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Amid April showers, orators are diligently preparing flowery addresses for delivery at May commencement ceremonies. Parents will applaud supposedly profound droning about cloning, often unsure about what their children have learned, but relieved that they no longer have to pay steep tuition bills.
My tendency is to wax sardonic about the ceremonies at major universities. When English majors never take a course in Shakespeare, when science majors are never exposed to the evidence for creation, when history majors garner only a negative view of America--then ignorance and bias are in the saddle, and commencement twaddle makes me feel no better.
Furthermore, when I look at the bulletin boards near my University of Texas office, the pressure of the perverse looms large. Example: An announcement, headlined "We're Looking for a Few Good Transies," deals with a planning meeting for the First International Conference on Transgender, to be held at UT early in 1998. Oh joy. Now we have "The Few. The Proud. The Transgendered."
But I'm more hopeful after assigning a provocative book, Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed, to the 467 students I've taught this term in an introductory lecture class titled "Critical Thinking for Journalists." The course was set up a few years ago to be typically propagandistic: "Critical thinking" in academic circles means "deconstructing" the dominant views of society, and leftists interpret that to mean attacking Christianity and conservatism. But now that I'm teaching the course, I ask future journalists to deconstruct what is truly the dominant philosophy in America, secular liberalism.
Students who have sat through the left's brainwashing courses are stunned to be reading Mr. Sowell, a prominent black conservative who does not dumb down his trenchant ideas. A few become furious, and write comments like these when I solicit anonymous student feedback: "Sowell is very hard to follow. I didn't take this class to read stuff written by pessimists like him." Or, "Stupid critique--why analyze things to death?" Or, "I do not want to read a book written by a right-wing conservative that insults liberals. The only thing I have learned is that Sowell is a moron."
The comments that combined close-mindedness with spelling mistakes are sad to read: "It is difficult to keep interested in the subjet matter." Or, Mr. Sowell is "difficult to understand he is over attacking and loves to show his intelegence." Or, "It is to intricate. We know about many of the issues he talks about but he looks to hard into it."
But what I treasure are the remarks--far outnumbering the negatives--that show most students willing to be challenged by a book that critiques the ideas they have been soaked in for years: "Sowell has an interesting argument I have never been exposed to before." "Nice to have opportunity to see a view other than liberal view." "It definitely gives us a different perspective; while it may not be correct, it sure makes me question things."
Some liberal or radical students found that they were not yet cemented in: "Being a member of the left, I have found the book helpful for reexamining my own deeply entrenched beliefs." "I like Sowell. He makes you think about issues you always have taken for granted." And the smaller number of conservative students liked reading a book that, for once, was on their side: "I really enjoyed this book and also really appreciated his views. I think it is incredibly beneficial not only to the course, but for voting, living, breathing citizens of the U.S. as well. Sowell is awesome."
Especially pleasant, since some students complain that Mr. Sowell's book (written at a college reading level) is over their heads, is the overwhelming vote against dumbing down: "I don't think Sowell is too hard. We are college students and everyone here should have the reading skills to understand this book." "College students should be smart enough to do their own thinking on what they believe in Sowell's reading." "Sowell has difficult parts, but I believe college is a time for students to work and expand their brains."
Just as Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life hugs the woman during a bank run who asks for only a few dollars and cents, not her entire account, a professor feels like hugging students who write, "It's hard, but is learning supposed to be easy?" That could lead to sexual harassment suits, though.
So leave it at this--and I recommend Mr. Sowell to WORLD readers: "Great tool for critical thinking." "He makes you ask questions--which is the most important skill a journalist can acquire." "Fascinating. Hard reading but not too hard--worth the challenge."