Every student in public colleges in Texas is required to take 42 hours of “core curriculum” courses. Far from encouraging students to study the classic texts of Western philosophy, literature, religion, and politics, the core sends students in literally thousands of directions, picking up random course that satisfy the “distribution requirements” of two courses in the social sciences, one in the fine arts, and so on.

Some parts of the core, however, seem at least on the surface to prescribe courses that are both common and central. Students are required to take six hours in American history, for example, and each campus can impose a common three-hour requirement on its students (as an “institutional” requirement). In the case of the University of Texas in Austin, we can examine the contents of courses satisfying both requirements: the six-hour American history sequence, and UT’s three-hour “signature course” requirement. In both cases, the core requirements have been largely hijacked by left-wing politics and academic fashions, resulting in a freshman year experience that, for too many students, resembles the political re-education camps of China or Vietnam.

In 2012, the National Association of Scholars completed an exhaustive analysis of the contents of the assigned readings and topics in all forty of the sections of required American history at UT, entitled “Recasting American History”. The NAS found that the three topics of race, class, and gender were crowding out all more traditional issues, such as political, economic, intellectual, military, and diplomatic history. Seventy-eight percent of the UT history instructors assigned readings on these three topics that consumed more than half of the contents of what were supposed to be general survey courses. In addition, UT allowed its students to satisfy the requirement by taking special “topics” courses. Here is a complete list of the topics offered:

  • History of Mexican Americans in the U.S.
  • Introduction to American Studies
  • The Black Power Movement
  • Mexican American Women, 1910-Present
  • Race and Revolution
  • The United States and Africa

Looking at the signature course offerings this fall confirms this same dismal pattern. The majority of courses fit neatly into the race, class, gender mold, including:

  • Language, Race and Inequality
  • Racial Representations of African Americans
  • Race in the Age of Obama
  • Reproduction Politics
  • Gender and the Media
  • Gender and Migration
  • Sexuality, Politics and Human Rights

Robert Jensen, the outspoken socialist in the Journalism department, teaches the largest signature course (with 18 sections) on “Freedom,” using Eric Foner’s American history textbook – similar in slant to Howard Zinn’s People’s History. A sociology professor offers a course in “How to Change the World” through left-wing community activism. When not offering political indoctrination, the signature courses emphasized titillating topics like sexuality and drug use, or focused on the ephemeral pop culture, such as pulp fiction or vampire novels. The great works of philosophy by Plato or David Hume? The novels of Jane Austen or Dostoevsky? A sober and dispassionate survey of important events in human history? Nowhere to be found.

Next time: re-thinking the core curriculum.