Jason Willick: Conservatives against history

Roundup: Talking About History

Mr. Willick is a UC student.

It looks like Rick Santorum — who said Monday that most of California’s public universities don’t offer American history courses — isn’t the only Republican making things up about the University of California curriculum.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last Saturday called “How California Colleges Indoctrinate Students,” Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz wrote: “none of the nine general campuses in the UC system requires students to study the history and institutions of the United States.”

One wonders if Berkowitz bothered to visit the UC website — or do any research on the subject whatsoever — before writing off to the Wall Street Journal. If he had, he would have seen that the University of California has three systemwide graduation requirements: writing, a foreign language, and, yes — American history and institutions.

Santorum’s and Berkowitz’s fabrications about the UC system probably come from a report published by the conservative California Association of Scholars on “The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California.”

For the most part, the report is laughable and absurd. It recycles tired right-wing conspiracy theories about left-wing professors plotting to indoctrinate students in a tone at times reminiscent of McCarthyism. It’s also riddled with factual distortions and statistical falsehoods as blogger John Wilson documents in a devastating takedown of the report.

One example: citing a 2004 study, the report claims that “49 percent of students complain of professors frequently injecting political comments into their courses even if they have nothing to do with the subject.” In reality, Wilson notes, “students were never asked about their own experiences; instead, students were asked, “On my campus, some professors use the classroom to present their personal political views” — effectively asking students to speculate on whether they imagine there are any professors somewhere on their campus who make political comments in class.”

But the approach to teaching history the report advocates is more illuminating than its factual dishonesty. Unlike Rick Santorum, the California Association of Scholars seems to recognize that UC schools do, in fact, teach American history courses.

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