Martin Center column examines efforts to rewrite history

Sumantra Maitra writes for the Martin Center about the “philosophical force” behind the campaign to rewrite history.

Two recent stories that dominated academic Twitter were the cancellation of the Western Art History course at Yale and the incorporation of the 1619 Project in the school curricula in Buffalo, New York and Washington DC. Though political centrists on Twitter were outraged, no one noted that those two incidents are thematically similar. Without understanding the connection, fighting back against indoctrination throughout the education system will be impossible.

Consider the situation at Yale. Yale’s administration ended a decades-old course on the Western canon because it is arguably too big a field to cover. The course, “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present,” was once taught by authorities like Vincent Scully but has caused “unease” among some students and faculty because it is an “idealized Western ‘canon’—a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.”

Putting European art “on a pedestal” is “problematic,” as every genre and tradition are “equally deserving of study,” according to Tim Barringer, chair of Yale’s art history department. …

… [M]ost structural changes and campus activism are led by a section of activist faculty, who in turn take advantage of students to use them as pawns or justifications to ensure a radical agenda. …

… None of those efforts are student-led. Nor are the faculty-led “open letter” campaigns and petitions—almost always started by activist-academics, who lead campus and student activism, sometimes causing de-platforming and violence.

It is unsurprising that, in the Yale and Buffalo cases, there are also top-down restructuring attempts, pushed by a section of activist media and academia, to craft a narrative without regard to students or taxpayers, an ongoing phenomenon. One of the persistent claims is that only a small minority of academics are radical and oppose free inquiry, and that there is no indoctrination in academia. That claim, as data suggests, is debatable, but the larger problem is when these small groups are successful in restructuring the academy and the majority stays silent because it is not worth the personal risk to try to stop them.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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