Trustees | General Education

The decline of history at schools is furthering the SJW madness

CALGARY SUN   |  April 9, 2017 by Anthony Furey

The ongoing saga of University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson’s opposition to calling students by gender neutral pronouns should never have become much of a story in the first place.

But the social justice brigade couldn’t help themselves and took a hard run at him, ensuring thanks to the attention their hysterics drew that a star was born in a lone academic taking a firm stand against political correctness.

The latest chapter is that Peterson’s been denied a grant that funds his research interests. The reason is unknown but the timing is suspicious, given that he’s currently public enemy No. 1 for squishy progressives in the Canadian academy.

Peterson’s story came to mind while I was reading a recent lecture by historian Niall Ferguson titled The Decline and Fall of History. It’s not history itself that the Scottish author of Civilization: The West and the Rest says is on the outs.

Clearly not. Just take a look at the news headlines. These days history is ticking along at a roaring pace. No, it’s the study of history at today’s universities that’s taking a hit.

“History, in short, is in trouble,” Ferguson observes after looking at how the enrollment numbers and courses on offer have changed over the decades. “History departments neglect the defining events of modern world history in favor of topics that are either arcane or agitprop, sometimes both. The result has been a sustained decline in history enrolments. The long-term effects on the elite who are educated at top American universities are unlikely to be positive. The ‘United States of Amnesia’ will get no better at learning from history if the people who end up running the republic know next to no history at all.”

The share of history and social science degrees has dropped from 18% of all undergraduate degrees at U.S. schools in 1971 to 9% in 2014. This doesn’t tell the full story either. Because the type of history being studied has changed alongside these declining numbers.

“The data reveal a very big increase in the number of historians who specialize in women and gender, which has risen from 1% of the total to almost 10%,” Ferguson notes. “As a result, gender is now the single most important subfield in the academy.”

The first and more obvious way this connects to Peterson is that if gender studies numbers are on the rise they’re, of course, going to see a professor who’s standing up to their racket as a threat and mobilize against him.

But it’s also telling that students are losing their grasp of traditional history. It makes contemporary events so much more relative to them. Students have less of a frame of reference from which to understand the world.

Think about it. Who in their right mind actually believes it’s a problem worth kicking up a stink about when one lone professor says that should a student in fact ask to be referred to as “zir” — and no one has even asked this of Peterson to date — he won’t do it? Is this really the do-or-die battle these progressives pretend it is? Do they have a sense of proportion? A sense of, oh I don’t know, history?

Ferguson was actually giving his remarks as an acceptance speech for an award he was receiving from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The co-recipient was his wife, famed author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who also delivered noteworthy remarks:

“Today, in a turbulent and chaotic world, students need a solid background in the attributes of Western civilization to be able to place events and ideas in context,” Hirsi Ali said. “Yet, at a time when a rigorous formation is needed the most, the American campus today seems beset by a protracted intellectual malaise.”

Today’s social justice warrior madness on campus is spilling over to infect the broader culture thanks to the reach of social media. If only they could put their ideas in context a bit more.


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