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When Education Becomes Indoctrination

          A recent Princeton graduate, Christian C. Sahner, who just completed a fellowship at The Wall Street Journal, wrote a departing op-ed on September 5th, titled “Sexed Up Sex-Ed”, in which he complained about a mandatory freshman orientation presentation at Princeton that dramatizes the nature and degrees of consensual and nonconsensual sex among undergraduates. Sahner, who is clearly both religious and socially conservative, at least by Ivy League standards, objected primarily to the content of the play, arguing that it depicts all students as sexually active and tacitly endorses the so-called “hook up culture” that, in his view, it ought to discourage.

            I come from a very different background and social perspective than Mr. Sahner, but with regard to his critique of Princeton’s program, I actually think that he has understated the outrageousness of these pseudo-educational exercises that are now ubiquitous on our college campuses. Having studied freshman orientation programs closely in the past,  I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor.

            Many of these mandatory orientation programs are heavily influenced by postmodernist notions of gender relations and therefore present a view of what constitutes true consent in sexual activity that has little or no resemblance to criminal law. There is far more ideology than law in these programs, which often scare students by perpetrating what John Leo calls the “1-in-4 myth" that twenty-five percent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes – a bogus stat that has been repeated so many times on campus that it is now widely considered an unassailable fact. I consider these programs, as I wrote to the WSJ, to be “tendentious intrusions into [students’] minds and very beings” that threaten to turn our campuses of higher education into “the modern-day equivalent of a North Korean POW camp.”

            Janet Smith Dickerson, Vice President for Campus Life at Princeton, my alma mater by the way (Class of 1964), wrote a letter that appeared right next to mine. Her letter – inadvertently, to be sure – made precisely my point. The purpose of the exercise, wrote Vice President Dickerson, is to emphasize “that approximately 94% of female college sexual assault survivors know the perpetrator to some extent.” Instead of Vice President Dickerson asking herself whether all of these cases really involve unwanted sexual assault or represent, rather, an after-the-fact change of attitude on the part of one of the sex partners, she makes the assumption that the cases all involve victims and, in the jargon of the day, “survivors.”

            The notion that college freshmen do not know the difference between assault and engaging in voluntary sex, and that such students need sensitivity trainers to turn them into civilized human beings, is a symptom of the sickness that pervades offices of campus life in colleges and universities all over the country today. It has spawned a huge “training” industry that has, indeed, turned so many of our campuses into tendentious re-education camps. That a vice-president of Princeton does not see that her programs are the problem and not the solution is a sad comment on the state of our institutions of higher learning.

            College administrators like Dickerson should at least be honest and admit that while Princeton’s standards and definitions of consent to sexual activity have no counterpart in the criminal law, they represent Princeton’s post-modernist requirements with regard to intimate relations, and that a student engages in sex at his or her own risk of running afoul of the campus definitions, or lack thereof, of the moment. This would accomplish, at least, truth in advertising, so to speak. Instead, these administrators disguise their social engineering as education, and that’s where civilized and rational people have to draw the line and respond with “surely you jest that this is education.”


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