College-football season has begun again in the South. Here in Alabama, football is more like a religion than a sport. Having both attended and taught at The University of Alabama from the 1970’s through the 1990’s, I was at ground zero of college-football fanaticism, and I must confess that I still like the excitement.
But there is a price to pay for elevating a mere game to such high places. People tend to lose sight of what is really important. It is not only the current student body and alumni who are prone to losing all sense of perspective on life from the opening game in early September through the bowl games in late December and early January, but the “sidewalk alumni” (those who didn’t attend the university) as well. When these groups are combined in the Southern states (especially those that have Southeastern Conference football teams), the result is a massive fan base that provides unquestioning loyalty and support to their respective schools.
Many, if not most, of these college-football fans in the South are conservative and traditionalist. If they really knew what the universities they support with their money and presence at football games were teaching in the classrooms, they would be shocked. While Mama and Daddy cheer on the team on football Saturdays, little Bubba and Betty Sue are being taught Monday through Friday by leftist professors to adopt the dubious cultural attitudes of their betters at Harvard and Yale. Simply put, this means they are conditioned to be self-hating Southerners. They are also taught to hate God. Football, indeed, covereth a multitude of sins.
Donald Davidson once wrote that it was a “risky and dubious” business to palm off the Ivy League and its culture on the South. The crux of the matter, as I see it, is the insatiable desire by the professoriate at Harvard, Yale, and other bastions of the elite American Ruling Class to cultivate among the South’s (and America’s) common folk the “desirable cultural attitudes” (Davidson).
In the not-too-distant past, the objective of higher education was the nurture of humane learning. At its core is the idea that one will ultimately learn not only about the world in general, but about one’s own place in it. In other words, the properly educated student will develop a balanced character as a result of being taught the particulars of his own place and kin and not simply such rootless abstractions as the universal rights of man, global democracy, and equality. Humane education, then, should bring out something that is already extant in man: a reverence for his own kind. As John Gould Fletcher wrote in “Education, Past and Present” (from I’ll Take My Stand), “All that education can do in any case is to teach us to make good use of what we are; if we are nothing to begin with, no amount of education can do us any good.”
Since colonial times Southerners have known that they belonged to a distinct community and that they were different—ethnically and culturally—from New England stock. Because of the differing origins of 17th- and 18th-century settlers from the British Isles (Southerners came largely from the West Country and the Celtic Fringe, and Yankees from Scandinavian/Anglo-Saxon southeast England), America has never been a uniform country. She has always been more or less Balkanized, and both unreconstructed Southerners and a few good Copperhead Yankees have ignored Mr. Lincoln’s dictum that we must become “all one thing or all the other.”
Today’s equivalent of the “Yankee schoolmarm” has seen fit to dictate a nationalized curriculum for the secondary grades through graduate school. We can see the manifestation of this mischief in the dubious claims made by proponents of Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind, as well as in the stifling uniformity known as political correctness that pervades our college and university classrooms. To the mandarin class that controls modern American education, no offending cultural or regional difference is too small to be stamped out in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity.”
Before the Northeast forcibly imposed its own nationalist educational system on the entire country after the War for Southern Independence, the South’s schools and colleges were on the whole more humane and tolerant than their Northern counterparts. The latter institutions were characterized by a meddlesome Unitarian-Universalist strain absent from Southern schools. Southern education, based on the classical model, produced men of good character who ensured the continuation of a stable, conservative society. In the North the prevailing system produced iconoclasts who reveled in destroying traditional social norms in the name of “progress.”
The defeat of the South in 1865 meant the end of its largely private educational system and the beginning of a system of free public education through which the region would be brought in line with national (i.e., Northeastern) standards. “The theory of universal education,” wrote Dr. Robert Lewis Dabney, “involves the absurd and impossible idea of the Leveller, as though it were possible for all men to have equal destinies in human society.” Rather than being content with his modest sphere, the dullard has been encouraged by the receipt of a diploma or degree to demand what he thinks is his due. Indeed, the egalitarian impulse in postbellum American education has managed to mask the fact that the choice facing the larger part of humanity has always been hard manual labor or starvation. Today we ridicule honest labor and the working man and convince our children that it should be their goal to, as Ricky Skaggs says, “get above their raising.” Thomas Jefferson, whose words are often twisted to support the idea of universal public education, actually advocated in his 1779 “Bill for a more general diffusion of knowledge” only that the poor but brilliant student should have the same opportunity as the well-heeled but lazy one. He did not demand that everyone should receive the same education at public expense.
Traditionally, the South has not bought into the nonsense that all persons are equally educable. Those in academia would do well to remember that Jefferson championed only “those persons whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue.” Yet today our schools and colleges turn out hordes of graduates woefully deficient in the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and ciphering; nonetheless, these young “scholars” think themselves capable of high intellectual attainment. In the spirit of Alexander Pope, who believed “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” Dr. Dabney predicted that “the common schools will have created a numerous ‘public’ of readers one-quarter or one-tenth cultivated: and the sure result will be the production for their use of a false, shallow, sciolist literature, science, and theology infinitely worse than blank ignorance.”
I have witnessed firsthand the contemptible campaign to make Southern children into deracinated, interchangeable cogs for the New World Utopia to come. During his freshman year at college or university our unwitting student is given what Davidson calls “the beginnings of a [proper] social perspective and a social philosophy.” And for the young man or woman in the Deep South this means learning to reject his own place and kin. For instance, an English professor who teaches Southern literature at The University of Alabama once told her young charges that every time they saw a white-columned mansion it should remind them of how evil their ancestors were. I asked her if she had ever considered assigning John Pendleton Kennedy’s Swallow Barn or Stark Young’s So Red the Rose to balance her more politically correct, anti-South reading list. She replied matter-of-factly that she was not interested in presenting a balanced view of what to her was a despicable culture and civilization.
A planetary consciousness, captured in the banal bumper-sticker philosophy “Think globally—act locally,” is replacing the local and regional consciousness that used to provide a point of reference for Americans from all parts of the country. The Pennsylvania steel-mill worker and the north Alabama plowboy both have local and family traditions that are left uncultivated in today’s global classroom.
To put it simply, there are great regional differences in America that must be taken into account when we try to educate our students. The country is quite diverse and heterogeneous in its history, culture, mores, and traditions; not only the South, but New England, the metropolitan East, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest are all, more or less, self-conscious regions. However, in education (and culture) we find ourselves dominated by the Northeast, which has made its own presumptions national, and even universal. The Ivy League schools and their offspring in the Midwest and on the Pacific Coast have tremendous influence in determining the conditions under which federal largesse is doled out to the educational establishment and over the parameters of polite academic discourse in our larger institutions of higher learning scattered throughout what they contemptuously refer to as “fly-over country.”
Unlike the nation-states of Europe, America has never had one cultural and intellectual center on a par with Paris, London, or Madrid; instead, as Davidson points out, we have only a series of regional capitals: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, and Charleston. Historically, we have not been of a single mind nationally, and we have lacked what Matthew Arnold called that “national glow of thought and feeling” common to great periods of literary and cultural attainment in the European nations. Past efforts at nationalizing American education, by such men as Ralph Waldo Emerson, have been abject failures. In his essay “The American Scholar,” Emerson deplored the division of the nation into North and South, but as an answer to regionalism he gave us only an insipid version of “Yankee transcendentalism,” which had as its goal the destruction of the very foundation of Southern culture and civilization. As Davidson wrote, “His voice was not the voice of America, but of New England, and his plan of salvation was to result not in peaceful unification but in bloody disunion.”
We are now told that the unification of America under prescriptions emanating from the Northeastern Corridor is both desirable and inevitable. Standardization is the ultimate prize sought after by the statist, imperial cognoscenti, and as a reward for their justification of Caesar, Caesar has rendered unto them quite generously. Federal grants and programs translate into more centralized control over education, sapping whatever independence a financially strapped institution might once have enjoyed. More bluntly, federal loot is doled out largely on the basis of whether the program to be funded will produce “desirable cultural attitudes.” And when federal dollars are on the line, most college and university administrators will forsake the regional and cultural uniqueness of their institutions in order to feed at the public trough.
Federal intrusion unfortunately has had the most telling effect on our Southern colleges and universities. Not only do we find our historic symbols and traditions sacrificed to the gods of political correctness, but our classrooms have become hothouses of anti-Southern propaganda. A carpetbag and scalawag professoriate commonly intimidates the student who dares speak in defense of his region and its heroes or the junior faculty member who might present in his lectures or writings something other than the current imperial orthodoxy. It is all but impossible nowadays to find a course in Southern history taught by a patriotic Southerner, because he is thought incapable of teaching the subject in an unbiased fashion. No one seems to give much consideration to the potential bias held by a liberal New Englander or Midwesterner. It strains credibility to imagine the situation reversed: a traditional, conservative Southern professor lecturing the students at Harvard or Yale on the moral deficiencies of their Yankee ancestors.
After all, the history of the South is much too important to be left up to Southerners. Why, if that were done, the minds of the young down here might be taught that the War was not caused primarily by slavery or that the South’s position on states’ rights and secession corresponded directly with the ideas of the Founding Fathers. Generations of Southern boys and girls might be taught that Lincoln was not the Great Emancipator but an ambitious politician and a tool of Northern plutocrats intent on subverting the Constitution and destroying Southern economic competitiveness as a prelude to colonizing the region and stealing its abundant resources in the name of preserving the Union. In other words, if traditional Southerners are left in charge of teaching history and literature in their own region, the myth of a glorious democratic Union, purchased with the blood of blue-clad saints and crowned by the martyrdom of Father Abraham, will be exposed as the Big Lie that it is. In reality, we have an American Empire sired by the forebears of those who now dominate our cultural and educational institutions, and we cannot expect them to permit the truth to be taught to the descendants of those who were branded “rebels” for having fought to defend the principles of the Old American Republic.
Goethe’s maxim holds that all that frees man’s soul but does not give him command over himself is evil. At present, we seem intent on withdrawing man’s control over himself in order to free his soul for comfortable and licentious living. In order to deflect attention from the increasingly complex and arcane machinations of the elites, who intrude into the most minute and private recesses of our lives, we are given the modern-day equivalent of “bread and circuses”—including college-football games. Never have so few “educated” people been willing to speak about important questions of the day. This fear of venturing beyond the bounds of respectable discourse and opinion is not yet tied to physical harm, but to implicit threats of harm to reputations and careers. Instead of questioning the foundations of the modern theology of centralized power, the typical American university graduate contents himself with playing the role of a nobleman in the court of Louis XIV, giving himself over to frivolous self-indulgence. He is encouraged to give free rein to his appetites and to trust in the experts to handle all that falls beyond his ken.
Should the current educational trend away from a humane regionalism and toward a soulless nationalism continue, then perhaps in this new millennium all men will have equal destinies in American society. They will be destined to live as deracinated “human resources” cut loose from their unique cultural and historical moorings and fit only to be producers and consumers of trinkets in the global marketplace. We will have been given a design of living in which we no longer know nonsense when we hear it and see it. We wish so passionately to be good moderns, up to date and in fashion, that we grasp for every new and superficial idea that comes down the pike. In our present state, a properly functioning educational system would injure the tender sensibilities of Americans who insist it is their right to believe in today’s variations on the flat-earth theory.
Americans with university degrees ought to be well educated enough to see not only that the world is not flat, but that we no longer live in a republic characterized by self-government. Most give no indication that they know, or even care, that the unique and wonderful gift bequeathed to us by our forebears has been squandered in our own quest to go whoring after the strange gods of modernity. While we talk ourselves silly about abstract universal propositions in the name of the human race, humane learning has been relegated to quiet corners out of step with fashionable academic society. But like all things built on sure foundations by “generations of the faithful heart,” it will endure long after the detritus of the current regime has been swept away. Now, if we could only put those football games in their proper place . . .