Tarheels Dig in on the Constitution
Oh, the preening of some academic scholars. Advanced degrees, tenure, and insulation from market-based competition create within them a sense of superiority which to challenge is like questioning the rotation of the earth around the sun.
Occasionally, though, the scholastic earth can be thrown off its axis.
This is occurring today in North Carolina, where House Bill 96 would mandate all college students in the state to take a three credit-hour class in which students would read the following texts:
“The Constitution of the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence. The Emancipation Proclamation. At least five essays from the Federalist Papers, as determined by the instructor. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. The Gettysburg Address. The North Carolina State Constitution.”
In other words, reading and interacting with texts central to American history, government, and political philosophy would be required by students who will, as college and university graduates, go on to help lead in their fields — in America.
H.B. 96 comes in light of the absurdity of many of the other courses required and offered at North Carolina schools. As reported by the Carolina Journal’s Alex Baltzegar, the state’s flagship school, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, “requires three-credit-hour courses in ‘Global Understanding’ and ‘Power, Difference, & Inequality,’ but not in American government.”
Yet this simple obligation to teach the Declaration, et al, apparently would be too much for many of the Tarheel State’s educators to fulfill. “History courses are necessary, but I think politicians need to stay out of our universities,” according to history professor Jürgen Buchenau of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “They don’t want history to be taught. They want a certain type of history to be taught.”
This is hard to understand; no one is calling for students to be propagandized as part of some extreme right-wing plot to Republicanize the undergraduates of America. The North Carolina legislature is not instructing anyone what to say about the texts involved, only that these texts be read. This is intellectual coercion?
Yet now, nearly 700 North Carolina professors have signed a letter protesting the bill since it “violates core principles of academic freedom.” You see, having students read and write about these documents “substitutes ideological force-feeding for the intellectual expertise of faculty.”
“Intellectual expertise” — there you have it, a bald expression of the kind of elitism that provoked the American Revolution in the first place. Pomposity led London’s imperial elite to treat British citizens in the colonies as wayward children instead of equals under the law. Oppression increased and, with it, the resistance of colonial subjects. This resistance led ultimately to the creation of a new nation. Ours.
In addition to H.B. 96’s affront to the sublime purity of the academic mind, I suspect that another reason these instructors are rising as one against its provisions is that many of them have no expertise whatsoever in the Constitution and its interpretation or the natural law convictions of Dr. King. Grasping the sophisticated arguments of the Federalist Papers might detract from the focus of North Carolina’s self-chosen people on such vital matters as History 236, “Sex and American History” or History 479, “History of Female Sexualities.” Then, of course, there are “courses on ‘Comparative Queer Politics,’ ‘Gender and Sexuality in Africa,’ ‘Islam and Sexual Diversity,’ ‘Animals in Japanese Religion,’ ‘Global Whiteness,’” and so forth.
Yes, there are many worthy courses in the UNC-Chapel Hill history curriculum taught by fine scholars. My sarcasm is generated not only by the ostentation of the letter noted earlier but by the failure of my peers in the academy to recognize the importance of students leaving college with a working understanding of the founding principles of our country. On the other hand, this failure might really be of a different sort, one grounded in the belief of many of today’s historians that those principles are illegitimate or even harmful.
In other words, were I a betting man, I’d wager that many of these “experts” in history neither understand nor believe in such things as “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” that our rights are gifts of a Creator, that representative self-government requires a definite kind of virtue among the citizens who compose it, or that human equality is based on God’s decree.
We can hope that reading the texts listed in H.B. 96 will have the same invigorating and patriotizing effect on this generation of students as they have on so many others. In spite of the best efforts of the “intellectual experts” to the contrary.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.