Social Forces At American University

, Sean Grindlay, Leave a comment

Students seeking an even-handed examination of American social history in “Social Forces that Shaped America,” a history class at American University in Washington, D.C., may instead find themselves knee-deep in political correctness.

Included in the curriculum are the films “Do the Right Thing” and “Thelma and Louise.” Professor Peter Kuznick says that he assigned the latter “to raise the question of female rage, trying to get the students to address why the film resonated so deeply with female audiences at the time and to discuss whether such deep-seated anger still exists.”

Required texts for the class include Herland, a novel about a utopian society consisting solely of women; Where the Girls Are, a feminist critique of the mass media; and books by Cornel West and Malcolm X.

“Over the past three decades, ‘revisionist’ historians have effectively challenged the traditional way of viewing the American past as the cumulative achievements of privileged white males in the realms of warfare, politics, and diplomacy,” the course syllabus begins.

The syllabus goes on to say that the course “will focus on those once excluded from historical study, particularly women, blacks, and workers, and assess the ways they have contributed to American history, both as victims and as historical actors.”

According to the syllabus, the course deals with such topics as: “The Spanish Holocaust: Christopher Columbus, the Man and the Myth,” “Slavery and the Roots of American Racism,” “Victorian Culture and the Subordination of American Women,” “Labor’s Challenge to Capitalist Hegemony,” and “The Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush Years: Setbacks in the Struggle for Social Justice and Equal Rights?”

“Revisionists have broadened the accepted boundaries of American history to include the study of groups once obscured from view—workers, racial and ethnic minorities, women, gays and lesbians—and have introduced a new appreciation of multiculturalism into our understanding of the American past,” the syllabus explains.

Last semester the class also heard from two guest speakers: Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, and Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. Originally a third speaker was scheduled—Richard Trumka, the frequently indicted but never convicted secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO—but he was unable to attend.

Although the NAACP is officially nonpartisan, Bond is a very liberal Democrat who has stated that Republicans appeal to “the dark underside of American culture” and has referred to Attorney General John Ashcroft as a member of “the Taliban wing of American politics.”

Gandy is no less partisan. Not only is the NOW leader an absolutist supporter of legal (and taxpayer-funded) abortion, she also has defended laws and court decisions that force private religious hospitals to take part in abortions. Moreover, Gandy and her organization have given public gestures of support to Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who murdered her five children in 2001, calling her a victim of postpartum depression.

When asked whether these guest speakers were presenting students with a balanced set of perspectives, Kuznick said that he had made attempts in past years to schedule a wider variety of speakers: “I would certainly be open to inviting thoughtful conservative speakers of the stature of Julian Bond or Kim Gandy to speak to the class … I have tried in the past.”

In addition to considering a more balanced set of guest speakers, Kuznick said that in future classes he would be willing to assign a book by a conservative author. Of the seven assigned texts used in the course last semester, none was written from a right-of-center perspective—despite the fact that conservative authors such as Thomas Sowell have produced a significant body of work relating to the issues examined in the course.

Although he acknowledges his own leftward leanings, Kuznick maintains that he tries to provide an environment in which conservative students feel free to voice their opinions: “Despite my liberal views, I make a great effort to be fair to all students and I go out of my way to accommodate and support those whose views are different than my own, knowing it is not easy to be a conservative student on a generally liberal campus.”

Sean Grindlay is the managing editor of