Education, Identity, Long Read, Memoir, Top Stories

How All My Politically Correct Bones Were Broken

In my first 10 years of college teaching, from the mid-60s to mid-70s, I modeled myself on my best teachers—men and women who questioned my ideas vigorously. They let me know that I mattered to them, they praised when praise was due, and they pushed me hard. Often I balked, and they continued to push. Indeed, the teachers who sternly, even at times angrily, called me out on my intellectual arrogance and sloppiness became mentors and, in several cases, lifelong friends. I think of one in particular, an English teacher to whom I’d brought a piece of freshman writing I’d ginned up only minutes before a mandatory conference. I knew it was junk when I carried it to his desk. He stunned me, growling, “You get the hell out of this office. And don’t come back until you respect yourself and me enough to do serious work.” The upshot—I admired his refusal of my bullshit. I went on to take all his classes. Today, such a teacher would be subject, at least, to sensitivity training and, if an adjunct, fired.

But inexorably, questions of identity inserted themselves into teacher-student relationships. It became increasingly dangerous for me to question, to challenge, to push—let alone to betray frustration or even anger when a student was conning me or not working to capacity. Year by year, as I met each new cohort of students, I had to calculate how much my own disfavored identity (white, male, heterosexual, middle-class) made it risky for me to push—depending on whether or not a student’s identity was (given the political climate of the moment) favored. The job I had been trained to do—help students work with the nuts and bolts of language as writers and readers, as well as help them (in the best of worlds) appreciate the power and beauty of written English—became more and more difficult. Some students considered questioning and criticism racist—and the texts we read and wrote about white. Such thinking expanded, in time, to embrace a variety of identities.

I watched these developments unfold over more than 50 years of teaching—35 years at a small, inexpensive, public college located downtown in my large American city, and later, almost 20 years at the state university located a few miles across town. The small college had opened in the 60s to serve a lower-middle-class to middle-class area, one that included a large black community. It was part of the laudable spread of such colleges, an initiative begun in California. Our charge was to provide opportunity to first-in-their-family college students—to high school graduates who were not ready for and/or could not afford a private college or the state university.

These colleges, both rural and urban, were a classic example of American goodwill and concern for social justice going back to the settlement movement and the founding of Chicago’s Hull House in 1889. Similar movements followed, like the Non-Partisan League in the Dakotas, the Muckrakers, and FDR’s New Deal. As the Vietnam War wound down, my colleagues and I began to see vets, Native Americans, and Vietnamese and Hmong refugees. In the next decades we saw an influx of African Americans from cities troubled with violence, like Chicago, Gary, and St. Louis. As I approached retirement, large numbers of Hispanics and a variety of other students from the Global South enrolled. The college took pride in its mix of people from all nations, races, religions, ages, and walks of life. So did I.

When the college opened its doors, I had just received my MA in English from a prestigious university, as well as an induction notice from my Draft Board. Like most Boards, it had become hostile to college students and their deferments. A family friend, who, like my parents, was firmly devoted to civil rights causes, urged me to apply. I would be serving our community—and along the way have a teaching deferment (it was that or Vietnam) and, at long last, income. Following a brief interview with the new Dean one pleasant summer afternoon, I was among the first faculty hired, secure with a salary, healthcare, a good retirement plan, and placement on the tenure track. (How different from the wretched struggles of English graduates to find any teaching position today.)

I was in my mid-20s, and in the first 10 years, I worked hard to learn how to teach. A small, newly minted public college was not my career trajectory. Many of my peers went on to teach in the Ivy League. When I did finish the doctorate 10 years later, doors were slamming. Unwilling to become an itinerant teacher, leaving family and friends and moving about the country with my wife and children seeking will-o-the-wisp tenure prospects, I settled into my work. The teaching loads were excessive, especially for those of us who taught writing. But these were offset by the absence of publishing demands, and a sense of giving valuable help to young people who’d never before considered college an option.

In the mid-70s, we got our first black president. Our faculty was mostly white. Our previous presidents had been white and lackluster. We’d been happy to support the unspoken presumption that a prime qualification for the job would be black skin. The new president was well credentialed, and we welcomed this accomplished black scholar who could offer encouragement to our increasing numbers of minority students. But trouble arrived in the president’s first semester at an all-day meeting with faculty and administration. A friend of the president, a “distinguished black educator,” flew in from Washington, DC to speak to us. We learned that we were failing our black students—that their disproportionately low grades and dropout rates were our fault.

By this time, after a decade of teaching students from minimally educated, working poor families, I was thoroughly familiar with the difficulty of bringing unprepared or unmotivated students of any color or background up to anything like a college level. Many students lacked even middle-school reading competence. Many could not write a complete sentence. Some skipped classes and failed to turn in assignments—or just dropped out. But the college mission was to educate everyone. We were an “open door” institution, with a high school diploma or GED sufficient for admission. We were here to give students the chance none in their families had ever had before, and we believed in our mission. Toward the end of the meeting I raised my hand and asked how, given reading and preparation levels, we could possibly increase grades and graduation rates without lowering standards. “What do you teach?” he asked. “English,” I offered. “You don’t teach English,” he corrected me. “You teach White Studies.

I had no idea how to respond, so I fell silent. The issue of student competence and standards had been brushed aside to focus on race—on my race and the race of whomever I might assign, discuss, and offer as exemplars. I was no longer a teacher choosing to work with kids whose families had lacked opportunities for many generations—a teacher offering skills (like competence in Standard English) that could ready young people for entry into various careers or further college study. I was just white. I was taken aback. Politically, I had always felt allied with our black students and my few black faculty colleagues. From high school on, I’d hung out with black kids and gay kids, and during my graduate study, a black woman and I had become lovers and lived together for a year, taking in a black friend, a young man, as a roommate—two people who became lifelong friends. Was I now somehow an outsider, even an enemy?

We found that the new president operated by bullying. One afternoon, as the faculty rep for budget, I met with him and his chief administrator to question certain expenditures. I entered the president’s office, shut the door, took a seat, and began to present the faculty position. Almost immediately both men were raging and screaming, their words confused together: “How dare you come in here…” “Patronizing the president in this way…” Astonished, I left the room with my heart pounding. As their invective followed me out the door, the president’s secretary, a black woman, wouldn’t meet my eye. I wondered how often she listened to tantrums like this one. A member of my committee, an older colleague in the Business Department, chortled at my story. “You shouldn’t have gone alone. You were double-teamed. It’s an old game. He makes opposition emotionally risky.” The president’s willingness to foment racial division fit perfectly. To be called a racist in any college, especially a highly diverse inner-city college, was beyond “risky”—it was ruinous.

The next year, the president fired the founder and director of the Business and Secretarial program, a white woman in her late 30s. She could not bring herself to lower standards for spelling, grammar, business English, typing, and (back then) shorthand. These were skills one either mastered or did not master. She could not, in conscience, send out graduates lacking essential secretarial skills, betraying a trust she’d built up over 10 years with local employers. Black students frequently didn’t master these skills. Some made angry complaints.

To remove this teacher, the faculty contract required a less senior faculty member in the program, also a white woman, to go first. The union rallied to their defense. Ultimately, the Chancellor was forced into the fray. The offending teacher found herself reassigned to a suburban school. The less senior teacher continued teaching, but under the constant threat of being found not “supportive” (or worse) of black students. My colleagues and I now found it risky to discuss the achievement problems of blacks openly. We found ourselves self-censoring, privately lamenting the arrival of implicit rules and taboos. The following year, the president left to assume the presidency of another college, where, according to newspaper accounts, racial conflict again swirled around him. His departure, never officially acknowledged as a removal, was handled, as the Chancellor himself later explained privately, “very delicately.”

*     *     *

The hiring of our first black president was not legally mandated by affirmative action policy; it was embraced as a sensible move, given our increasing numbers of black students. However, affirmative action had a direct bearing on a later search for a director of financial aid, and despite a theoretical demand for competence as well as color in a candidate, the result was a quiet acceptance of marginal qualifications. Within a few years, our new director’s career had been ended by a federal conviction and jail time. He’d persuaded black students, many of whom never attended class, to take out student loans and split the money with them. Eventually, the students were surprised by bills for repayment, didn’t pay, federal authorities were alerted, and the scam blew up.

In time, affirmative action amounted to a policy of “whites not encouraged to apply,” as a colleague found when sitting on a search committee for a tenured English position. We’d been flooded with applicants. Secure jobs in the field were now rare. The committee interviewed only a handful of candidates, one of whom offered clues in his application that he was African American. He got an interview, but the committee was perplexed. He did not look African American. After some carefully worded queries the candidate confessed: “I’ve applied scores of times for a tenured job in English, but never got a single interview. I just wanted to see what would happen.” “You do know,” he added with a wry smile as he was leaving the room, “that we all originated in Africa.”

The privileging of blackness began to affect the curriculum. Protests against any book that used the word “nigger” were enough to discourage me from teaching Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, a classic anti-slavery work I considered essential for the education of any American. I also stopped teaching Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, an outcry against Belgian colonialism. Having been told to venture beyond White Studies, I created a course focused on Native American issues, but some students protested because I am not Native American. Politics among faculty, counselors, and administrators began to divide between the PC and non-PC. To side with the favored groups du jour became a badge of honor. I wondered and worried—which of my colleagues might hint to a struggling student that I was, after all, racist, sexist, or homophobic? Would students stop taking my classes?

Inevitably, with the reduction of admission and grading standards, Remedial (soon to be renamed Developmental) English became a large part of our curriculum, along with How to Study. With the arrival of Ebonics, some black students grumbled that they already spoke their own English, and that there was nothing wrong with it. I agreed that there was nothing wrong with it, pointing out that my friends and I also grew up with our own neighborhood jargon—but that neither theirs nor mine would get anyone through college or into a good job. Some students went along, others refused. On one occasion, three young black men in Developmental, who routinely sat in the back talking as I attempted to teach, stalked out the door when I told them to pay attention. Furious, I chased them down the hall, shouting, “Get yourselves back in class or you’ve all just failed!” They kept walking.

No teacher today would dare commit such an outrage. The outcome would be a time-wasting round of meetings with administration and the victimized students focusing on implicit bias, creation of a hostile learning environment, and concerns about safety. It would be no surprise if the use of racial slurs were falsely alleged. The next day, one of the students returned to class and went on to pass. He had received exactly what he needed—a sting of authority that did not tolerate disruption. After class, two sisters from Hong Kong lingered (their father had sent them to America to develop English skills and perhaps gain citizenship before handover to the People’s Republic of China). “We just can’t believe how some American students treat the teachers,” said the eldest. “This could never happen in China.” “I believe it,” I said.

I began encountering students who felt that receipt of a poor grade was simply evidence of my racism. The rules of Standard English were seen as an arbitrary white man’s game designed to hinder blacks, and three sheets of paper filled with rambling thoughts were thought to qualify as an essay. I read theme after theme where students had been neither prepared to think logically and sequentially nor spell and use complete sentences. They had been passed on in English as they moved through grades K-12. Why then, they wondered, was this particular white teacher choosing to roadblock them?

Such expectations made life difficult for students—and for me. Stomach roiling one day, anticipating the worst, I handed back another “D” paper to a 30-something black woman in Freshman Comp. I’ll call her Monica. I knew she might explode—again—and she did. She leapt to her feet, called me a “fucking racist,” and, throwing her paper on the desk, stomped out. The classroom fell silent, students uneasily staring into space or at their books. Stomach tight, hands clammy, wondering what to say, I slowly walked over to pick up her paper, returned to my desk, and decided it was best to limp through the rest of the hour without offering any explanations or defense.

That afternoon, Monica came to my office, still angry, demanding I justify the low grade. I told her that, right then, there was nothing more the two of us should say to each other, but I’d schedule a meeting with both of us and the Dean of Instruction. “It may be helpful,” I added, “that the Dean is African American.” Monica hesitated and suddenly backpedaled, asking me to just say a little more about her paper. I wasn’t actually sure the Dean would support me, so I bluffed. But black students didn’t want to meet with the Dean for conflict resolution. This was exactly why we desperately needed competent and tough black faculty and administration. By the end of the semester, Monica had become my friend. After the last class she gave me a warm hug and thanked me for hanging in with her and teaching her the writing skills she now realized she needed to succeed. She’d already enrolled for my upcoming Comp Two class. I was delighted for her.

Over the years, I had many such experiences, some of which led to deep and genuine connections with students of all colors and origins. When those connections blossomed, they were redemptive—certainly for me and, I believe, for the students. We had gone beyond identity to the ordinary, yet truly extraordinary, relationship of mentor and mentee. I came away with renewed faith that I was doing something that mattered, something that helped my students break through limitations imposed by the lack of personal and economic resources—and students came to know that I wanted the best for them.

Despite the inevitable misperceptions and conflicts, I tried to stay grounded, even maintain a sense of humor—but when teachers absorb hostility day after day (and fear repercussions), the emotional tattering is profound. I remember a tall, wiry black student in my Comp Two night class. I’ll call him John. Counselors were concerned with his volatile, disruptive behavior and a possible mental condition, but they handled him with kid gloves. His essays and verbal class comments were confused and disjointed. He became angry and hostile when I offered critical comments on his papers. How, I wondered, could he have passed Comp One? I did know cases where teachers had passed on a student out of sheer exhaustion—or fear of violence.

One evening I planned to use class time to discuss the drafts of a paper that would become a significant part of the semester grade. I had already marked the drafts, suggesting corrections and revisions. I would return them, and as I met with each student individually, those waiting would discuss their drafts in small groups and give each other feedback. Upon reading John’s draft, I’d found it, as I’d feared, incoherent. It related neither to the assigned nor any other topic. I knew he’d go ballistic if I rejected it outright, so I simply noted on the final page that we’d have to review it further during class. I was apprehensive that our discussion would likely go off the rails, but I hoped I could somehow steer him back toward the assigned topic.

As students worked together, waiting their turns to confer, I invited John to talk. He refused, insisting we meet in my office after everyone had left—an office isolated down a long, dark corridor. By now the building was empty. I declined and invited him again to come up to the desk. Again, he refused, agitated, slamming a book down on his desk, demanding that we meet alone in my office. The students in his small group exchanged uneasy glances, trying to focus on their work. As the conferences went on, I discreetly asked two male students to stay behind, move to a far end of the room out of earshot, and when class was over, walk me to my car. As the class emptied of everyone but my guardians, I again invited John up to the desk. He jumped to his feet and stormed out. The following week he dropped my class, went on to raise alarms elsewhere on campus, and finally disappeared.

Race-related disputes eventually spilled over into scientific and technical curricula. A nursing colleague told me that administration was questioning her and her colleagues’ commitment to diversity—that is, more black students should graduate. Nursing had always been one of our most demanding majors, with students of all colors frequently dropping out. “What are we to do?” she lamented. “Erroneous medical charting? Misunderstanding a care plan? Misreading a decimal point? So dangerous!” At least, I thought to myself, no lives were at risk in White Studies.

A new black faculty member arrived and, without adequate vetting, was assigned to teach evening and weekend classes off campus in distant neighborhood libraries and community centers where no administrative or faculty oversight was possible. Early in his first semester, he held a student hostage in a motel room, where he’d persuaded her to join him after class. He was immediately terminated, but to my utter astonishment, a colleague—a fervent Maoist—came to me insisting that faculty must oppose the firing and demand a second chance. This was the first, but not the last, time I found myself appalled by a willingness to put students at risk in the name of ideology.

Some white women, finding the environment toxic, were leaving to enroll in a suburban college. Sexual harassment was officially unacceptable and receiving heightened attention at the college, but it was riskier to remonstrate with black men, whether students or non-students, than with white. It was especially confusing for young women unused to such hustling. “Celebrate Diversity” posters were prominent throughout the campus. Rebuffs could be met with, “What’s wrong, baby? You racist?” Things worsened, including recruitment of some students into strip clubs and, it was suspected, prostitution. Several faculty women went to our second black president, a man genuinely concerned for students and their success. They begged him to use his position as a black man and our president to combat the harassment. He insisted that these men would ignore him as surely as they would ignore white administrative personnel. The women suggested he beef up security or, if necessary, call in the police—actions only he could take without racial repercussions. He was unwilling to do so, reluctant to assume an authority that only he had.

*     *     *

Soon, I began to run into abuses of the new disability protections. For example, a Latino student with severe hearing loss took my Comp One course. I’ll call him Jose. In working with him, I’d discovered early elementary school writing ability. His compositions were routinely rewritten by compassionate students in the Learning and Writing Center. I told him I couldn’t pass him based on the work of others, that he must retake the Developmental sequence. He demanded that we meet with the disability counselor. We met, and she insisted that his inability to do college-level writing was the result of a disability. He therefore should be passed. I refused, insisting it would not serve Jose to go on to courses in which he would be unlikely to succeed. Jose, accustomed to being accommodated, flew into a rage, showering me with curses. This was a side of Jose the counselor had never seen. Shocked, she struggled to calm him. Exasperated, I offered to accede to her request if she’d put it in writing. She declined, and Jose stopped attending my class. Later, I learned that the college had expunged his failing grade and registered him, tuition free, in another teacher’s comp course—suggesting, of course, a failure of some sort on my part that the college was obliged to correct.

Inevitably, preferences for students who were not heteronormative were quietly introduced. I’d always gotten along well with gay and lesbian students (the many later iterations were yet to come), debating issues like gays in the military and gay marriage (it is almost unthinkable that any such open debate on identity issues could happen in a college classroom today). After one such discussion, a gay student who had taken all my classes came up as students left the room, rested his hand on my arm, and said mischievously, “Try it. You’ll like it!” He and others had asked me earlier in the year to be the advisor to the Gay Student Association. But later in the semester, this student, now the head of that organization, caught me in the hall and asked me to support a complaint about the black female Dean of Instruction (mentioned earlier). She had refused him permission to post large color posters around campus warning students about AIDS. I asked to see the posters. They were glossy photographs of the naked, muscular buttocks of a white male as backdrop to a large, erect black penis. I tried to explain the nature of public spaces, that it might be offensive to some students, that the college had a daycare for children for whom it would not be appropriate, that the general public walked through campus. He bitterly rejected my explanations, and from then on he avoided me.

This expectation of privilege for the non-heteronormative spilled into faculty matters. Long after male faculty members were being closely watched by an administrator assigned to monitor sexual harassment of students, a male counselor learned that a recently hired lesbian theatre arts teacher was sexually harassing some of the young women in her classes, suggesting that their emotional struggles arose from a refusal to recognize their lesbianism. Students were leaving to enroll elsewhere. The counselor and I went to a male Dean with concerns. The Dean, and later several faculty women, accused us of homophobia, insisting that the charges were fabrications. But, shortly thereafter, several of the young women went on record, filing formal complaints. An investigation followed; the teacher was fired. She hired a lawyer and tied up the college for several years in court, demanding damages. Neither my colleague nor I received any apology from those who had impugned our motives.

As I moved toward the end of my career, Muslim students began enrolling at the college. Demands were made to accommodate prayer. Despite chronic shortages of classroom space, a room was set aside for the purpose—a concession at cross-purposes with our mission as a secular, public institution. Non-Muslim students began complaining that sinks in the men’s and women’s restrooms were being used for foot-washing preparatory to prayer, making them unavailable at certain times, leaving sinks unsanitary and floors wet and slippery. Demands were then made to re-plumb bathrooms for foot washing stations, and any opposition was deemed Islamophobic. I’d hoped the ACLU would file suit to block such use of public facilities for the benefit of a particular religious tradition. I was disappointed.

In the last seven years of my time teaching at our state university, where I’d developed and taught graduate and upper-division credit classes in a specialty I’d trained in since my 20s, I began to face new demands. One afternoon, I walked into class with a copy of that day’s student newspaper. The headline story was about sexual assault on campus. I urged everyone to get the paper and read the article, to be aware of the dangers, and to take the issue seriously. Several students volunteered further details on recent incidents. A young woman interrupted, insisting I should have given a trigger warning. I hesitated, wary of the minefield, but decided to state my position—that trigger warnings blocked the controversial texts and open discussion necessary to any genuine college education. Suddenly she was crying. She grabbed her books and fled the room, insisting she must talk to her counselor at the student health center.

I asked the class to sit together quietly for a few minutes. Slowly, tension began to dissipate. I asked for discussion. Some thought trigger warnings necessary, some thought them inappropriate, most were noncommittal—there was no consensus. We moved on. Reflecting on the incident later, I concluded that the real problem was not the subject matter, but my refusal to accept a new party line. In previous classes, the student had shown no reluctance to discuss difficult issues. Had I agreed with her, no counselor would have been needed. What she did need was a trigger warning that her teacher might, if the question arose, reject trigger warnings.

Most alarming of all, I witnessed physical safety taking a back seat to diversity issues, just as I had seen at my small college years earlier. One day I opened a class by stressing the dangers from a serious outbreak on and around campus of violent muggings (often by armed assailants), sexual assaults, and even an attempted kidnapping. Knowing I was stepping into another minefield, I suggested that a stronger police presence was needed to keep everyone safe. We all knew that virtually all of the perpetrators of these crimes were black. That information was freely available until later in the year when, under strong pressure, the university stopped including race in the reports to students, faculty, and staff mandated by the federal Clery Act (a violation of the spirit if not the letter of that law).

A young white woman objected angrily that to add more police was racist—it would mean racial profiling. I argued that the physical safety of students, staff, and faculty was paramount—that all of us, including minorities, should willingly identify ourselves if it were essential to the physical safety of our peers and colleagues. I urged everyone to walk with heightened awareness of their surroundings and of potential assailants. I told them they were my students and I didn’t want any of them to get hurt. The student got to her feet, shaking her head, and left the room. Even though she and I had had a good relationship and she had been fully engaged with the class, she would return only for the final. I reached out to her several times by email, but received no response.

After class, a few students lingered and thanked me for raising the issue. Had I been brought before administration to defend myself, I would have been told, of course, that I had strayed from the course content and, worse, made my student feel “unsafe.” I had. But I was very concerned indeed about safety—my students’ physical safety. Victims had been threatened with knives and guns, some knocked to the ground and kicked about the head putting them at risk of brain damage. The university administration was downplaying the dangers and hiding the race of perpetrators.

In my last year of faculty meetings, I took a final fall through the increasingly thin ice of college teaching by insisting that I would never, during introductions at a first class (or in later classes), ask students for their preferred pronouns. This was now being urged, not only by administration, but by colleagues. Why, I asked, would I do this when I would never dream of pushing students to volunteer their racial, religious, political, national, sexual, economic, health, or any other orientation or status? I argued that this shifted the focus of the class to a personal issue—and further, that it was not fair to pressure all students to reveal themselves in any way on such a matter, even by their silence or by their embrace of traditional pronoun norms. Any student, of course, who wished to share a preferred pronoun or other personal information was free to do so. My position was clearly unacceptable. Later, I was informed by a colleague that using the term “preferred” was also unacceptable. It implied a choice in such matters.

*     *     *

I am no longer in the classroom. I won’t see the next generation of ideologues sweep through campuses. However, as the political Left endlessly moves the goalposts after each Pyrrhic victory, I hope the moment will come when a critical mass of faculty and students refuse to play the game. It is difficult to convey the toll taken—semester after semester, year after year, decade after decade—by a teaching environment in which a single criticism or correction or incautious remark can produce an explosion and formal or informal disciplinary proceedings. For almost 50 years, I’ve had to be on the alert, recognizing that conflict with any student other than a heterosexual white male could cost me. Most students wanted to learn. I developed radar for those who didn’t—for those searching after grievance. This sounds exaggerated. It is not. Many students with preferential status now work the system in multiple ways, sometimes with little awareness of the special treatment they receive. This does not serve them well. Students can resent being pushed. They are hamstrung if they construe pushing as discriminatory.

The law of unintended consequences still operates. Enormous burdens are being placed on those teachers helping students struggling against the greatest odds–lack of reading skills, lack of study skills, lack of family support, lack of mentorship, lack of financial help—burdens that actually fall most heavily on K-12 teachers. The supreme irony is that affirmative action, diversity, equity, and inclusion policies do silent damage to the very students in greatest need of help. Those in a favored demographic are assured that their struggles arise from the malign external forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. They are offered a false choice: either accept their victimhood as persons without agency who must silently suffer injustice, or throw themselves into the abolition of patriarchal, heteronormative, colonialist whiteness. While some students may gain from preferential treatment, everyone loses with the abandonment of the core principle, enshrined in the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, that all are created equal—that rights arise not from membership in any group, but from our common humanity.

Students are being encouraged to blame teachers, curricula, and colleges for lives lived without much opportunity; for lives, in far too many cases, of struggle and suffering—and at the other end of the economic spectrum, for lives lived full of wealth and power, yet empty of meaning or heart. Truly, neither economic inequalities nor spiritual emptiness can be blamed on teachers. The sources lie far deeper. Solutions, if we can find them, lie in more teaching, more learning—not in attacks on the always-fragile institutional understandings that support open inquiry.

To step beyond this fracturing let us reaffirm a radical equality among peoples. Let us seek understanding of ourselves and others in the best art, literature, philosophy, science, religion, myth, tradition, and wisdom available in the cultures of the world. Let us shake off ideology and fearlessly (even exuberantly, as I did with my most memorable teachers) explore. I await the day when colleges and universities brave the inevitable backlash and step decisively away from the politics of identity. Those are colleges I might wish my own grandchildren to attend.


The author is a former English teacher. Gregory Hansen is a pseudonym.