Politically Incorrect Reading

, Brendan Conway, Leave a comment

Decades of teaching in colleges and universities and exposure to alleged history textbooks such as the California-approved Rereading America led Dr. George Zilbergeld to compose his own textbook, audaciously entitled A Reader for the Politically Incorrect.

“The politically correct education that all too many students are receiving undermines the major goals of a college education that are critical to the future of the students and of the country,” Zilbergeld writes. A professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, Dr. Zilbergeld chairs the Political Science Department there.

The structure of A Reader for the Politically Incorrect roughly mirrors the format of textbooks such as Rereading America, and seems designed to substitute for it in introductory expository writing courses. It has five sections: one apiece on education, the environment, race, the military and war, and the culture wars.

The book features the work of esteemed social scientists such as James Q. Wilson, Richard Pipes and Donald Kagan writing on topics as diverse as Western history’s importance, automobiles and political philosophy. But it also gives students exposure to the unabashed conservatism of commentators such as Thomas Sowell and former government officials including Wolf Lehmann, who served in Vietnam. As if to confirm the worst suspicions of the PC crowd, it even offers Rudyard Kipling’s “Tommy” as a literary treat.

It is to offer an alternative to textbooks such as Rereading America that Zilbergeld has conceived and edited A Reader for the Politically Incorrect, released in December by Praeger. “Students just aren’t getting the good stuff anymore,” he says.

A particularly egregious PC college writing and “critical thinking” textbook, Rereading America is edited by three professors in California’s state university system. As the publisher’s breathless summary puts it, “Rereading America provokes students to explore the foundations and contradictions of our dominant cultural myths.” Specifically, it asks students to reconsider six of them that, by implication, it believes many Americans hold. Bedford/St. Martin’s official summary lists them as:

(1) the nuclear family is the only solid basis for society;

(2) education empowers all citizens;

(3) success is solely the product of hard work;

(4) gender roles are biologically rather than culturally determined;

(5) America is a melting pot, where people from different cultures blend together to form a homogeneous whole; and

(6) America is seen throughout the world as a land of liberty and freedom.

As is clear upon reading them, several of these statements are straw men. The disqualifiers give it away: the only solid basis, all, solely. But Rereading America, I was saddened to learn, is “the most widely adopted book of its kind,” as its publisher reports. First published in 1998, the book is now in its fourth edition.

There are obvious problems with a foundational college text that presumes so little of its students. Perusing Amazon.com reviews, I learn that even proponents of the book admit this. “I would agree that there is clearly an editorial bias in the book,” says one reviewer who nevertheless calls the volume “excellent.” “There is an introduction for each piece which, in my view, tries to force a particular viewpoint rather than simply challenge an existing one or open a topic for broader examination,” the reviewer continues.

Another reviewer on Amazon conjures Soviet politics in describing the text. “If you enjoy fluffy propoganda [sic] pieces, this is the book for you,” he adds.

If you don’t enjoy fluffy propaganda pieces, you might pick up a copy of Dr. Zilbergeld’s book.

Brendan Conway is the associate editor of The Public Interest.