The Troubled Past/Present/Future of America’s Universities

I think that a lot of students take the history of their institution as something that happened in the past, having no pertinence to their lives today. The history should remain in the past, right? I would disagree. I think time, and the horrors of the past, are given a pass over because people are able to separate themselves from the system in which they were created from. If something happened a hundred years ago, I had nothing to do with it, so it’s easy to blame someone else for the bad things that have come out of it. Craig Steven Wilder’s entire book rests upon the fact that institutions of higher education not only were dependent on slavery for economic and social stability, but they became houses where racist ideology were mass produced and distributed. It is so easy to simply say, “But that was then, and this is now!”- but I think that would be a great mistake on several ideological levels. Without acknowledging the structure of an institution, you are not able to fully grasp the pathos of the establishment.

Two instances in the reading really fascinated me (aka creeped me out). In the epigraph of chapter three, Wilder includes a stanza from a poem to George Berkeley, reading, “If you made me your wife, Sir, in time you may fill a Whole town with our children, and likewise your villa. I, famous for breeding, you, famous for knowledge, I’ll found the whole nation, you’ll found a whole college.” This makes my skin crawl. Not only is it equating a women’s worth on her ability to have children, but the idea that two people will be procreating only in order to pass on their ideological beliefs unsettles me. I think that a large portion of education rests on being exposed to different mindsets, even ones you vehemently disagree with. By saying that Berkley will ‘found a whole college’ from this creepy procreative process makes me think that he would only be passing on his thoughts and beliefs, which would only further racism and systematic oppression.

Another instance that made me uncomfortable was on page 94, where Reverend Smith talked about ‘educating the Native children.’ Wilder writes, “In these Schools, some of the most Ingenious and Docile of the young Indians might be instructed in our Faith and Morals, and Language, and in our Method of Life and Industry, and in some of those Arts which are most useful…To civilize our Friends and Neighbors; – to strengthen our Allies and our Alliance; – to adorn and dignify Human Nature; – to save Souls from Death; to promote the Christian Faith, and the Divine Glory, are the Motives.” He’s literally saving that they are going to kidnap Native American children, teach them to believe the things that the colonizers believe, and then return them to their families, in hopes that the children will uproot their families, and either indoctrinate them to what the English believe, or use another kind of force to change the ‘sympathies of these nations towards the English.” Someone kidnapping children in order to change their beliefs in order to return them years later, only to try to uproot a system? In an attempt to save their souls? These are children! I know that time has given us a shield for these horrors, but can we try to image it, and recognize how horrible these things were??