A timely, provocative, necessary look at how identity politics has come to dominate college campuses and higher education in America at the expense of a more essential commitment to equality.
Thirty years after the culture wars, identity politics is now the norm on college campuses-and it hasn't been an unalloyed good for our education system or the country. Though the civil rights movement, feminism, and gay pride led to profoundly positive social changes, William Egginton argues that our culture's increasingly narrow focus on individual rights puts us in a dangerous place. The goal of our education system, and particularly the liberal arts, was originally to strengthen community; but the exclusive focus on individualism has led to a new kind of intolerance, degrades our civic discourse, and fatally distracts progressive politics from its commitment to equality.
Egginton argues that our colleges and universities have become exclusive, expensive clubs for the cultural and economic elite instead of a national, publicly funded project for the betterment of the country. Only a return to the goals of community, and the egalitarian values underlying a liberal arts education, can head off the further fracturing of the body politic and the splintering of the American mind.
With lively, on-the-ground reporting and trenchant analysis, The Splintering of the American Mind is a powerful book that is guaranteed to be controversial within academia and beyond. At this critical juncture, the book challenges higher education and every American to reengage with our history and its contexts, and to imagine our nation in new and more inclusive ways.
In this provocative account, Egginton, director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University, investigates how higher education's emphasis on identity affects the current political landscape. Egginton writes that students have been taught to focus on the individual at the expense of the community in which recognition of and rights for individuals exist, turning colleges into places that widen social rifts rather than foster civil discourse. He espouses renewing liberal arts curricula as a way to help foster a more expansive sense of community; while the idea that the humanities can help people develop empathy and common stories is not new, Egginton's case is nevertheless convincing. Less convincing are his claims that students value individual experience above their communities discussion of student involvement in movements such as Black Lives Matter is absent, as, on the whole, are the voices of students themselves and anecdotally supported claims that identity is now considered a necessary precondition for expertise. Egginton's pot-stirring prose at one point he describes colleges as "boutique department stores where the elite go to purchase an education the way one might purchase a luxury automobile" will delight some readers and rile others, but his book will interest anyone wanting a better sense of the current mood surrounding American higher education.