As a member of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and avid reader, I look forward to the annual survey conducted by the NAS called Beach Books: What Do Colleges Want Students to Read Outside Class? The recent release of their eighth annual survey covering assigned outside reading for 2017-18 was notable for its consistency and the trends of the previous surveys and not at all reassuring. Most colleges and universities assign summer reading to incoming freshmen, which is usually one book which they are asked to read outside their courses, often the only book they will read in common with their classmates. The NAS study of these common readings covers 732 colleges and universities, including 481 in the academic year 2017-18 located in 47 states and 68 of the top 100 schools in the U. S. News and World Report rankings.
A look at the findings will probably not be surprising in terms of the types and content of the assigned books that are largely in evidence over the eight years of the study and continue in this year’s edition:
- Common readings usually have a “progressive” message in race, class, and gender.
- They are usually banal, narrow, predictable, and intellectually unchallenging.
- Most were written since 2000 by Americans; very few include the classics.
- The common reading programs are usually run by administrators, not faculty.
- Many readings are obviously chosen to promote activism, often in conjunction with “social justice” programs.
- In this year’s study, 67% of assignments were memoirs, biographies, and other nonfiction and 17% were on the subject of American racism.
These findings are consistent with other studies, including those that have surveyed in-class course reading assignments in the required liberal arts curriculum and found heavy concentration in race, class, and gender studies. And in a recent survey, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation asked American citizens questions from the U. S. Citizenship Test, such as which countries the U. S. fought in World War II, how many Supreme Court Justices are there, when was the U. S. Constitution ratified, etc., with very disappointing results: only one of three people overall could pass the multiple-choice exam with at least 60% correct answers and only 19% of those under age 45 passed! Is there any surprise that the result of these biases in higher education curriculum is an impoverished and often negative perspective on the part of a large percentage of our best and brightest kids about our culture, our history, our heritage, and our grounding in the Western intellectual tradition?
The NAS and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) are two of the leading non-profit organizations that are working hard to do something about this indoctrination on our college campuses, which is undermining the time-honored tradition of liberal education in our country. They need much more help than they are receiving from alumni, trustees, and major donors, both financially and vocally.