A small part of a liberal arts education — not more than 20 percent —should consist of lectures, seminars and assignments. The remaining 80 percent should focus on reading. Yet in far too many U.S. colleges today, the 80 percent element is misused. American students are being told to read the wrong books. And this failure of instruction is the stepbrother to the other great rot in American academia, political correctness.
It’s a big problem: effective reading is crucial in shaping of sharper minds, and better citizens.
How do we know what students are reading? Thanks to a new project, Open Syllabus. Its team has listed one million curricula from colleges across America over the past 15 years. At the top end of academia, the results are positive: Ivy League schools rank a preponderance of classical texts such as Plato’s “Republic,” Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” and Thomas Hobbes’s “Leviathan.”
Unfortunately, non-Ivy Schools — those that most of us attend or attended — show a heavy representation of pedantic, overrated far-left manifestos. For these schools, Edward Said’s “Orientalism” ranks 25th while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “Communist Manifesto” ranks fourth.
These high rankings are troubling. First, though lower ranked in the United States than in other nations (it’s No. 12 globally) “Orientalism” is a book many pretend to read but very few understand. Said takes a long time to make a basic point: consider your own biases. As such, were “Orientalism” anywhere in the top 50 of assigned readings, it would still be overrated.
Academia’s sole focus on radical books is a problem: effective reading is crucial in shaping sharper minds, and better citizens
More troubling, however, is the esteem with which U.S. professors continue to hold Marx. The Communist Manifesto is not a good book. It derides human capital, which has been the greatest source of well-being and social mobility in human history. Indeed, wherever Marx’s ideas have been applied they have caused immense suffering: just ask the Cubans, or the Vietnamese, or the Venezuelans. Better yet, recall the millions of dead Chinese and Russians who paid for communism with their lives.
In areas closely connected to public policy, the results are even more concerning. Unsurprisingly, Marxist authors dominate the reading lists in sociology. Consider this absurdity: “Democracy in America” is ranked 26th on sociology syllabi, while “The McDonaldization of America” ranks 17th. In economics, media-ordained liberal theologian Paul Krugman’s “Economics” is ranked second, while Adam Smith’s defining testament on capitalism, “The Wealth of Nations” is ninth. In military studies, Carl von Clausewitz’s seminal book “On War” lags at No. 41 while Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novel “Starship Troopers” ranks at No. 19. That dichotomy is an act of idiocy to compel students to be morons.
To be fair, it’s not all bad. The top 10 books on U.S. politics and philosophy course reading lists weigh positively towards Plato. In addition, it’s true that this pervasive leftist bias is not unique to America. Still, reading these rankings, it’s easy to understand why young Americans continue to vote against their own interests when it comes to politics. In the end, they are victims of professors who believe that open minds and leftist inculcation are mutually dependent.
Tom Rogan is a Senior Contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.