“I have disappointed you and I’m really sorry,” Nicholas Christakis told about 100 students gathered in his living room on Sunday for a meeting also attended by Jonathan Holloway, the dean of Yale College, and other university administrators. Christakis said his encounter on Thursday with students in the college’s courtyard, in which numerous black women upbraided him for being inattentive to them, broke his heart, according to a voice recording of the conversation provided to The Washington Post.
“I mean it just broke my heart,” Christakis said. “I thought that I had some credibility with you, you know? I care so much about the same issues you care about. I’ve spent my life taking care of these issues of injustice, of poverty, of racism. I have the same beliefs that you do … I’m genuinely sorry, and to have disappointed you. I’ve disappointed myself.”
The man threw himself and his own wife under the bus. The humiliation is an ugly thing. He begged forgiveness for defending free speech and inquiry on a college campus. This was an act of total cowardice. I am embarrassed for him, but at least we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt what kind of place Yale is, and who runs that university.
This comment appeared on an earlier p.c. on campus thread:
Count me in as another young academic who is on the verge of leaving the academy altogether, especially after this week. The current climate of higher ed, coupled with the insanely exploitative labor practices of the academy (practices, mind you, perpetrated by people who are ever prating on about class inequality), leave me with no real desire to teach a generation of students who are uninterested in my class apart from their garnering a wholly unearned A on their transcripts and who believe that every little feeling merits validation and encouragement. I hate that my leaving the academy would mean that I’m essentially ceding the academy to these people, but the headache and the fear of falling foul of ideological policing isn’t worth it, especially not for what I’m being paid. No currently untenured conservative Christian stands a chance in this environment. Either he will be found out for what he is, or the cognitive dissonance of believing one thing while outwardly assenting to another will overwhelm the psyche. We might as well start planning what to do with our degrees in other fields.
There has to be some place for scholars like that to go. Why can’t we create them? Commenting on the gutlessness of American universities in the face of Social Justice Warrior-ism, political correctness, careerism, therapeutic mumbo-jumbo, and the inability of authorities within these institutions to stand up to the demands of the young, commenter Fiestamom writes:
My children attended (and still attend) a small non diocesan Catholic high school. The kids get are getting a good Classical education and it is very Catholic. But this school is all about college placement.
It is infuriating. The school is giving the kids a great Catholic foundation, then houndng the kids to spend their next four years at these SJW indoctrination centers. I had to cajole and plead with my 18 y/o to attend Community College for two years. Are the teachers and administrators not seeing the stories about the SJW’s, the hookup culture, the false rape accusations?
I wish more Catholic and Christian schools saw the value in classically educating future plumbers, hairdressers, electricians, etc.
Absolutely. There are bound to be quite a few parents like my wife and me who are sick of this nonsense, and would love our kids, both in high school and college, to get actual educations. I want them to attend a college where they will be taught by men with chests and women with backbones, not quivering Christakises who abase themselves before some of the most privileged young people on the planet. I know there are some colleges and universities out there that care about the Western tradition, and real knowledge, not just trivial political posturing and narcissism. Just this fall, I’ve seen great things within honors and humanities programs at Villanova, Baylor, and Union. One of you readers said in a comment that the collapse of higher education (meaning, I take it, the moral and intellectual collapse) opens up a Benedict Option opportunity for existing “Great Books” schools and programs that educate from within the Christian humanist tradition — as well as opens up an opportunity for creating new schools and programs.
The classical Christian education guru Andrew Kern has written about the differences among Progressive, Traditionalist, and Classical approaches to education:
At the root of the classical approach is a commitment to the belief that things have a nature and that we can know them according to their natures and treat them in ways fitting to their natures. In addition, things have a purpose, and love enables its object to fulfill both its purpose and its nature. In the classical tradition, the object of a science is to know the nature of a thing. The object of an art is to refine one’s ability to know the nature of things. The sophist or Progressive educator does not believe we can know anything. The traditionalist believes that we can know only through the tradition. The classicist believes that we can perceive the nature of things and relate to them according to their natures. What does your teaching lead your students to? That will tell you which of these theories you hold.
Back in January, in the Q&A period after a speech I gave on Dante, a young woman who appeared to be of graduate student age stood and demanded to know why I thought Dante had anything to teach us today, given that he was a white male yadda yadda. I confess I was not prepared to answer a question as ignorant and impious towards the past as that one, and can’t remember what I told her. A college professor approached me after the talk and said that the young woman’s question reflects the way Dante and other Greats are taught in the university today.
It made me angry. As you know, I didn’t discover Dante until I was 46 years old, and he changed my life. I don’t really blame my high school and university for not introducing me to Dante, though I wish someone had decided that all college-educated people in the West need to have read Dante. Still, reading the Divine Comedy taught me that I was a slave in ways I had not fully comprehended, and set me free. I cannot possibly express the depth of my gratitude for what Dante gave me; he brought me out of myself, opened my mind, and reinvigorated my soul. It grieves me — no, it infuriates me — to imagine that colleges and universities teach that Dante is a poisoner of young minds.
Yesterday I traded e-mails with a friend who is in graduate school studying literature because he deeply, truly loves it. He’s depressed and angry over what’s going on at Yale and Mizzou. Where do people like him — young scholars who really love literature — go with their lives and vocations?
In short, where are the academic monasteries that will guard knowledge and keep the light burning through this new Dark Age? Let’s strengthen the ones we have, and build new ones — and let these institutions of learning boast of defying the spirit of the age.
The cowardice and demoralization we see in academia now, especially in the humanities, didn’t come from nowhere. It came from progressives within academia who convinced generations that the Western intellectual tradition is nothing but a façade for power. It came from business types and “practical” men, people who see education in an entirely instrumental way, and for whom the humanities are negligible, because they produce no profit (“What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?” is not a question that occurs to them). It came from a public that is largely indifferent to such things, and that cares more about the quality of the football team than quality of the faculty. And it came from a culture that has slipped into a sophisticated barbarism, an outlook held by people who cannot be bothered to care for its past or anything higher than their present desires.
This is not going to end well.
So, there’s blame to go around everywhere, but the greatest part of it rests on the shoulders of this society’s elites — academic, political, media, legal, business — who have failed in their mission to steward the culture and civilization from which they are the primary beneficiaries. When I think about the faculty and administrators (“men with souls made of cotton candy,” in National Review‘s withering phrase), I recall the passage from Michel Houellebecq’s newly translated novel Submission, in which his narrator talks about the fate of those who would not believe the prophet Cassandra’s predictions:
History is full of such blindness: we see it among the intellectuals, politicians, and journalists of the 1930s, all of whom were convinced that Hitler could “come to see reason.” It may well be impossible for people who have lived and prospered under a given social system to imagine the point of view of those who feel it offers them nothing, and who contemplate its destruction without any particular dismay.
Similarly, consider Christians in this country, who have raised two generations of children who know little or nothing about the faith and its traditions, and who don’t grasp why they should care. They can contemplate its death without any particular dismay, and are doing so, not only because parents failed, but also because the elites in charge of their institutions — religious schools and colleges, seminaries, churches — failed to comprehend the times, and failed to love what they had been given to care for and to pass down.
Can we older Christians imagine the viewpoint of young people who feel that Christianity offers them nothing? You might say that the kids feel entitled, but I tell you, when I hear many of my Christian friends in their 30s and 40s talk about the weak-tea religion in which they were raised, I can easily imagine why someone would give that nonsense up. I think of church people I know who watch parents dropping their kids off at Sunday school, but who never darken the door of the church themselves. The message moms and dads like that telegraph to their kids about the importance of religion is stronger than anything that gets said inside the church.
We can lament the auto-destruction of the church and the academy, or we can do something about it. We can prepare for the disintegration, and form communities of people who do love the faith, and who do love the Great Tradition, and who have ceased to trust institutions and elites within them to transmit that love to the young. We must strengthen those that stand, and start new institutions where there are no others.
A Catholic friend of mine says that there are no small number of Catholics in his city who are sick of the diocesan school system, because they believe it is compromised by secular values and the entire “success” mentality — meaning “success” as defined not by the actual teachings of Roman Catholicism, but rather by middle-class, upwardly-mobile professionals. The Catholic schools in that city are better than the public schools, but they are still pretty dismal from the point of view of Catholics who actually want to pass on the faith to their children. He tells me that if someone would start a classical Christian school there like St. Jerome’s in Hyattsville, Maryland, they would be an instant success.
I believe it. It’s time to quit thinking about these things, folks, and to start doing something about them. Organize! Don’t wait to be saved! The displeasure of a football team just took down the president and chancellor of a major state university. And whining students who just wanted to talk about their pain compelled a distinguished scholar to apologize and beg forgiveness for defending free speech and open inquiry. If those aren’t signs of the times, what is?
UPDATE: Reader Tag Murphy, quoting John Maynard Keynes:
I had just started reading Davenport-Hines’s bio of Keynes when I saw your post, and was I struck by a passage he lifted from a letter Keynes wrote in 1925.
“…the moral problem of our age is concerned with the love of money, with the habitual appeal to the money motive in nine-tenths of the activities of life, with the universal striving after individual economic security as the prime object of endeavor, with the social approbation of money as the measure of constructive success, and with the social appeal to the hoarding instinct as the necessary provision for the family and for the future. The decaying religions around us, which have less and less interest for most people unless it be an agreeable form of magical ceremonial or of social observance, have lost their moral significance.. just because they do not touch in the least degree on these essential matters.”
That’s really true, and this is the fact that Christians in America are loath to face: that you cannot serve both God and Mammon. Increasingly, the choice will be forced on us whether we like it or not. Christians are going to have to decide whether they want their children to be “successful” by the world’s definition of the term, or by the Bible’s. I expect most of us to make the wrong choice. I hope I am not one of them, when put to the test.