Political Prejudice at Yale

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Political Prejudice at Yale

I had not intended to make this last week the week of criticizing historians, but I suppose it is turning out that way. As people know, many leading universities, such as MIT and Yale, have made many courses available on line for free. This is a great service. But this does not merely spread knowledge, it also opens a window to the educational bias that is going on in elite college classrooms.
I have been listening to a course given by Yale Historian David Blight entitled The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877. I was interested in the course because I am writing an article this summer involving Reconstruction. So I have listened to the second half of the course.
I would strongly recommend the course based on the content of the history taught as well as the engaging style of lecture. Blight also does a good job of debunking the Dunning school of Reconstruction History, which somehow I was taught as a lad in New York City of all places.
Despite these virtues, Blight’s course has a serious deficiency: his regular expressions of political prejudice. I would say every other lecture has a statement that involves a snide wisecrack attacking modern conservatives or Republicans. These statements have nothing to do with the course. The most recent example involves a crack about how Ronald Reagan is these days generally rated in the top 5 of presidents in American history, but Blight can think of no reason for this, except perhaps that there is an airport name for Reagan.
Now, one might think that these remarks are relatively harmless. But I can tell you as a student in many classrooms with professors who made such remarks, they are not. Imagine for a second that Blight inserted negative statements about blacks or gays in his lectures.
The introduction of internet course may have a beneficial effect on political biases in academia. Until now, most people, if they are aware of bigotry in academia are only aware second-hand. Let’s face it, adults are not the ones going to college. But when older people, those with mature political views are, exposed to bigoted rants from academia via on-line courses the blowback will be much greater than the occasional objection from the current student body. After all, to call the professor a bigot when you’re looking for passing grade takes more courage than most students are expected to have.

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