A response to James Lewis' "Was Cho Taught to Hate?"

Phew, that was a close one!

Just one year ago, the English Department at Virginia Tech was a warm environment filled with professors who encouraged me to take a four-month humanitarian trip to Peru. Now, James Lewis's probing investigation "Was Cho Taught to Hate?" uncovers a group of deranged, transsexual, Marxist professors feasting on the tabulae rasae of young, innocent minds. It seems the department has run amok. I was lucky to escape alive.

From a blogging perspective, Mr. Lewis's work is pure genius. Bloggers, with few exceptions, are essentially free-lance writers hoping for a big break. To increase readership, they have to follow one of three "holy grails" of blogging: extrapolate grandiose conclusions from minutes of research, write inflamed commentary, or appeal to the small population of conspiracy theorists who sleep during the day and read the web at night under a swivel-arm desk lamp. Mr. Lewis's article accomplishes all three. As we say in Peru, "Aplauso!"

What is frightening about Mr. Lewis's article is its selfish exploitation of a national tragedy. Thirty-two innocent men and women died in an environment dedicated to learning. Mr. Lewis found the "Virginia Tech Massacre" the prime opportunity to bash leftists, homosexuals, transsexuals, and "diversity" (diversity being Arab Americans, Muslims, Sheiks, and Latinos). Indeed, Mr. Lewis, we are living in Dangerous Times, which is a fitting title for your personal blog.

The echoing question in Mr. Lewis's article is whether the VT English Department teaches "the essential boundaries of civilized behavior." Mr. Lewis quickly concludes VT English faculty are hired to "stir up young people to go out and revolt against society" based on his "research" into the hellish circles of the department's inferno.

Since I was once a VT English student and part of an English faculty hiring committee, allow me to reexamine the "evidence" underpinning Mr. Lewis's argument.

According to Mr. Lewis, Professor Nikki Giovanni's book The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni is "self-glorifying." Odd adjective for a collection of poems largely about the obstacles facing black Americans during and after the Civil Rights Movement.

Mr. Lewis calls Professor Bernice Hausman's work "gender-bending," a term loosely assigned to individuals who actively transgress "normal" gender roles. Actually, Dr. Hausman's research explores how modern medicine enabled the emergence of transsexualism, an appropriate topic for a professor who teaches pre-medicine students.

Professor James Collier is now a post-modernist with a hatred for reason? When I took a course with Dr. Collier, his research interests included Science and Technology Studies, web writing, cascading style sheets, and how academics rhetorically frame their own inquiry. Is this the profile of a man who hates reason?

Professor Susan Allender-Hagedorn apparently scratches "racial and gender wounds until they bleed" with her research in "feminist science fiction" and "the comic strip." Since Dr. Hagedorn was my academic advisor, I can attest that her research interests are not in either of the aforementioned areas. "Feminist Science Fiction" and "The Comic Strip" are simply links on her website. Dr. Hagedorn's specialty is technical writing and editing. She could help Mr. Lewis with his grammar and punctuation.

And if you are not already skeptical of Mr. Lewis's evidence, get this: Mr. Lewis cites "Professor Brizee's website...[which] celebrates revolutionary violence and hate for capitalist America" as proof that post-modern Marxism "is a big part of English teaching at VT." Here's the problem: Mr. Brizee was never a faculty member; he was a graduate student. He finished his masters about four years ago. Oh, and that website was a class project.

The evidence behind Mr. Lewis's argument is shamelessly devoid of truth. The cliché "judging a book by its cover" doesn't even apply to Mr. Lewis, for he judged faculty solely by their book titles, book reviews, and website hyperlinks. The article does not help a nation cope or find answers. It serves only as a platform for a preconceived ideology that he audaciously bullies under the limelight of tragedy.

Undergraduate English coursework at Virginia Tech educates the whole being. Students are taught to extract the full meaning of a text through the deconstruction, manipulation, and critical analysis of ideas. This process is incomplete without examining literature of historical and mainstream importance including, but not limited to, topics like Marxism, transsexualism, and civil rights.

To ignore mainstream dialogue is to ignore reality, thus leaving students unprepared to respond to the rhetorical exigencies of their world. When we can no longer objectively discuss our own world, we reach the end of knowledge and, to quote Mr. Lewis, "the beginning of ignorance."

Chris Bayne graduated from Virginia Tech in 2006 with bachelor degrees in psychology and English. He currently lives in Peru and can be reached at cbayne@vt.edu.

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James Lewis responds:

Warm and fuzzy --- but still educational malpractice

I am delighted that Chris Bayne experienced a “warm environment filled with professors (at Virginia Tech) who encouraged me to take a four-month humanitarian trip to Peru.” My guess is that Mr. Bayne was lucky enough to grow up in a healthy family, with pretty good schooling, ending up with a very openminded attitude to the pervasive ideological biases of modern American English Departments. I have no criticism of Mr. Bayne. I’m glad he came to the defense of his college. But I don’t feel so well disposed toward his professors.
Having taught for decades at American universities and colleges, at both graduate and undergrad levels, I am not surprised that students can come away with warm and wonderful memories even when they receive indoctrination rather than education. The same may be said of students of Scientology and Jonestown residents. But fellow citizens, taxpayers and parents may be allowed to be more skeptical.

Am I being too critical? Well, consider Mr. Bayne’s description of his education at VT English Department, where 

“Students are taught to extract the full meaning of a text through the deconstruction, manipulation, and critical analysis of ideas. This process is incomplete without examining literature of historical and mainstream importance including, but not limited to, topics like Marxism, transsexualism, and civil rights.”

Let’s see what those words mean.

This is not what is traditionally called “analysis” in Western thought. Rather, it is an undefinable process, according to its originator, Jacques Derrida. But we can get the flavor of it from modern Lit Crit:

The term deconstruction in the context of Western philosophy is highly resistant to formal definition. Martin Heidegger was perhaps the first to use the term (in contrast to Nietzschean demolition). Heidegger's central concern was to deconstruct the tradition of Western philosophy. The English term is an element in a series of translations (from Husserl's Abbau and Heidegger's Destruktion to Jacques Derrida's déconstruction)…”
So Mr. Bayne was taught what Heidegger called Destruktion (German for “destruction”), Huesserl called it Abbau (German for “tearing down”), and Nietzsche called it Demolition (German for “blowing up”). By Gum, that seems like an odd thing to teach innocent undergraduates, doesn’t it?  To “destroy,” “tear down,” “demolish,” and generally destroy the “tradition of Western philosophy.” No wonder those professors don’t want to give us a definition of what they teach!

(Incidentally, was Mr. Bayne told about the New York Times photo of deconstructionist guru Martin Heidegger giving the Hitler salute in Nazi drag with matching mustache, right around 1934? Maybe not. )

“Deconstruction” is all for the greater purpose of “determining the full meaning of a text” according to Mr. Bayne. That is certainly an interesting concept of  “the full meaning of a text.” I would have thought that we could try to understand the full meaning of a text by reading it with an open mind. But apparently we don’t understand a text until we learn to destroy it --- which means reducing it to its alleged cultural biases, the ultimate reductio ad absurdum.  So Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, and Alexander the Great are all reduced to their class, race and gender. They’re all basically the same, deconstructively speaking.
A good example of the genre might be a textbook that Mr. Cho (the gunman) was apparently assigned in an English class called Contemporary Horror. The textbook is titled Men, Women and Chainsaws.”

Sounds a tad aggressive, doesn’t it?

What else are these blushing young innocents taught? Well, according to Mr. Bayne, there’s “transsexualism, Marxism, and civil rights.”  Deconstructively speaking, that comes down to “sexism, classism, and racism.” In other words, students at Virginia Tech are taught an ideology of blame --- a way to accuse the adult world of being biased, selfish, and shaped exclusively by its narrow self-interest, whether it be via  gender, race or class oppression. It’s something a lot of college kids are happy to hear, since it makes them idealistic, progressive, warm and cuddly --- unlike their parents.

However, we are assured by Mr. Bayne that VT does not run a trendy Leftist English Department, just like thousands of other college faculty, who educate by excoriating those selfish sexist racist capitalist suckers who are paying their tenured salaries. And yet, he is absolutely convinced that he received a well-rounded education.

I’m not so sure.

Now healthy young people can handle a lot of educational malpractice, and still turn out pretty well. I’m sure Mr. Bayne is a fine person, teaching Peruvians all about Derrida and Deconstructionism.

I worry a lot more about the Chos than the Baynes. So does Dr. Miriam Grossman, campus psychiatrist at UCLA and the author  of  Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student.

Mr. Cho systematically murdered more than thirty of his fellow students at Virginia Tech. It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Cho had special needs. He did not have the mental resilience, the social network, or the loving family background I presume of Mr. Bayne. Yet every single college in the country has a lot of Chris Baynes and also quite a few Mr. Cho’s.

How do we know that? Well, check the National Library of Medicine online database, and you can find out anything scientists have discovered about suicidality, psychosis, and homicidal tendencies during the college years. There is a sizable scientific literature about the relationships between murder and mental disorders, such as the one that Mr. Cho apparently suffered from. In a review of more than 200 studies, Dinesh Bhugra reports that at any given time, the prevalence of schizophrenia in the general population is 4.6 per thousand. On a college campus with 20,000 people, therefore, there will be 92 people walking around being schizophrenic on any given day.  What about the emotional disorders, like serious depression to the point of suicide risk, disabling anxiety, bipolar disorder, or uncontrollable anger? How many students have PTSD? Those rates are many times higher than schizophrenia. Call it several hundred people walking around Virginia Tech just like Mr. Cho, in severe mental turmoil --- which is known to peak in adolescence. Who is looking after them?

Media reports indicate that pretty much everybody, students, faculty and staff, knew that Mr. Cho was a very troubled person. But as far as we can tell nobody took responsibility for that  --- the English faculty turned it over to the Campus Clinic, the Campus Police, and back again to the Faculty, in classic bureaucratic fashion. It just wasn’t their Department. The English faculty were much too busy doing ‘research.’
What research is that, you ask? Well, it includes writing poetry, such as Professor Nikki Giovanni’s hymn to black liberation, part of which goes,

Can you kill

Can you kill

Can a ni**er kill

Can a ni**er kill a honkie

Can a ni**er kill the Man

Can you kill ni**er

Ni**er can you

Etc., etc.

So Professor Giovanni became an international star and Mr. Cho fell into the cracks, along with thirty plus fellow students.

In traditional higher education this would be called a massive failure of responsibility of the famous “loco parentis” --- the parental responsibility for guiding young people, and teaching them healthy values. Universities now disown loco parentis. It’s not their business what happens to the problem students. Because what is the very first thing we  hear from Professor Giovanni, emblazoned on the Departmental website immediately after the Cho killings?

We are Virginia Tech
We do not understand this tragedy
We know we did nothing to deserve it

So the very first reaction of the faculty was to disown responsibility --- before anybody even knew what happened. That is so typical. They didn’t do nuthin’. It must have been racism, sexism, and proletarian oppression that killed all those poor kids.  Notice that this is exactly what Mr. Cho said, after firing more than 100 bullets into his fellow students --- this is your fault! Not mine!

I wonder where he learned to think like that?

No, I don’t think the American public should be satisfied.  And no, the university as an institution doesn’t get to play the innocent victim, not before it makes a lot more of an effort to take more responsibility for problem students.

James Lewis blogs at

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