Denver Post Takes Yorktown Out of Context

Okay, so The Denver Post is running an unofficial campaign against Bob Schaffer for U.S. Senate. We got that. But I wish the paper would at least stick to real news. Unfortunately, its story today by Michael Riley (“GOP’s Schaffer views Yorktown as ‘classical'”) is too lame even to rise to the level of sensationalism.

Riley writes about Yorktown University:

The online university boasts some respected scholars, but the description of its American culture concentration also describes popular music, modern art and psychology as “signs of serious cultural disturbance.”

Currently accepting students for just one degree — a master’s in government — Yorktown is seen by its founder as a place where students are steeped in the principles of supply-side economics, can freely talk about their views on abortion and other issues, and seek to restore the country to a path of what the course catalog describes as “cultural recovery.”

One ethics lecture is titled “The Enlightenment as Failed Moral Revolution.”

This is an odd sort of institution, and Schaffer’s association with it is real news. But Riley takes the quotes from Yorktown out of context.

To take the last point first, Riley does not bother to mention (and I couldn’t find online) what “The Enlightenment as Failed Moral Revolution” was about. Did the class suggest that the enlightenment itself was a failure, or that it failed to reach its full potential? I suspect that it was the latter, but the article just leaves the point hanging, as if the mere title were an indictment.

What does it mean that Yorktown “describes popular music, modern art and psychology as ‘signs of serious cultural disturbance'”? Again Riley provides no context. This time, I was able to find useful information from Yorktown.

The first point to notice is that one of the Yorktown University Advisors is Wanda Franz, who, notably, earned “her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from West Virginia University (1974)” and who “has taught life-span developmental psychology at both the graduate and undergraduate level.”

Obviously, Yorktown does not take psychology itself as a “cultural disturbance,” an interpretation that Riley leaves wide open.

Here’s the relevant quote in its entirety:

Mankind does not live by bread, nor economics, alone. We have become aware that our culture defines who we are. And, if that culture becomes distorted, our character, too, changes-for the worse. Under the influence of modern telecommunications, no society in the world is immune to the viruses common to modern life. Radical change has become a mode of life, and, as the sociologist Emile Durkheim has taught us, radical change (good or bad) is destabilizing. Periods of radical change affect everyone, as high divorce rates, high rates of abortions, acceptance of “recreational” drugs, attest. Popular music, works of art, popular literature, Pop Science, Psychology, and the many New Age nostrums to which modern man clings, are responses to radical change, and signs of serious cultural disturbance. A reasoned critique of modern culture, and a course for recovery, has been outlined by scholars of several generations, but no college or university-until now-offers an entire area concentration in a MA degree program in this subject.

There’s a lot wrong with this statement from Yorktown. First, while people are influenced by culture, it hardly “defines who we are.” People defy their cultures all the time. America is hardly in a period of “radical change;” pragmatic incrementalism rules the day. The material does refer to “Psychology” as a “New Age nostrum,” and that’s just silly. Likewise, most popular music, works of art, literature, and science are not “New Age” (unless “New Age” is merely a synonym for modernity, which would make the point rather obvious). However, despite the fact that the material from Yorktown is horribly written, obviously Yorktown is not denouncing psychology across the board, nor is it claiming that psychology is a “cultural disturbance.” Instead, the claim is that, because of “radical change,” some people turn to psychology. I don’t think it’s controversial to claim that people who seek out psychologists often do so because of upheavals in their lives.

Riley found a real news story. It’s a pity he didn’t treat it as such.