Another testimonial from a refugee from academia:
I’m unsure how interesting this email will be to you, but with the recent discussion on your blog about the current state of academia I thought my story might be of some relevance.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep love of history. It began in elementary school when I would devour any book I could find about ancient and medieval armies- the English Longbowman, the Egyptian Charioteer, the Frankish Knight- I still remember the vivid hand-drawn pictures and descriptions from those thin hardback books in the library. In high school I was blessed to have some wonderful history teachers that fanned the flames even more. It was then that my interests moved on from exclusively military history to theology, politics, and economics- I loved it all. On the bus to away football games, while all the other players were listening to rap on their Ipods, I would sail the seas with Patrick O’Brian’s captain Jack Aubrey or fight in the trenches with Arthur Conan Doyle’s White Company.
After enrolling at the local state college in 2008 I eagerly selected history as my major- for four years, my only job would be to think about the past! It seemed too good to be true. The first course that stood out to be was a 3-hour credit on the Crusades. I bought the required reading and read it all weeks in advance, ready to come in and talk about Raymond of Toulouse, Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and all the rest.
The professor of the class was a wispy, thin woman with thin black hair and eyes that looked like they could break into tears at any moment. She began the class with a line that I would hear all too many times in the next four years: “We’re not really interested in specific dates or people in this class.” For the rest of the semester, she talked. I use the indescriptive word “talked” because I’m not entirely sure what she talked about. I remember snippets- Christian violence against Jews and Muslims, multiculturalism in Outremer. All I know is that by the end of the class no one had gained any knowledge about the Crusades themselves. And I was certain that I was the only student who had actually read the required reading.
The next four years were a bit of a blur- I know I showed up to all my classes. I know I paid attention. I can also look at my transcripts and see almost all As with a smattering of Bs. But just like in that first class, I couldn’t tell you what we actually learned about. It was a strange experience for me- It seemed like the professors weren’t actually speaking English, or if they were it wasn’t a dialect of English I was fluent with. I was too ignorant at the time to really understand what was going on- of course, now I do: they were speaking the language of politics, of race class and gender, of theory. “Academic History” as opposed to the “Buff History” that I loved. As I reflect I suppose that my previous knowledge and love of history was in a way an inoculation against it. These professors weren’t interested in history- they were interested in politics and social change. They were far too busy with the present to give a whit about the past.
I had the same experience reading the academic journals in the library. I would stare at those articles and read the pages over and over and not glean anything. At first I thought that my reading comprehension must have been poor. It was only later that I realized I couldn’t read them because something in my system was resisting the indoctrination, and those articles could only be read by the initiated.
I do remember the change that came over my classmates. What was an even 50/50 split between males and females became more like 30/70 as we entered junior and senior year. The males were transferring into the business college or focusing exclusively on pre-law classes. How I wish I joined them. The professors also had cults of personality about them; at the end of each class there would always be a gaggle of girls that followed them back to their office hours. They often had strange hair colors like bubble-gum pink or light blue. They wore ear gauges and were often much fatter than they were freshman year. (It was only later that I realized I was witnessing proto-SJWs) I never joined these little groups- as a white, Christian, conservative male I felt very much the outcast.
I would like to say that most of the professors weren’t like this, but I can only remember one that taught real history. He was an older guy with a specialization in Catalan independence movements. I didn’t really have much interest in Iberian history, but what made him notable was that he could talk intelligently about other fields: about English Luddism, the French Revolution, the Greek Sophists… He was a true academic. I attended his office hours, always alone, and would be entranced as he simply talked. He seemed like he was just happy to have someone to talk to. It was later that I learned he once had written for a conservative think-tank; he was as much an outcast as I was.
As it came time to apply for grad school, I never even wrote an application. It wasn’t just my disinterest in academia, but I had mostly lost my love of history. I wasn’t reading the way I used to- I probably read more unassigned books in one summer of high school than I did in all of college. I had also become intellectually incurious. I spent most of my free time playing video games. If engaging in the battleground of ideas was anything like I was experiencing every day in class, I wanted nothing to do with it.
After graduation I took the only job I could get with a fairly worthless history degree- teaching Middle School Social Studies. I’ve come to actually enjoy it, and my interest in history has returned in full force.
Every day I get to teach about Hernan Cortes, the Ancient Greeks, Charles “The Hammer” Martel (a class favorite- they think he’s Thor), the debate between Hamilton and Jefferson, the Civil War; I’m doing history again. Real history, not theory.
I hope that in some small way I can give my students their own inoculation against the beast. When they tell me they want to study history in college, I warn them against it. Not because I don’t love history, but because I love it too much.
Fight the power!
Please, readers, add your own stories to the comments thread here, or e-mail them to me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com.