May 4th, 2017

Victor Davis Hanson on the Potemkin University

Hanson writes of how the university has become an expensive false-front of learning (that’s the “Potemkin” part) that is really devoted to fostering PC thought and behavior and monitoring itself and its denizens for any violations thereof. Well worth reading.

But it was this throwaway paragraph that caught my eye:

At the California State University system — the nation’s largest — nearly 40 percent of incoming students need remediation in math and English after failing basic competency tests. Universities are now scrambling to offer university credit for what are in truth remedial high-school courses, apparently to prevent eager (but entirely unprepared) students from hurt feelings when they butt up against the reality of college classes.

Now, that’s not really a surprise, but seeing that stark number—40%—is still depressing. Two things:

(1) It’s not just universities that are Potemkin facades, monuments to PC thought and helping students feel good about themselves no matter what, it’s high schools and grade schools, the institutions that should be preparing students for college.

(2) How will colleges react? They will continue to dumb themselves down more and more so that the “reality” against which students “butt up” when they get there perfectly meets their needs to continue to feel good about themselves.

The movie “Idiocracy” posited that this dumbing down would occur through the gene pool and reproductive habits. Unnecessary. We’ll accomplish the dumbing down purposely as a sacrifice on the altar of PC thought, with self-esteem and social justice for all.

21 Responses to “Victor Davis Hanson on the Potemkin University”

  1. Montage Says:

    With civil rights came respect for all people across all cultures and races, which in turn lead to a culture of being careful about what is taught and what is said. Which in turn led to a politically correct culture which then led to muzzling speech and then muzzling the perception of what MIGHT be offensive speech and then the creation of safe spaces.

    The goal at the universities is the keep civil rights and respect and social justice but to hold up on muzzling free speech. I am totally in agreement that Ann Coulter and Milo should be able to speak on any college campus. And, in fact, they were invited to do so at Berkeley. But the issue comes from the THREAT of protest from outsiders. [Note the parade in Oregon that was cancelled because of protest threats]. It’s this outside protest that is a real problem. Leftists promise violence. So what is any university to do? Push on and ignore it? Maybe. But laying this all at the feet of the university is not accurate. The worm is already out of the can and outside agitators are here to stay.

    So the next thing is for conservatives to push on and create their own space and not worry about pushback of any kind – including threat of violence. This is not easy. But I will support them. We need more than just liberal left voices on campuses.

  2. parker Says:

    I loathe the term “self-esteem. I teach 3 adult and 2 youth classes per week. Mothers (never a father) bring their kids in to start classes and 90% them want their kids to have self-esteem. I politely tell them I don’t teach self-esteem, I teach aikido. They invariably respond that little Dakota or Brooklyn lacks self-esteem and how important self-esteem is for their development. I politely inform the mother that I teach a martial art and through hard work and dedication their child may develop self-respect and respect for others.

    Many of these mothers tell me they will take their kids to a matrial art ‘place’ where the instructors teach self-esteem. I respond please do. A minority of mothers respond that they never thought about self-respect being different than self-esteem. I respond one (esteem) is given, the other (respect) is earned. These mothers usually enroll their kids for classes. About 50% stay involved beyond 6 months. Of those that do stay, they transition to adult classes when they are 15. Since we (the dojo) are not in it for the money, beyond paying rent, this suits us just fine. Currently the youth class has 26 students from as far as 30 miles away. BTW, none of our instructors receive any form of compensation, in fact we all pay the same monthly dues paid by our students.

    Excuse me for venting, but the very concept of “self-esteem” is a pet peeve.

  3. physicsguy Says:

    Neo:”They will continue to dumb themselves down more and more so that the “reality” against which students “butt up” when they get there perfectly meets their needs to continue to feel good about themselves.”

    Not so much to feel good about themselves, as to be able to keep those warm bodies enrolled and paying tuition. Must feed the academic administrative monster.

  4. carl in atlanta Says:

    Looks like the Potemkin effect has been hitting law schools as well.

  5. vanderleun Says:

    “remediation in math and English after failing basic competency tests”

    University of California all campuses from somewhere around 1963: “Bonehead English”

  6. Ann Says:

    Re Bonehead English from 1974:

    Almost half the freshmen at the University of California at Berkeley flunked an English composition exam this fall. They have had to enroll in a remedial course known around the campus as “Bonehead English.”

  7. J.J. Says:

    University of Colorado circa the1950s – “Dumbbell English and Math.”

    In those days any state resident who had a cumulative “C” average in high school was accepted as a student. The flunk out ratio was as high as 50% some years. People found out rather quickly if they were college material or not. However, it was not always a one and out for good. I know three students who flunked out their freshman years, went in the military, saw the value of an education, successfully returned to school, and graduated. Second chances and all that. As well as a bit of mental toughening up that comes with being an infantryman or sailor.

    Back in the 50s the term “academic freedom” was a cover for teaching or speaking about Marxism. Most of the student activism at the time was mild compared to today. But there were often editorials in the student newspaper pushing the leftist line and calling for more academic freedom. How quaint that seems in retrospect.

  8. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    A very important discussion, Neo.

    By the way, thanks for having alerted me to Prof. VDH some time ago in one of your postings. I checked him out on your recommendation and have been a devoted reader of his articles ever since.

    You have reminded me of how very blessed I was, as a first year university student in 1979, to take two literature courses run by a woman who, besides being a noted eccentric and one of Australia’s greatest living novelists, was a former high school teacher of long experience.

    Thea, not unreasonably, given her past teaching experience, the nature of the courses (literature subjects delivered mainly but not exclusively to students within the school of teacher education), and the venue, (a university), fiercely policed appropriate standards of spelling, grammar, written expression and comprehension in her students.

    As a worldly woman she would overlook a host of sins in her young charges but would not tolerate poor reading and writing.

    As she used to lecture:”how can you teach when you can’t communicate clearly” – which I thought, even then, was a fair-enough point).

    Thea personally banished students from her course if they failed to meet her literacy standards. She would , quite literally, grab their books and walk them to the door.

    Several of her victims lodged complaints trying to get her fired but failed – but even in those days she was probably only protected by her stature as an artist and the leeway it bought her to be eccentric.

    I have often thought of those education students she exiled with the parting words: “Do not under any circumstances go into teaching the young. They deserve far better.”

    Of course they probably went on to teaching careers and trained today’s cadre of teachers.
    Such a shame.

  9. charles Says:

    At first, my reaction to that 40 percent was “that’s low!”

    I thought that because my local community college is well over 60 percent of the students are in remedial math and English courses their first year.

    Then I realized that the number you quoted was for universities – not the local community college.

    Now, that is sad.

  10. TommyJay Says:

    My California community almost elected a Republican congressman maybe 20 years ago, but of course, our district had already been Gerrymandered to include a sizeable far-left town. The aforementioned election slipped from R to D in the late night vote counting as the crazy-town votes came in.

    But apparently, the Gerrymandering strategy wasn’t enough, so they put a new Cal State campus right next to us. So while students study curricula like Global Studies, or Early Start Communication Across the Disciplines, they vote in our elections. AND, one of the English professors is now a city council member.

  11. AesopFan Says:

    Support Affirmative Action for Prepared Students.
    And this:

    Until the cities and public in general stop coddling unprepared students and teachers of ANY race, sex, and subject matter (I almost used the formerly appropriate word “discipline”), we will continue to have chaos.

    Not that the Left wants anything different, of course; it never has.

  12. AesopFan Says:

    This comes from a link on the ACA post, but I think it has general applicability.

    “All government policies come with a price. These costs can come in the form of higher taxes, higher priced goods and services, fewer jobs, slower economic growth, sluggish innovation, rationing, long lines, etc. Some costs voters are willing to bear, but others they are not.

    But far too often, policy is made without voters fully understanding the costs of policies their elected officials and unelected regulators implement. A truly representative and accountable democracy depends on government officials being honest and clear with voters about what sacrifices voters will need to make in order to obtain a policy benefit. [as opposed to deliberately obscuring the bills so that we DON’T know what the trade-offs are — good luck with that]

    Furthermore, it’s important for policymakers to understand if voters are willing to shoulder the costs to get a particular government benefit. Thus, it is incumbent upon polling organizations to investigate what trade-offs Americans are willing to make—and that which they are not.

    In sum, before declaring overwhelming public support for a public policy, one should always check public willingness to bear its costs.”

  13. Tuvea Says:

    Mathematics is a White Privilege used to enslave people of Color!

    Anyone who knows The Quadratic Formula is raycis!

    / sarc off

  14. eeyore Says:

    I taught a few courses at a community college. A student badly failed a math test that was basic addition and subtraction. The students were allowed to use calculators. I asked him to add 24 +7 and he messed up with it. He couldn’t do it in his head and didn’t recognize when he made a mistake with the calculator. He complained and was given the test again but had an even worse score. It doesn’t surprise me how deficient kids are coming out of high school.

  15. The Other Chuck Says:

    Charles said:

    Then I realized that the number you quoted [40%] was for universities – not the local community college.

    VDH is talking about the California State University system, not the University of California. Cal State is made of up former State Teachers Colleges which were originally 2 year normal schools. They started calling them universities in 1972 to give them a recognition most do not deserve. Take Chico State for example which is a big ol’ party school.

    They’re not all lower rung colleges. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Pomona are fine schools. But admission to any of these schools is nowhere near what’s required at say U.C. Berkeley or Davis. That 40% need bonehead English and basic math means that they’ve not only lowered admission requirements, but also shows the dismal nature of California’s public high schools.

  16. Hangtown Bob Says:

    ” nearly 40 percent of incoming students need remediation in math and English after failing basic competency tests.”


    If today’s college students are “majoring” in disciplines such as LGBTQRST studies or women’s free-flow menstruation, basic competancy is entirely irrelevant.

  17. raf Says:

    More like ‘remedial elementary’ classes. Once upon a time, a sixth grade education meant you could read, write, and arith.

  18. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Next thing they’ll be talking about “Potemkin elections”.

  19. GRA Says:

    When I was an undergraduate student I visited one of sociology professors during her office hours. I don’t recall the exact lead up to this comment, I suppose I was commenting on the student quality found in our department in general, and she said, “You and I received a solid education.” It was clear my verbal and written thoughts made me stand out.

    When she said this I frowned a bit because she admitted that the students surrounding me weren’t strong – in anyways, that I was, in some ways, a gem. This also was confirmed by a few other professors including the department chair.

    I didn’t want to be the gem since I found it disturbing how my peers could be so underwhelming that it would make me, someone who is of average intelligence, standout.

    She asked where I went to school and I said parochial schools until university. She nodded. I added that the schools I attended weren’t anything special in terms of student population, but quietly assumed the instruction and discipline were probably superior.

    A similar thing happened when I was speaking to my department chair a couple of days before Christmas break. He asked what high school school I attended and I mentioned a parochial school. He nodded. “What it ranked?” It wasn’t; only publicly funded schools were ranked by our city’s newspaper. But it really didn’t matter if your school was ranked since public schools matriculate elementary school kids due to suburban boundaries and zip code. It out of sheer luck any brilliant kids attended. It didn’t matter if you attended a school ranked an arbitrary #60 with a Bronze Medal from USNews it mattered little the grand scheme of things. That #60 ranked high school was no New Trier or Hinsdale – and even then there are plenty of mediocre students who attend such schools.

  20. liberty wolf Says:

    I find this remedial education for CSU students, the high percentage that need it, really depressing. I just don’t understand WHAT they are learning in their k-12 if they are not learning these things. It is nuts!

  21. GRA Says:

    Neo, I’d think this would be of interest to you:

    It touches on what Hanson is saying.

    Mind you, it’s an alt-right site and they do mention Jews somewhat unfavorably, but it’s only a tiny portion of the podcast.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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