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David Solway
credit: jacket magazine

Former Canadian college professor David Solway recently posted two interesting articles, outlining the primary reasons for his retreat from the academic fields of battle. He began in The American Thinker:

Some years back, I decided I had to quit the teaching profession to which I had dedicated half my life.  The modern academy, I felt, was so far gone that restoration was no longer possible.  Indeed, I now believe that complete collapse is the only hope for the future, but as Woody Allen said about death, I’d rather not be there when it happens.

Alarmist? Read on:

Three reasons determined my course of action.  For one thing, administration had come to deal less with academic issues and more with rules of conduct and punitive codes of behavior, as if it were a policing body rather than an arm of the teaching profession.  Woe betide the (male) student accused of sexual assault or misconduct; the administration will convene an extra-judicial tribunal to punish or expel the accused, often with a low burden of proof.  It will find ways to shut down conservative speakers.  It will browbeat faculty and students to attend sensitivity training sessions on matters of race and gender.  It will strike task forces to deal with imaginary issues like campus rape culture and propose draconian measures to contain a raging fantasy.

Even the most casual analysis of the realities of higher education will confirm the accuracy of this observation.

For another, colleagues were increasingly buying into the politically correct mantras circulating in the cultural climate.  The dubious axioms of “social justice” and equality of outcome, the postmodern campaign against the Western tradition of learning, and the Marxist critique of capitalism now superseded the original purpose of the university to seek out truth, to pursue the impartial study of historical events and movements, and to remain faithful to the rigors of disciplined scholarship.  Most of my colleagues were rote members of the left-liberal orthodoxy: pro-Islam, pro-unfettered immigration, pro-abortion, pro-feminist, anti-conservative, anti-Zionist, and anti-white.  Departmental committees were now basing their hiring protocols not on demonstrated merit, but on minority and gender identities, leading to marked pedagogical decline.

Which led Solway to conclude:

I found I could no longer respect the majority of people I had to work with.

Solway’s final, and most important reason, the primary point of this article, was:

But the primary incentive for flight had to do with the caliber of students I was required to instruct.  The quality of what we called the student ‘clientele’ had deteriorated so dramatically over the years that the classroom struck me as a barn full of ruminants and the curriculum as a stack of winter ensilage.  I knew I could not teach James Joyce’s Ulysses or Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain since they were plainly beyond the capacity of our catechumens – mind you, all old enough to vote and be drafted.  The level of interest in and attention to the subjects was about as flat as a fallen arch.  The ability to write a coherent English sentence was practically nonexistent; ordinary grammar was a traumatic ordeal.  In fact, many native English-speakers could not produce a lucid verbal analysis of a text, let alone carry on an intelligible conversation, and some were even unable to properly pronounce common English words.  I could not help thinking of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in which the children of the planet are all translated into some otherworldly dimension.  I titled one of my books about our educational debacle The Turtle Hypodermic of Sickenpods, based on an initially mysterious phrase in a student’s essay by which, as I discovered after long consultation, he meant to say ‘the total epidemic of psychopaths.’  (This is a true story.)

I’ve no doubt it’s a true story. Some years ago, after a discussion of a work of literature where I observed the author “put women on a pedestal,” a student parroted that back in writing as “women are sinking on a pedal stool.” Solway explained in more detail at PJ Media:

What concerned me most was precisely, in George Grant’s phrase, the ‘intimations of deprival’ so unabashedly displayed by the majority of my students. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, estimates that only 5% of the population is fit for attending college; the rest would be better off attending vocational schools. Whatever the percentage of the academically uneducable might be, Caplan was definitely on to something.

Where was one to start trying to educate an adult student who thought the Great Depression began in the 1960s; who was unable to distinguish between the First and Second World Wars; who thought that Moscow was the capital of Missouri; who was convinced the native peoples crossed the Bering Strait in the 1940s (no less amazing, she believed the Bering Strait was the Panama Canal); who claimed that Christ’s parables were about ‘betting and gamibeling and explaining differently in alot of discussion’; who asserted that ‘analising a book one must lick your way to the center of the Tootsie Roll-Pop’; who reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose declared ‘This book is all about mid-evil times and the monk-persons in ministories’; who thought that Canada separated from the United States during the Civil War; who discovered that ‘the main characters in the story are talking among themselves by using language’; who called John Dryden, who became England’s first Poet Laureate in 1688, ‘a great poet and a great goaltender,’ confusing him with Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens; who thought Lawrence of Arabia was a Renaissance painter; who wrote that “Christ was at the stake and had nails in certain places’; who claimed that Alexander Pope ‘is the head honcho of the catholic church’; or who averred, in a paper on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, that ‘George Orwin, arthur of The Animal Firm, was heavily into natur.’ You can’t make this stuff up. Responding to a brilliant reading and lecture by Doug Jones, a celebrated Canadian poet and critic I had invited to my class, many students fell asleep. Another said: ‘It was a crucification.’ My files contain innumerable such solecisms — booklets crammed full of them.

As regular readers know, I occasionally publish examples of my student’s unintentionally funny writings (here, here and here). These differ from Solway’s examples in that they are not the decidedly unfunny, virtually unreadable errors, evidence of serious deficits, which I do not publish. There is a difference between reasonably good students pushing a bit beyond their present abilities, and those who have few or no present abilities. Solway concludes:

Modern education…is a dead letter. It cannot be rehabilitated. It can only be demolished and replaced in the wake of a long overdue, if improbable, powerful conservative upsurge in a morbidly decadent left-liberal culture.

By all means, take the links and read both of Solway’s articles. While he speaks of Canadian college students, the issues he raises, and the difficulties that drove him from the classroom, are no less prevalent and no less destructive in America.

Are America’s high schools sending inferior students, people fundamentally unprepared, to colleges? We are, but not primarily for the reasons and in the ways Solway implies. Without question, K-12 education is increasingly infected with administrative bloat, which creates an elite class of educrats far less interested in education than politics and power. Progressive political correctness is also a terribly destructive disaster in many school districts, particularly in, but not limited to, red states. Allow me, gentle readers, to offer three–there are more–general explanations for the students Solway saw:

The Tested/Computed Generation(s): I’ve often written about the tyranny of testing.  I refer to mandatory, high stakes testing, which inevitably drives every facet of education, stealing at least 1/3 of the classroom time available, year after year, in the tested core classes (English, math, science, history). Take the link to my five-part series for additional information.

With the advent of inexpensive laptops commonly called Chromebooks, coupled with rolling charger/storage units, Google has spread its tentacles even more broadly into classrooms. More and more teachers find themselves obliged to use Chromebooks for the sake of using Chromebooks, which, to fad and data-driven administrators, represents not only an easy way to generate data, but allows them to crow they are “using technology in the classroom,” which is supposed to revolutionize education.

In reality, Chromebooks are merely cheap, mediocre laptops. They revolutionize nothing. By way of example, many school districts are being forced to use research writing websites that all but write a student’s paper for them. Such sites remove much of the thinking and organizing, which alone builds neural connections that are among the greatest benefits of a research assignment. Students love such devices, because they make web surfing, wasting time, and cheating much easier, and force-fed on such revolutionary devices, they never develop the intellectual, and the interpersonal, skills necessary to succeed in college.

College Readiness: More and more states are demanding “college readiness,” of all students. This generally takes the shape of mandatory standards teachers must teach, testing, data production, and significant lost class time, and student time away from classes, to certify high schools are adequately preparing students for college. Added to testing and “technology education” mandates, it’s a wonder most students graduate from high school with any literacy.

The Great Dumbing Down Machine: Beginning even before Barack Obama’s presidency, there has been an insane push to send everyone to college. On the slightest rational reflection, this concept is plainly insane, and practical experience, the kind about which Solway speaks, proves it. If college is about education, about graduating capable, improved intellects, such a concept is impossible, yet it is the status quo, and college administrators, and politicians, are doubling down on abject failure.

Admitting anyone forces colleges to establish remedial high schools on campus, which force woefully unprepared freshmen into a year or more of high-school level classes. Such classes cost full college tuition, but deliver no college credit, which is a real money-maker, but destructive to students and society. Seven-year undergraduate degrees are now common, but should be no surprise. Kids who had no interest in high school never develop the habits, abilities, and social and intellectual maturity to do genuinely college level work.

It’s an entirely unnecessary debacle, as I wrote in October of 2017:

Charles Murray, the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute is a prolific writer on education issues.  One of his most interesting works (PDF available here), written in 2009, is entitled Intelligence and Education.  Murray referred, for example, to a survey that found 90% of high school students were encouraged to attend college by their counselors.  It is not surprising, therefore, to discover:

‘For 40 years, American leaders have been unwilling to discuss the underlying differences in academic ability that children bring to the classroom. Over the same period, federal policy, backed by billions of taxpayer dollars in loans and grants, has aggressively encouraged more and more students to try to obtain a college education. As a result, about half of all high-school graduates now enroll in four-year colleges, despite the ample evidence that just a small minority of American students — about 10-15% — have the academic ability to do well in college.’

Using his own research and that of others, Murray came to an interesting conclusion about what is necessary for genuine success in college: an IQ of at least 115.

‘There is no inconsistency between Kobrin’s results and a 115 mean IQ among white college graduates. The students who make salient points in classroom discussions, who write well-researched term papers, and whose final exams demonstrate that they understood the material are usually well into the upper half of the distribution of academic ability among those who go to college. In other words, they are somewhere in the top 15% of the population — and usually in the top 10%.

Some people are just smarter than others. Were that not so, average would have no meaning. Obviously, however, colleges want as much money as possible, and producing competent graduates is a secondary concern.

Just over a year ago, the University of Michigan launched a new, five-year-long initiative named the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan. In an official statement by President Mark Schlissel, the plan’s primary goal is stated to be the creation of a ‘vibrant climate of inclusiveness’ on campus.

In order to heighten campus diversity, the plan pledged to increase enrollment of students from underrepresented backgrounds. These targeted demographics include the usual race and gender groups, but also, notably, students with underrepresented ‘political perspective[s].

If diversity and inclusiveness are the standards, intellect is, of necessity, far down the list of admission requirements, if it’s considered at all. So we have established a K-12 system focused almost entirely on producing data, testing to produce more data, supporting a huge, fad-producing education/industrial complex, and a pipeline to college, complete with an entirely taxpayer supported student loan gravy train. What’s that you say, gentle readers? You didn’t know one of the things we had to pass Obamacare to find out was Mr. Obama federalized the entire student loan industry, so when kids who can’t possibly succeed with genuine college level work drop out without a degree, taxpayers are on the hook for their defaulted loans? Which brings us back to Mr. Solway.

Send enormous numbers of entirely unprepared, and in many cases, unpreparable, people to college, and one of two things must happen: (1) tighten admission standards to allow only the prepared to enroll. Unfortunately, this would lay bare every failed idea that comprises the modern university, so that can’t happen. (2) Dumb down everything, producing precisely the state of affairs that drove Solway off campus. This inevitably produces every pathology Solway observed: students that cry “racism!” when professors try to correct their grammar and spelling; students focused on gender dysphoria; students focused on eternal grievance mongering; “studies” programs that feature no actual scholarship, and often, optional attendance, and the list is virtually endless.

Perhaps Solway is right. Perhaps education must be entirely dismantled and built from a rational, traditional foundation upward. But in a very real sense, college teachers have only themselves to blame. Enrolling people they know will fail is hardly diverse and inclusive; it’s cruel. It’s also destructive to our representative republic.