Book Reviews -- Dogmatic Wisdom: How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America by Russell Jacoby

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RUSSELL JACOBY. Dogmatic Wisdom: How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America. New York: Doubleday, 1994. 235 pages. $22.95.

Russell Jacoby, well-known author of The Last Intellectuals, adds much insight into the "culture wars" currently raging on some American college campuses. This conflict has arisen in part because of such widely read books as Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Dinesh D'Sousa's Illiberal Education, and Arthur Schlesinger's The Disuniting of America, which argue that relativism, deconstruction, and multicultural education have threatened western thought, traditions, and culture The author writes that, "Conservatives protest that education has lost its mind. Radicals respond that it is better than ever" Jacoby suggests that both sides in the argument are "nearsighted." The central thesis of Dogmatic Wisdom is that the current debate is distracting academicians from their principal responsibility: educating students. Moreover, the author believes that the debate should not be whether colleges are inclusive, tolerant, or multicultural--they are already all of these.

Rather, academics should be more concerned with how to make American society--one racked with racism, violence, and hate--more tolerant and more inclusive.

Jacoby insists that the decline of enrollments in the liberal arts during the last two decades cannot be traced to an overemphasis on non-Western culture or from courses in gender and peace studies. Instead, this decline echoes an American society obsessed with gaining material possessions. It is no coincidence, he writes, that the number of business-management and marketing majors rose dramatically as the quest for consumer goods seemed to have overwhelmed many Americans. This was not the result of an illiberal education but of an illiberal society. If any education is illiberal, he writes, it is that which promotes "specialization and professionalization" for the mere purpose of securing a lucrative job after graduation.

Presenting himself somewhat as a free-ranging critic--for the author discusses a variety of issues in a series of occasionally disjointed chapters--Jacoby asserts that the debate over multiculturalism is, by and large, one based on ideology and relatively unreflective of American society at large. "Citizens [and academicians] wrangle over multiculturalism...," he writes, "meanwhile the irresistible power of advertising and television converts multiculturalism into a monoculture of clothes, music, and cars." In recent years, he says, many conservatives have asserted that American higher education has declined because it is firmly under the control of radical leftists who have instituted curricular reforms designed to denigrate Western Civilization. …