in the schools of France and Germany can produce.