“Harmful” Americans “stuck on stupid”
America, the long-popular term for the United States, can be spoken no longer. “America” therefore is – at least on campus – dead. Good riddance to that racist moniker!
We learn this from our friends at the Leland Stanford Junior University, named in honor of the son and namesake of 19th Century Republican U.S. Senator Amasa Leland Stanford. The elder Stanford, who served as Governor of the Golden State in 1862-63, was also a railroad executive whose son lived only to the age of 15.
According to Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative [EHLI], the term “American” is a racist insinuation that the U.S. is the most important country of the 42 nations in the Western Hemisphere. [Q: How many people are crossing the borders of the other 41?]
“Harmful” terms on the EHLI website are grouped into these categories – ableist, ageism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, and violent. But the public no longer has access to Stanford’s list that includes many more than George Carlin’s seven dirty words.
Listing forbidden words has been quite a fad on both the Left and the Right. Back in 2010, Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels banned 119 “newspeak” words and phrases “from ever crossing the lips of anchors and reporters at WGN-AM.” That same year Buzzfeed listed 68 words you could not say on TV.
Today, of course, censorship has gotten much more sophisticated, as some of us have recently learned from Elon Musk’s release of the so-called “Twitter Files,” a release that has the Federal Bureau of Insurrection (sic) up in arms. [Wait – Stanford says this offends armless humans.]
We should not be surprised that Stanford is leading the banned words parade. In 2018, Stanford banned the use of the American* flag by any university club (more specifically, by the campus Republican club). In 2019, a former student accused the university of banning martial arts classes on campus from allowing community members (often instructors) to participate. On the other hand, the Stanford band is “the most banned marching band” in the country.
[*Stanford apparently was using this “racist” term just four years ago.]
Stanford would have done better to have categorized “weasel words,” like those often used by the U.S. Congress. Words like “inflation reduction act,” “affordable care act,” or even “war on drugs,” or “gun control.” None of these shibboleths actually produced the results claimed in its title. All left the public as misinformed as the quest for a better word to describe “stuck on stupid” than “stupid.”
The assault by academia on common sense seemingly has no bounds. Take, for example, University of Rhode Island Director of Graduate Studies Erik Loomis. In 2020 he tweeted, “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist because they are developed by racists who live in a racist society, whether they identify as racists or not.”
Or how about the Canadian research report, “Decolonizing Light: A Project Exploring Ways to Decolonize Physics”? The authors claim, “Even more than other sciences, physics is a white male dominated field and, thus, a mirror of colonial patterns and social inequality.”
The problem, they believe, is that “higher education systems in Canada have a history of perpetuating Eurocentric/Western canons of thought as the ‘normative discourse’ across all academic fields of study and continue to play a key role in promoting the colonization of indigenous peoples.” [Do the Chinese really worry about these great matters?]
Are we to conclude that these well-paid researchers believe that physics terms such as force, torque, mechanical stress, and energy are culturally racist? Is math racist? University of Illinois education professor Rochelle Gutierrez says, “Mathematics itself operates as whiteness.”
One might think this denigration of science is a new thing (discounting the trials of Galileo and many others). Some, however, may remember “the new math,” which educators and politicians in the 1960s promoted as THE means to regain America’s (sic) technological superiority in the wake of Sputnik.
Over a decade’s children were forced into this failed philosophy that left students unprepared for college-level mathematics, confused, and even apathetic. Best-seller Why Johnny Can’t Add: The Failure of New Math argued that the curriculum “ignored completely the fact that mathematics is a cumulative development and that it is practically impossible to learn newer creations if one does not know the older ones.”
Many are aware that math scores plummeted in 49 states during the first year of the COVID-19 lockdowns, during which government institutions closed schools. We are only now learning that those questionable decisions were made without concern for the academic consequences.
The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that average math score fell by eight points for eighth graders and five points for fourth graders from 2019 to 2021 – the largest declines in mathematics in the entire history of the NAEP.
But fewer may recall that results, as measured by the 2019 NAEP, were already stagnant at best in the wake of near-unanimous adoption by school districts of Common Core. Dr. Peggy Carr, an executive with the National Center for Education Statistics proclaimed that, “Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance.”
Worse, she added, “The lowest performing students – those readers who struggle the most – have made no progress in reading from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.” Theodor Rebarber, author of the Pioneer Institute report, “The Common Core Debacle,” argued that these “shocking trends” indicate the nation needs to reevaluate any federal involvement in education.
One scary result of this abandonment of successful educational pedagogy: Experts estimate that there is only one qualified engineer for every 1.9 engineering jobs. U.S. companies are having to look abroad for qualified applicants. The U.S. is also reporting a shortage of coders.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein lamented that neither major candidate had focused on the issue of scientific competitiveness, even in the wake of a National Academies report that “the scientific and technological building blocks that are critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.”
What is even sadder is that American politicians – and educators (many students, too) – appear to be unconcerned that our academic institutions are more concerned about “harmful words” than the skills and knowledge needed to operate our sophisticated society. “Words” today are given more value than academic performance. The very concept of academic testing is under assault.
The greatest victims of this abandonment of reason are Generation Z students, who are said to be less educated, more depressed, and less motivated to succeed than any generation in recent times. The chief reason was perhaps unwittingly uttered by President Joe Biden, “We believe [our made-up] truth over facts.”
Ornstein warned in 2008 that, “If we do not get our science and tech act together, we will be losers in another big way.” That was 15 years ago.
If this trend continues, it may not just be the term “American” that fades away. But can we, will we, stop the “slouching towards Gomorrah” that the late Robert Bork warned about three decades ago?
Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, “Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout.”