American values in the classroom
Last Tuesday, the Maroon published an article in these pages by Liz Egan that touted the University’s forthcoming Center for Study of the Principles of the American Founding. The op-ed piece, entitled “Reclaiming the American Identity,” is ironically useful in that its disturbing brand of ignorant jingoism elucidates exactly what the new Center should strive not to be.
Ms. Egan blames what she sees as a lack of attention to American Studies on “anti-American sentiments and agendas” that are the product of “liberal-guilt syndrome.” This vitriolic argument should be offensive not only to liberals, but to anyone with a disdain for sweeping partisan generalizations.
The number of academics who truly endorse “anti-American” agendas—as opposed to, say, anti-conservative or anti-war agendas—is very close to zero. Yet somehow, the article asserts, these liberal scholars have brainwashed Americans into “[nodding] in agreement when Islamofascists explain to us that we need to die because our Western values and economic profluence have gained too much footing in the rest of the world.” Does anyone outside of a handful of extreme left-wing lunatics really engage in anything approaching this kind of behavior? In reality, the vast majority of Americans, as well as a large cross-section of academics, have an almost absolute belief in the efficacy of American capitalism and democracy. There’s no urgent need to provide propaganda arguing that America is a good country.
More importantly, it is not a scholarly research institution’s place to provide such propaganda. The article notes that the University has many centers devoted to the study of other peoples, yet currently has no center for the study of our own American identity. It’s a valid point, and there is a place for such a Center. Yet the aim of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies isn’t to champion “Middle Eastern ideals.” A successful educational center promotes open-minded discussion of relevant issues as a means of creating a better understanding of the world around us. No possible scholarly value can be derived from an institution whose sole purpose is to applaud “American values.” In order for the Center for Study of the Principles of the American Founding to be successful, it will need to encourage meaningful discourse and discourage the type of closed-minded extremism—from both the right and the left—that Ms. Egan’s article indulges in.
Second-year in the College