In 2012 I published a book entitled The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. In it, I deplored the increasing fixation on group identity in the humanities and social sciences departments of American universities. That fixation, I noted, was coupled with “a preoccupation with the historical grievances of certain groups” as well as “a virulent hostility to America, which is consistently cast as the prime villain in the histories of these groups.” I devoted the book’s first chapter to tracing the theoretical origins of this lamentable phenomenon, then spent a chapter apiece outlining four of the group-oriented “studies” that had become established parts of today’s academic curricula – Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, and Chicano Studies. In an additional chapter, I presented a round-up of other “studies,” some of which were, at the time, relatively new and on the rise: Cultural Studies, Disability Studies, Fat Studies, Men’s Studies, Whiteness Studies.
My overall point was simple: none of this nonsense had anything to do with actual education. It was all about encouraging students to identify not as individuals who were at college to prepare themselves for a successful life but as members of one or more oppressed groups (the more, by the way, the better) and to see themselves, on that account, as victims of deep-seated prejudice on the part of a system that was determined to keep them down and prevent their success. And if you weren’t a member of any of those groups – if, in other words, you were a healthy heterosexual white male – the goal of all these pseudo-studies was to teach you that you were in possession of an undeserved privilege for which you were obliged to spend your life apologizing and making amends. Never mind if you’d grown up dirt-poor and had worked your toches off to get into college.
When The Victims’ Revolution came out, the New York Times Book Review assigned it to Andrew Delbanco, a humanities professor at Columbia University and one of the Times‘s top go-to guys on education. The thrust of Delbanco’s review was that my picture of the academy today was (a) “mostly a caricature” and (b) “out of date,” because “this kind of thing is a shrinking sector of academic life.”
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