The dwindling cadre of academics who try to hold the line on standards have a particularly rough time of it when choosing textbooks.
“Every semester I have to pick a new book and I have to pick the least bad book and it’s really depressing,” Suffolk County Community College professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. says. “You need a good stiff drink.”
“Other conservative academics from across the country have the same problem.”
Dr. Woods teaches history at Suffolk, which is affiliated with the State University of New York. His partial solution to the textbook dilemma was to write his own Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Regnery 2004).
The book traces America’s history from the pilgrims to the Clinton years, drawing on some rarely seen historical quotations. For example, Woods shows us that during the civil war, confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson thought slavery “a moral and political evil” while Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant took a surprisingly ambivalent view of the practice, bringing into question the manner in which that particular American conflict is typically taught.
For the most part, Woods tries to focus on those aspects of American history that most teachers ignore. “I think that most people know about Watergate but they don’t know how [former President] Lyndon Johnson stole his first election to the United States Senate,” Dr. Woods notes.
Of particular interest to Dr. Woods are the efforts of the former Soviet Union to influence United States government policies through communist agents. With the release of once-classified U. S. government documents and even the opening of the archives of the Communist International in Moscow, more is known about Soviet efforts at subversion in the United States than ever before.
“It takes a very long time for recent research to make it into textbooks so I wanted to get some of the recently-released material into print,” Dr. Woods says.
Nevertheless, despite the information available to serious researchers of Cold War history, the hunger for the story told by archival documents is noticeably absent in academe. Dr. Woods, with his interest in the material, is a rare example in the Ivory Tower today.
“It does seem that there is less than a stampede to get over there among academics,” Dr. Woods admits of the treasure trove of information in Moscow. “You can talk all you want to about communism and you will get no interest in academia.”
Dr. Woods started racking up his politically-incorrect bona fides even before the release of his Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. For instance, he is the editor of The Latin Mass, and an enthusiastic advocate of the Roman Catholic rite.
Surprisingly, this interest of his has netted the devout Catholic, if anything, benign curiosity in academia. His colleagues at Suffolk find the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church intriguing as an historical phenomenon. In an odd contrast, many Catholics in Catholic colleges and universities take a more hostile view of the return to this religious tradition.
“In mainstream-left Catholic circles, favoring the traditional Latin Mass is about the least popular position one can hold,” Dr. Woods observed. “There is virulent opposition to it.”
“In secular circles, though, few people feel particularly strongly about it one way or the other.”
At least one Christian academy has indicated that it wants to use Dr. Woods’ Politically Incorrect Guide to American History as a text. Additionally, conservative professors from around the country want to put it on their reading lists.
Dr. Woods remains optimistic about the hope of attaining more diversity on America’s campuses. He says conservatives contemplating an academic career should not abandon that aspiration.
“If you do good scholarly work, you will get recognized,” Dr. Woods told Campus Report Online. Dr. Woods himself matriculated from two bastions of the academic establishment—Harvard and Columbia.
Dr. Woods shares fond memories of every college and university he has ever studied in or taught at, including Columbia. At Columbia, Dr. Woods could claim Allen Brinkley, son of iconic newsman David, as his advisor.
Dr. Woods remembers receiving fair, gracious treatment from the identifiably-liberal history department advisor. Still, Dr. Woods admits, Columbia’s history department was so far left that his colleagues considered the liberal-leaning Brinkley a conservative merely because his politics were not as radical as those of his contemporaries.