Students Need Mental Ammunition

College students today face an ideological onslaught from educators who are more concerned with creating "good citizens" than teaching them real knowledge. And it's time for a new approach.

I’m running a program for high school and college students this summer because of a first grade perplexity — and Ayn Rand.

When I was kid in the late 1950s, I looked forward to the exciting new things I was learning every day at school. I was amused at the class clown, Mike, who nearly gave our teacher a heart attack by putting fake ink on her grade book. But I was also annoyed by his antics, and by the distractions of students who talked out of order, threw paper airplanes, and noisily dropped pencils while we were studying.

Why didn’t they find the challenge of learning as riveting as I did?

Slowly, it dawned on me that they were not happy in school. It bored them, or made them feel frustrated, or belittled. Lashing out at others was a consequence, and I was a frequent victim, with humiliating names thrown in as a bonus.

I vowed that none of this would happen to my children. I wanted to ensure their days were filled with the joy of learning, not the dread of school. This set me on a quest to find a different form of education.

Years later I came across Beatrice Hessen’s articles “The Montessori Method” in The Objectivist. Wow, this seemed like the educational method for me! It individualized learning, followed the child’s psychological development, and provided a peaceful, respectful, and orderly environment in which the child could exercise his or her abilities and choices while learning — a great way to learn how to live in a free society.

But I needed more proof than a few articles — and I got it in dozens of books by Maria Montessori in which she described her scientific approach and its results. I followed this with dozens of first-hand observations in Montessori classrooms all over the country and abroad. I also founded Council Oak Montessori School in 1990 which runs to eighth grade, where my own children flourished.

In the meantime, I was worrying about college. Back in the ’70s I attended Northwestern University where my organic chemistry classes were interrupted regularly by Vietnam War protesters. It made no sense to me — how was taking over a class in the Krebs cycle going to stop the war? Then I read Ayn Rand’s “The Anti-industrial Revolution” and understood the collectivist philosophy and anti-mind tactics behind the New Left.

Her article about Progressive education in lower schools, “The Comprachicos,” proved just as revelatory. Today, we’re seeing the consequences of 40 years in which the Progressive Left’s collectivist emphasis on socialization over mastery of knowledge has left many elementary school students ignorant and deficient in learning skills.

And it gets worse. The 1970s leaders of the New Left who destroyed property and bombed government buildings, such as Bill Ayers, are now influential intellectuals shaping the minds of the young. Ayers is celebrated as “Senior Professor of Education and University Scholar” at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He and many like him are in charge of teacher training programs all over the nation. They’ve transformed the national teacher accrediting agencies into nurseries of the New Left by requiring study of such works as Paolo Freire’s political tract, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, at most teacher education programs.

By Freire’s theory, schooling is not the conveyance of objective knowledge through the development of rational, individual thought. Rather, it is always a political process, subjectively biased to the benefit of those in power. Teachers are urged to develop, not reason, but “critical thinking” skills, i.e. critical of Western civilization. Classic books such as John Locke’s or Adam Smith’s mold students to submit to an oppressive, capitalist society, in this view. Freire and his cohorts had a different power structure in mind — represented most notably by a society he admired, Maoist China.

However, collectivist indoctrination is not limited to education schools. The dominant collectivist left professoriate dismisses great works of Western civilization as the product of the white elite. The consequence: research by The Association of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) finds that many college graduates in 2009 know less than high school graduates 50 years ago.

Knowledge of American history and civics is frighteningly depleted. Studies by the University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy found that 81% of seniors from the top 55 colleges failed a high school U.S. history exam. For example, over one-third could not identify the Constitution as establishing the separation of powers in our government. Thirty-seven percent thought Ulysses S. Grant was the general at the battle of Yorktown.

These are students at colleges ranked “best” by U.S. News & World Report.

If that’s not bad enough, consider what’s happening to free speech on campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) litigates many campus restrictions on free speech. But did you know that FIRE is fighting a battle against Purdue University which literally revolves around judging a book by its cover?

A student employee, Kenneth Sampson, was found guilty of racial harassment because he offended another student by reading Notre Dame vs the Klan: How the fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. The cover shows a Klan hanging, and that was enough for a university administrator to reprimand Sampson. No matter that the book, in fact, is written as an indictment of the Klan!

Not surprisingly, for decades Ayn Rand’s books have been excluded from the curriculum at most colleges and universities, despite the fact that they are some of the best-selling and most enduring works of the 20th Century. Many academicians belittle her literary and philosophical value — while cartoons are studied in UCLA literature classes and feminist authors of every collectivist stripe are lauded in the Ivy League. Her academic critics don’t usually present “arguments,” so much as misrepresentations of her views, or fallacious ad hominen and ad majorum attacks.

What does this imply? When people find it necessary to call names instead of make rational arguments, they’re often afraid of the ideas they are confronting. And no wonder: when readers apply reason and facts, her philosophy of reason, individualism, capitalism, and heroic achievement wins many of their minds and hearts and inoculates them against collectivist indoctrination.

Don’t Ayn Rand and Henry Hazlitt deserve to be included in the curriculum, along with Marx and Engels? Shouldn’t Ludwig von Mises be taught beside John Maynard Keynes? Only then will students fully understand the world around them and how it got that way. Only then will they have a real choice of ideas.

I’m convinced it’s time to offer an alternative to balance the current direction of higher education. For this purpose, I have been working with an accomplished group of trustees and advisors to establish a new college, the College of the United States. Of course one doesn’t start a new college overnight. Which brings me to why I’m running a seminar for high school and college students this summer.

Students need mental ammunition to withstand the ideological onslaught at college. They need to learn the great ideas which have formed our remarkable civilization. This means studying the classics along with modern science. This means developing students’ objective reasoning skills to counterbalance the classes in politicized “critical thinking.”

This coming July, we’ve planned a week-long introduction to our College program that will be both a live demonstration of our approach, and a way of giving students the tools and skills they will need, regardless of which college they attend.

And that’s how my perplexity in grade school led me to a seminar this summer.

Marsha Familaro Enright heads the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the foundation for the College of the United States. She is also president of Council Oak Montessori School, a writer on developmental, psychological, and neuropsychological topics, and a long-time lecturer at Objectivist and Libertarian conferences. The RIF Institute is offering the seminar titled “The Great Connections: Mastering the Intellectual Tools that Transform a College Education into Lifetime Success” in Chicago from July 25th to August 2nd. Anyone mentioning this article may receive a $200 discount off the seminar fee.

12 comments from readers  

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Ms. Enright: This has to be one of the best written articles I have yet received from this network. I am a long time Randian, having taken courses in Objectivism back in the 60's at NBI. I never got past 2 years in High school back in 1945, yet now I can argue with professors on philosophy and psychology and politics, and generally win. I live in a college town, and my meager connection to academia here, has been absolutely discouraging. The Professors I have met are earning their wages fraudulently. Most are Left Wingers, none understand the principles of Freedom, and when I mention Rand they hate her, and will not discuss further with me. Education is just an example of a much larger malaise. I believe it is that they know they are wrong, that their theories and empty wishes don't work, and they would rather see the world flushed down the toilet, than admit they are wrong. They elected Reagan because of Rand, and they elected BO because of Marx. He will do more damage to the USA than has been done since 1933 and FDR. And the American People won't have a clue what went wrong. Some will of course, but not enough to fix things. I am glad that I am old. Frank Toplin
Good on her, this is the most valuable work. It is the key to solving the world's problems and fixing it, Obama.
Just stay alive and well, Marsha E. The United States and their schools and doctrine need all of you they can get. -Carol Teufel
I hope the College of the United States has a successful start and a long run as an ever-improving institution of higher rational learning and creativity.
Thank you, Marsha.

I am often critical of AtlasSpere because it features conservatives. Often their criticism of establishment policies is deep and challenging. But, they almost always miss the philosophical principles needed to undermine the ethical pretensions behind those policies. Those principles are defined and elaborated on in Ayn Rand's writings, both fiction and non-fiction.

Here, we are treated to a commentator who was inspired by Rand and is taking action to implement a long-term change in the education of young people, so the world may see better ideas implemented in public policy.

Bravo to her!

As Leonard Peikoff said at the end of his monumental audio series on the History of Philosophy, it is a race against time. the voices of unreason already seated at the table of power vs. the new ideas which bring back the advocacy of reason and freedom with the power of conviction.
Isn't the main thing that people learn in college is how to have a haughty, snotty attitude? I've met some collegiate illuminati that are exactly worthless when it comes time to do actual work, they tend to think they're above it, kind of the old royalist-type attitude or something, there, and I wonder if college is really worth the money it costs these days, when it's all said and done. I really question it. I think there's quite a bit to be said for making sure that your work experiences significantly outweigh your college experiences, because coursework teaches you several things, including how to spend the rest of your natural life as a paper-pusher, and one of the reasons that China and other countries are beating the pants off the United States is that our ratio of overpaid paper pushers and other unmotivated persons significantly outweighs the number of 'doers'. Everyone wants to be a supervisor, nobody wants to get their hands dirty doing the manual labor that makes the supervisor look good.

And, why is this? Simple. People attend college with the general expecation that they'll exit and slide right into some kind of fat-5-figure job, or even higher. Often, their parents are loaded. They have no financial concerns to speak of. So, then they tend to hang out and parley with the OTHER 'royalty', which, I don't know, I just don't care for the general environment of college, sure, there's good courses, good instructors, and good schools, but some of em, well, I don't know. I think in some cases you're better off doing some independent study, on the web or otherwise. If all the colleges represent is a way to jump into some government job or other middle management do-nothing/do-little position, then why go at all?

China doesn't care, China has 1.4 billion people, and India's right behind em, and both countries are going to be showing us the right of it in the 21st century, that is, unless the faculty in the US step it up a bit, do right by their students, and don't just see it as a vehicle for exploiting the taxpayer via federal student lending. Some places are just diploma mills, party schools, a big waste of your time, and no college education is going to cure an unmotivated person of their penchant for a free ride.
A wonderful article. We need more emphasis on the four R's: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Reasoning. Too many students lack basic comprehension and writing skills and are dependent on the calculator for simple sums. As to philosophy: it is simply not taught.

May you succeed in your endeavours.

Wishing you the best,

Durgasharan, India
When I was a philosophy major at Trinity College in the mid-sixties, a few of us convinced our professors to include The Virtue of Selfishness in a seminar on "Social Ethics." It fit right in there with the English positivism on the syllabus for the course. Imagine that happening now!

Now, of course, so much of any history or philosophy program is dominated by Marxist and other collectivist garbage, and things like places, names and dates take a second seat to general trends, which invariably stretch to demonstrate the process of history leading toward communist utopia. Your average high school student skips most of the facts students learned fifty or sixty years ago but emerges from his studies believing that socialism has failed the world over only because it's never been perfected.

As for alternatives to government schools, home schooling works pretty well now. Whereas years ago there were few resources available to parents who wanted to teach their own kids, now there are many -- other homeschoolers, homeschool groups, and the internet. Maybe the day will come, too, as tuition costs rise, when alternatives to left-wing colleges and universities will obviate the need for the sheepskin from Yale.
I attended the University of Notre Dame over 30 years ago. The story of the students vs the KKK was still talked about then. Student activism at its best.

The Klan had prepared a major rally in South Bend, Indiana. According to legend, the president of the University called an assembly and addressed the students thusly: "I do not wish to see any Notre Dame students going into town to confront the Klansmen". As he spoke these words he slowly and deliberately turned his back to his audience.
Notre Dame students and young men from predominantly Catholic neighborhoods around South Bend and Mishawaka met arriving Klansmen, gave them false directions and steered them into ambushes where they were beaten and relieved of their robes. The leader of the Klan was cornered in a hotel and escaped only by brandishing a revolver at the students.

A proud moment for a great university.

That anyone on a university campus would even consider punishing someone for reading a book, any book, is a sign of a severe loss of American values.

I can also recall, during my college years, the 1972 election. Someone came up with a campaign flyer from the US Communist Party (Gus Hall, candidate). If someone can find a copy of this, it would be interesting to compare the CPUSA's platform from 1972 with that of the Democrats of 2008.

Leftists of the type so prominent today were few and far between during my college days. I am thankful for that.
On the other hand, we are confronting emotion with reason. How do we communicate our values to those who have explicitly rejected reason a priori?

If you reject reason, then your only argument is force. Has the time arrived for the forces of reason to prepare to use that option? When will we know? How will we know? Is there any way to win such a confrontation without compromising our values?
Please, more more more and blast it everywhere you can.
Awesome! College of the US...sign me up!
Tom H
0 points
Well said Marsha! I wish you ultimate success on your venture, the College of the United States. One of the main tactics of the communists was to take over the "education" (read: indoctrination) of ALL Western societies...they have almost succeeded in our country. Your article is a wonderful breath of fresh air in the polluted socialist atmosphere that passes for education in 2009.

Godspeed, Marsha!
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.