Thursday, April 18, 2024
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My despair as I see colleges turning out milksops, not men


VIOLENT students on campuses refusing to tolerate ideas outside of a strictly-patrolled liberal Left-wing orthodoxy or waging quixotic battles against imaginary dragons, such as systemic racism, toxic masculinity, or ‘rape culture’, have been old hat for a few years now.  

Those of us with young children await the backlash, like Jews the Messiah, or warily consider alternatives. I cannot imagine how the higher education prospects of my own three young children will look.   

But my children are half-French and in France, Marxist indoctrination is prepaid through our taxes, so at least we won’t pay twice. Perhaps that school founded by Marine Le Pen’s niece in 2018 won’t be quite so stigmatising in ten years?  

Will Hillsdale College in flyover Michigan, committed to a classical liberal education, but lacking an international reputation, take on the mantle left by America’s leafy Ivy League institutions? 

Who can conceive of re-mortgaging your house so your child can come home after four years not knowing any historical dates or very basic biology or anything positive about capitalism (which paid their tuition), much less how to cook or iron a shirt or dress properly for an office job, but with a brain chock full of isms and anti-white, anti-European, anti-American self-hatred, which as Lionel Shriver has acutely pointed out, isn’t real humility or shame, but a cover for cultural hubris and superiority? 

Today, rational parents of young children must let go of culturally-engrained fantasies about once-prestigious universities and colleges, and acknowledge that they have turned into brand names.  

School colours, letter sweaters, rowing, lacrosse, Volvo station wagons with college stickers on the back window, fall leaves on the wet, rainy quad and even the magisterial libraries (Vassar College, my alma mater, has a stained-glass window depicting the first woman to receive a doctorate) are now merely marketing ploys and photo-shoot props. But can we let go of them altogether? 

The relentless and mesmerising capitulation of our most prestigious higher educational institutions never ceases to shock and dismay.  

Take the latest to hit the international media. Haverford College outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, exposed courtesy of Quillette.  

Rigorously selective, historically full of square-jawed, courtly young men in letter sweaters from affluent Main Line Philadelphia families (the kind who offer to carry a Swarthmore girl’s books while walking her home), Haverford College retains a mystique for me which made reading Quillette editor Jonathan Kay’s account of yet another ivy-covered institution’s mad descent into 17th century Salem especially jarring. 

A reflexively Left-wing, but relatively benign campus, according to Kay’s description, Haverford descended into utter madness following the death of George Floyd this past May, resulting in a two-week strike forced on all faculty and students in which students were forbidden to do any academic work, extra-curricular clubs and activities were forbidden to function.

Students were chillingly ordered to ‘put their own individual needs aside for the collective good’ and ‘know now that your reluctance to participate perpetuates, reproduces, and propagates the same colonial and white supremacist systems that advantage certain groups of people over others’. 

Jonathan Kay notes the commitment to the chaos of Federico Perelmuter, an ‘English major and prominent strike supporter’, who tweeted: ‘I’m gonna find each one of them’ about non-compliant students.  

He also suggested killing Haverford president Wendy Raymond’s beagle, Peanut, while classmate Eric Beery went further, suggesting that they ‘tie bricks to Peanut’s legs’ and ‘throw Peanut in the duck pond’. 

Morbidly curious about this baby sociopath bearing such an imposing name, I turned to Google and found a winsome, glossy-haired, bright-eyed scion of Argentinian origin. 

Further research revealed that only a few short months previously, Perelmuter wrote a piece for Haverford’s ‘independent’ student newspaper petulantly pleading exemption from academic work due to Covid.  

‘I cannot do the work you think I can do, and I will not, either,’ Perelmuter’s cri de cœur begins, before feelingly depicting his hell at the $54 000-a-year institution. ‘I am exhausted. I sleep in terror for 15 hours every day, riddled with anxiety and the fluttering dread of living in a world where every surface threatens infection, isolation, contagion.  

‘I wash my hands every 20 minutes even though I don’t leave my room … unlike many of my peers, my whiteness protects me from being seen as a threat as I walk down the street. And yet, I am exhausted as I go once again to CVS (a pharmacy) hoping to get hand sanitiser.’ 

In 2016, Laura Perrins in TCW suggested that screaming campus toddlers were the consequence of early maternal privation and neglect in day care centres when they were actual toddlers. But I believe the rot lies deeper than day care. 

Looking at young Perelmuter’s smooth-skinned, cherubic face, I see a child whose most minute developments from birth were placed under a microscope, whose whims and fancies were facilitated by doting parents entirely dedicated to helicopter-monitoring his gilded path through life, from Montessori pre-school to Haverford. 

Julie Lycott-Haims, a former dean at Stanford University, California, has written about the phenomenon, noting increasing parental presence on campus, the constant contact between children and parents, including parents accompanying their offspring to their first job interviews.  

She also cites the hundreds of dollars per hour spent on SAT tutoring, the moral panic about bullying, rubber surfaces in playgrounds, increasingly lavish birthday parties, the fancy unpaid internships instead of waitressing or lifeguarding.  

With the recent dumping of the SAT standardised tests by many brand-name American colleges and universities, admissions committees will be increasingly relying on subjective data, largely consisting of activities and attainments inaccessible to all but the offspring of the most affluent parents, hell-bent on chauffeuring their children to and funding every possible activity. 

Many parents of young children today can confirm that a sea change has also taken place in child rearing, even since their own childhoods.  

Discipline and manners, formerly part of general character development and which used to figure so prominently in parenting, has almost disappeared, replaced by an emphasis on academics, to allow children to access these brand-name institutions, in the hopes of attaining today’s holy grail: White-collar elite caste social status.  

In my experience, children of middle-class families are expected to keep up their grades and play sports (along with other resumé-enhancing activities such as music), but are no longer expected to help around the house, possess any practical knowledge (repairing cars, cooking, sewing, knitting), earn pocket money through menial jobs or look after their younger siblings.  

This trend, which began in my high school years, and coincides with the expansion of university administration, financed by precipitous increases in tuition making college unaffordable for all but the most affluent, is especially remarkable when I consider the hours my own mother spent working at a dry cleaner or watching her smaller siblings.   

In America, character-building was achieved through the menial after-school job and the rousing cry on the first day of summer: ‘Get up, get a haircut and mow the lawn.’ 

‘I am exhausted while dragging my fingers along the keys of my keyboard (when was the last time I disinfected them?),’ whimpered Federico Perelmuter in his school newspaper in March 2020. 

My heart contracts as I bid farewell to yet another fantasy, acknowledging one more casualty in the Culture Wars: The strapping, polite young man whom one of my daughters could bring home one college break to join us at our Thanksgiving table. 

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Emily Sands-Bonin
Emily Sands-Bonin
Emily Sands-Bonin is an American-French mother of three. She and her family live in Paris.

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