Winning the Culture Wars—Arizona Style

Forget a long march through the institutions. Conservatives in Arizona are trying a new tactic to win the campus culture wars. Will this new style of legislative campus coup achieve what generations of conservative intellectuals haven’t been able to pull off?

According to the New York Times, conservative lawmakers in Arizona—fueled by bags of cash—have foisted two “Freedom School” programs onto the party campus of Arizona State. Students study the traditional Western canon–Aristotle, Madison, Adam Smith—unfiltered by recent trends in academic thinking.

ArizonaState

Home to Freedom Schools and beer bongs…

The goal, as one lawmaker told the NYT, was to fix the warped intellectual culture of college life. Students are supposed to hear the powerful arguments for free markets and the superiority of Western culture. As Representative Jay Lawrence put it,

There is too much revisionism being taught in universities today. . . . It’s a big deal to those of us who feel very strongly about a more conservative education.

The NYT article doesn’t go into it, but this style of legislative curriculum-making has been popular lately among conservative politicians. In Colorado, SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, pressure from the Capitol forced a new chair of conservative thought onto Boulder’s campus. In Wisconsin, lawmakers foisted a campus rule giving conservative students the right to appeal any slight to their conservative ideals.

To this reporter, these attempts to legislate conservative ideas onto left-leaning campuses represent a new strategy.

For about a century now, of course, conservative intellectuals and academics have fretted about the state of higher education. One particular group of religious conservatives—as I recount in my new book about evangelical higher education—threw in the towel and opened their own wildly successful conservative colleges.

More secular conservatives have tried a variety of tactics. Beginning in the 1940s, conservative intellectuals have founded alternative student groups, journals, and newspapers, as George Nash described so powerfully in his history of conservative intellectual life.

Yet in spite of generations of dedicated conservative academic activism, mainstream college campuses still skew left. As Neil Gross has argued, this is more due to self-selecting than to any vast left-wing conspiracy.

Yet it still rankles conservatives. Will the new strategy make mainstream secular campuses more conservative?

William Jennings Bryan dreamed it in 1922.

Frank Chodorov salivated about it in 1953.

Until now, though, conservative intellectuals haven’t had the big-budget clout that they’ve needed to set up campus programs. Will Arizona State’s new “Freedom Schools” herald a new era in secular conservative higher education?

I doubt it. The programs need to offer the kinds of things that colleges have always had to offer—professional certifications, career opportunities, and so on. My guess is that the funding will peter out and students will return to traditional majors and academic programs.

HT: HD

Shelfies II: Electric Boogaloo

Keep those shelfies pouring in!  Send ILYBYGTH a snapshot of your bookshelf.  What is on there?  Why?

Today we’re sharing our second shelfie.  Last time we posted our front-and-center pile of books.  This time, we’re going just to the left.

What's on YOUR shelf?

What’s on YOUR shelf?

Starting at the top, we have George Nash’s crucial 1976 Conservative Intellectual Movement in America.  Everyone who hopes to understand American conservatism should read this volume.  Nash famously argued that the postwar conservative intellectual movement brought together disparate strains of conservative thinking into a consciously fusionist effort.  Burkean traditionalists allied with libertarians and anti-communists to make a newly powerful movement.  The book itself is terrific, though some later readers have assumed that Nash was speaking more broadly than he was.  See below.

Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind has been just as potent a book as Nash’s among conservative nerds.  Writing in the 1950s, Kirk attempted to establish a long and unbroken chain of conservative intellectualism from Edmund Burke through the mid-twentieth century.  Along the way, Kirk emphasizes an idiosyncratic group of writers and politicians as leaders of conservatism, and repositions conservatism as a central tradition of American life and letters, rather than as a collection of fringe loudmouths.

I also like David Farber’s The Rise and Fall of American Conservatism.   Last spring, I taught a senior seminar for history majors in the history of American conservatism.  I waffled on whether to make Farber’s book the central narrative.  In the end, I chose to have students read Kirk instead.  Why?  Unlike Kirk, Farber writes from outside the movement.  He defines conservatism more narrowly, and in a way that would not challenge the thinking of the undergrads, I decided.  For Farber, conservatism consists mainly of a political fight against “liberalism.”  Conservatism got its start, Farber argued, with Robert Taft’s fight against the New Deal’s big-government approach to social welfare.  To many of the students I worked with, Reagan-esque anti-government conservatism is the only kind they know.  Farber’s book is a great history of that sort of conservatism.  But I wanted to get smart sophisticated students to make the definition of conservatism their central intellectual challenge.  Farber’s book made it too easy for students to think that Reagan’s style of conservatism was the ONLY definition of conservatism.

Jerome Himmelstein’s To the Right is a sociological look at the boundaries of American conservatism.  It is worth reading.  IMHO, though, it takes Nash’s definition too glibly as its starting point.  Himmelstein assumes too comfortably that “conservatism” is nothing more nor less than the definition William F. Buckley and his comrades gave it in the 1940s and 1950s.  Too simple.

Starting with the blue-bound dissertations on the left, I recommend two: Kenneth K. Bailey’s Anti-Evolution Crusade of the Nineteen-Twenties (PhD dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1954); and Ferenc M. Szasz, “Three Fundamentalist Leaders: The Roles of William Bell Riley, John Roach Straton, and William Jennings Bryan in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy ,” (PhD dissertation, University of Rochester, 1969).  Historians of religion will likely know Szasz’s name; he went on to a glorious academic career.  His dissertation study of these three leaders is still worth reading.  Bailey’s dissertation suffers from a simplistic understanding of the nature of fundamentalism, but his collection of newspaper accounts is still unbeaten.  I relied on both of these dissertation while writing my dissertation book.  For everyone interested in 1920s fundamentalism and anti-evolution, they are worth hunting down.

Laurence Moore’s Religious Outsiders is also required reading.  Though these days no historian of religion would say that Moore’s “outsiders” don’t get academic attention, at the time Moore’s book came out it pushed the field in healthy new directions.

I don’t know why James Gilbert’s A Cycle of Outrage doesn’t get more attention.  It is one of my favorite academic histories.  Gilbert takes a look in this book at a central question for all of us interested in education and culture.  Why was there such an explosion of anxiety in the mid-twentieth century about crime and criminality among young people?

Of course, I have the old dog-eared copy of Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture relegated to a side position now that I’ve finally purchased the 2006 revised edition.

Educational historians out there will recognize Jackie Blount’s Destined to Rule the Schools.  Among educational historians, one of the most studied and fruitful lines of questioning has been the complicated relationship between femininity and schooling.  On the one hand, the systematization of public schooling often put men principals and superintendents in charge of female classroom teachers.  Women were seen as “naturally” more fit for caring for young people; men were seen as more fit for running the show.  But as Blount explores, many women were able to use stereotypes of femininity to build a professional network as school administrators as well.

Next up, two of Barry Hankins’ titles, American Evangelicals and Francis Schaeffer.  For people with an interest in the history of American evangelicalism, I can’t recommend the first title strongly enough.  Hankins is a terrific writer and a keen historian.  In this book he combines readability with academic thoroughness, which is hard to do.  And, as readers are aware, there are few intellectual figures as central as Schaeffer to the mind of evangelical America.  As you can see, I ended up with an extra copy somehow.  If anyone would like it, just let me know; I’ll be happy to put it in the mail for you if you send your land address.

It’s almost impossible to see hidden in there, but I also like Stephen Pyne’s Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction.  There are a lot of “so-you-want-to-write-a-dissertation” books out there, and I’m sure every nerd has his or her favorite.  I like Pyne’s book for its combination of nitty-gritty advice and head-in-the-clouds ambition.  It’s not easy to remember how difficult it can be for beginners to write academic history.  I always recommend Pyne’s book for graduate students with whom I work.  They never have any free time for extra reading, but I think Pyne’s guide is worth their time.

Last but not least, I’ve got Barry Franklin’s From ‘Backwardness’ to ‘At-Risk.’ I got this book to use with my doctoral history-of-ed class.  In the end, it got bumped from the syllabus.  But the book is still very much worth reading for those interested in educational history.  As the title suggests, it looks at the history of what we now call “special education.”  In addition to telling this story, though, Franklin offers insights into the way educational policy has been framed and the ways students have been defined.

OK, nuf sed!  Send in your shelfies so we can all get a sense of what you’ve got on your shelf and why.

 

 

From the Archives: Bobby Squirrel, Billy James Hargis, and the Counter-Subversive Imagination

Quick: What’s the most anti-communist animal?  The ass-kicking bald eagle?  The industrious ant?

Fifty years ago, prominent Mississippi conservative leader Edna Whitfield Alexander lamented the subversive communist takeover of another likely forest-dwelling Cold Warrior: the nut-hoarding squirrel.

At the time, Alexander chaired the Mississippi Daughters of the American Revolution’s Committee on National Defense.  She complained that a story in one of Mississippi’s first-grade textbooks subverted the naturally capitalistic image of the squirrel.  In “Ask for It,” Alexander charged, “socialistic” authors used a tale of Bobby Squirrel insidiously to undermine the idea of hard work and thrift among Mississippi’s impressionable young school children.

In a pitch-perfect example of what historian Ellen Schrecker has called the “counter-subversive imagination,” Alexander blasted the textbook The New Our New Friends.  Among the seemingly innocuous just-so stories, Alexander sniffed out the “socialistic” message this book included about Bobby Squirrel.

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From “Ask for It,” The New Our New Friends, by William S. Gray, Marion Monroe, A. Sterl Artley, and May Hill Arbuthnot, (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1956). Adopted as a school textbook by the State of Mississippi, 1963.

As Alexander asked in the pages of the Monitor Herald (Calhoun City, MS), January 3, 1963, “Have you ever heard or read about a more subtle way of undermining the American system of work and profit and replacing it with a collective welfare system?”

From a twenty-first-century perspective, it is difficult to remember the prominent role anti-communism played in American conservatism throughout much of the twentieth century.  As historian George Nash has argued, anti-communism often served as the intellectual glue that held together a disparate conservative movement, linking free-market activists with libertarians, Catholic intellectuals, and Protestant social traditionalists.

I came across this story in the Billy James Hargis Papers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  All historians interested in the history of conservatism in twentieth-century American education, religion, and culture should make this one of their first destinations.  Not only did the Reverend Hargis keep his own voluminous collection of small magazines, newsletters, and ephemera from various conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant and anti-communist sources, but he also apparently bought up other collections, such as Allen Zoll’s.  As a result, the Hargis Papers in Fayetteville provide a one-stop reading shop for a vast collection of rare archival gems.

Unfortunately, Hargis did not keep much personal material.  It is not easy to get a sense of Hargis’ own thinking.  But the many boxes of newsletters and clippings include a wide array of pieces like Mrs. Alexander’s attempt to purge Mississippi schoolbooks of creeping, hopping Squirrel socialism.