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William A. Henry III IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM (Doubleday, 1994)    

From Subject
Rob Huck <rohuck@ilstu.edu> Review: Henry (Huck)
"Samuel J. Perryman" <sper@loc.gov> Re: Review: Henry (Huck)
chris <cgstroh@ilstu.edu> Henry review
chris cgstroh@ilstu.edu Review: Henry, In Defense of Elitism (Stroh)
jlgord (Janelle L. Gordon) Re: Review: Henry (Huck)
Rob Huck <rhuck@catseye.marble.net> Henry Review
Rob Huck <rhuck@catseye.marble.net> Re: Comment on Review: Henry (Huck)
Tom Crews <tscrews@ilstu.edu> Re: Henry review
Tom Crews <tscrews@ilstu.edu> Re: Comment on Review: Henry (Huck)
Tom Crews <tscrews@ilstu.edu> Review of In Defense of Elitism by William Henry III (Tom
Don Martin <damart1@ilstu.edu> In Defense of Elitism (Martin)
Kari Didricksen <kadidri@ilstu.edu> review In Defense of Elitism, William Henry
Timothy Alan Clark <taclark@ilstu.edu> In Defense of Elitism (Clark)
heather freeman <hmfreem@ILSTU.EDU> Re: In Defense Of Elitism (Henry)
"Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU> REVIEW: William A. Henry III (Knepper)
Douglas Stephen Phelan <dsphela@ILSTU.EDU> Re: In Defense of Elitism (Clark)
"Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU> Re: In Defense of Elitism (Clark)
"Brian L. Kelly" <blkelly@ILSTU.EDU> Re: In Defense Of Elitism (Henry)
"Spalding, Nancy L." <SPALDINGN@MAIL.ECU.EDU> Re: In Defense of Elitism (Clark)

From: Robert Huck
Subject: Review: Henry (Huck) 

 

William A. Henry III IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM (Doubleday, 1994)

Review by: Robert Huck

It is ironic that a man as brilliant as Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal". Jefferson was clearly superior in most ways to most men of his or any other age. He was one of the few true Renaissance men - a man who could do everything very, very well. So why did someone as superior as Jefferson believe that all are created equal? And how has this affected our society since then?

William A. Henry III attempts to outline what an elitist society should look like and how it would be an improvement over the drive for egalitarianism. Henry begins his defense of elitism by trying to provide a valuable service. First, he must succeed in changing the view of elitism. For the most part, elitism is used solely as a pejorative. This view, Henry says, is destructive.

The tension between [elitism and egalitarianism] has swung way out of balance, and the wrong side has been winning. A brand of anti-intellectual populism is running amok, eerily reminiscent of the nineteenth-century Know-Nothing movement, albeit a mirror image of it in political terms. (3)

He then goes on to show the downside of egalitarianism. Schools, he says, are more interested in "the political yearnings of the adults who lobby them" (5) than in the education of children, going so far as to reject even the idea of reason as a Western/patriarchical fiction.

The mass media, of course, takes its share of the blame as well. The media, especially the journalistic community, is more interested in dumbing down its customers than in encouraging them to think.

Media bashing has always been popular and easy, but Henry gets to the root of the problem. Instead of simply criticizing the media for gratuitous sex and/or violence, Henry focuses on the real problem. The violence and sex are merely symptoms of a larger disease. The real problem, Henry says, is that the media are constantly appealing to the lowest and basest instincts among us. By refusing to take chances with quality and uplifting movies and programs, the media's incessant need for money forces it to take the easy way out. They produce products that they know will appeal to those with little taste and/or education in the misguided view that challenging programs will not sell. This may be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If the media do not promote quality, it won't sell because people will be unaware of it. Since people aren't aware of it, they can't see it. Since they can't see it, it doesn't sell. Since it doesn't sell, the media do not produce it. And the cycle continues ad nauseam. I certainly hope that the recent success of movies based on Jane Austen's work is a sign that this cycle can be broken.

Appealing to the lowest common denominator is not limited to the mass media. Our education system, according to Henry, is also to just as guilty. In a perverse set of priorities, the public school system seems more interested in preventing failure than in promoting success. Textbooks and curriculum are constantly being dumbed down to prevent low self-esteem among the students. Henry cites an analysis of the reading grade level of textbooks conducted by retired Cornell professor Donald Hayes. According to Hayes, "'Honors high school texts are no more difficult now than an eighth grade reader was before World War II'" (42). Henry also cited a history textbook purchased by the State of Texas which contained 231 factual errors, including the assertion that the US had used atomic weapons in the Korean War.

The dumbing down of curriculum should be no surprise. Public schools seem more interested in saving anyone from being offended than in actually teaching children how to read and write. It is easy to accuse public schools of "political correctness" and such attacks have become almost as cliched as political correctness itself. However, Henry shows the academic impact of the PC movement, something which few PC critics have ventured to do.

Publishers now employ more people to censor books for content that might offend any organized lobbying group than they do to check the correctness of facts. ... some of the most outrageous misstatements in textbooks are written in deliberately to placate pressure groups, some of whose ideological partisans are actually in the publishers' employ - most notably ardent feminists. (42-4)

The results of these "reforms" are all too obvious and have been discussed in other venues. It is clear, however, that if we wish to compete with the Germans and Asians, our schools need to worry less about offending women and minorities and worry more about how many children are enrolled in calculus and foreign languages. What is the good of self-esteem if American companies move their operations to Asia or Europe because they can't find enough educated Americans?

I have to admit I have discussed only a small portion of Henry's book. There is simply too much in it to do it justice, and I apologize. Henry's criticisms of the media and education are repeated throughout his work and applied to affirmative action, feminism, bi-lingualism, the lottery, karaoke machines, politics, and Afro-Centric education. The theme behind all of these attacks is the same. In our well-intentioned belief that all men are created equal, we have produced a society more interested in equality of results than in equality of opportunity. Moreover, we have glorified the mediocre. To claim that so-called "Black English" is or should be on a par with Shakespeare or even standard American English is absurd. To believe that a person should become a millionaire because she correctly chose a few numbers in a State lottery demeans the value of work, saving, and entrepeneurship. And to dumb down a school textbook just to spare a dim child from failure harms not only that child, but all of us. We may have been created with equal rights, but we certainly were not created with equal gifts. I will never win the Nobel Prize for physics, nor will I ever play centerfield for the Cardinals and that is a good thing. It doesn't mean I am less of a person than a Nobel Prize winner or a baseball player, it means only that I have other gifts. Unless we allow ourselves to fail, we can never discover how to succeed. We can do this only in a society that embraces elitism in its truest sense.       Back to top...


Date: Mon, 5 Feb 1996 08:25:25 -0500 (EST) 
From: "Samuel J. Perryman" <sper@loc.gov> 
Subject: Re: Review: Henry (Huck) 

That you, beloved, for that review. Although I disagree with Massuh Henry's rhetoric even before reading him (I also disagree with Charles Darwin's defense of White Supremacy, mind you), that idea isn't new. I shall look at it, however. Thanks again, you hear? Back to top...


Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996 10:00:54 -0600 
From: chris <cgstroh@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Henry review 

In Defense of Elitism William A. Henry III (Doubleday, 1994)  

Overall, the book was more then I expected. From the context of the title I assumed the book would be about the wealthy and how they are unfairly judged. Henry's book was quite different. The author starts the book be giving his description of elitism and egalitarianism and how the debate over the two has caused conflicts. The elite, which includes the author, are members of society that have worked hard and took advantage of every opportunity to become what they are. These people tend to be members of the upper class and have high positions in society. Egalitarians according to Henry, believe that all people are equal and no one should have advantages over the other. The book works to explain the never ending conflicts between the two and how they have created a change in way society views people. The author points out that, "egalitarianism has been winning far too thoroughly," and that this has brought about a whole new system of values. Egalitarians have created a society where everyone is deemed deserving instead of rewarding those who have earned it. This has caused a movement that pushes to kept everyone equal instead of pushing everyone to their full potential.

Early in the book one starts to realize how Henry wants it to be. Henry claims society has taken a turn for the worse over the years and has lowered the standards be trying to make people equal. By making everyone equal society has done little to push advancement. He illustrates this by describing the decline of the Scholastic Aptitude Test verbal score over the years (from 478in 1963 to 422 in 1992). This decline of education can linked to the dumbing down of the textbooks. Henry describes the current high schol text books as no harder then what the average eighth grader was doing before World War II. No progress has been made because the egalitarians did not want to make anyone person less then the others. They assumed by making education easier everyone has an equal chance. Henry calls this absurd and describes this as creating a nation of people who cannot compete in the real world. He goes on th further point out that the "very essence of school is elitism," and it is used to promote the idea that knowing and understanding more is better.

The author also criticizes Affirmative Action or as Henry calls it Affirmative Confusion. He defends the idea that America is America and egalitarians are ruining it by pushing for multiculturalism. For Henry, multiculturalism means, "quotas over competition, allocation of resources over attainment of them." Multiculturalism is the reminding of people that they are not the same, which contradicts the egalitarian belief that everyone is equal. Elitist claim that this is the problem and want to bo back to awarding people on merit and accomplishments rather then race. By doing this we are only hurting our own ability to function in the world.

Henry has a tendency to be too harsh. For example, Henry tells of an episode where a mother was suing for the right to allow her mentally retarded daughter to go to her high school prom. The daughter was the same age as some of the others but was only an eighth grader. The mom described her daughter as being handicapped, not stupid. Henry asks, "If she is not 'stupid', then what does mentally retarded mean?" Doesn't this help to establish that maybe Henry might think a little unconventional.

Henry provides a view that is seen from only the position of the elite and works to show how ignorant the other side tends to be. If Henry had his way and was calling the shots there would be even a greater division between the upper and lower classes. Henry believes that egalitarianism is just slowing down advancement for the rest. Henry seems to think that there are very few people who are actually disadvantaged and those who are create that problem for themselves. It is because of ideas like this that over the years the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. I guess I feel this way because I believe in egalitarianism. We are different and always will be different. The reasons we have programs such as Affirmative Action and public aid it to help those who can not compete or are disadvantaged. Can't one say that all of society would benefit if ther was more of level of equality in society? Everyone would be in better shape in the long run.

Overall, the book is a must. It gives an insight into how the "other side" views things. Henry must be commended on bringing up problems that have effected society for years and eventually must be effectively dealt with. This book gave me a chance to view the other side. A side that I and many others will probably always be left looking into from the outside. -- Chris Stroh Illinois State University cgstroh@ilstu.edu   Back to top...


Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996 11:22:35 -0600 
From: chris <cgstroh@ilstu.edu>
Subject: Review: Henry, In Defense of Elitism (Stroh) 

Review of: William A. Henry III, In Defense of Elitism (Doubleday, 1994)

Reviewed by: Chris Stroh <cgstroh@ilstu.edu>  

Overall, the book was more then I expected. From the context of the title I assumed the book would be about the wealthy and how they are unfairly judged. Henry's book was quite different. The author starts the book be giving his description of elitism and egalitarianism and how the debate over the two has caused conflicts. The elite, which includes the author, are members of society that have worked hard and took advantage of every opportunity to become what they are. These people tend to be members of the upper class and have high positions in society. Egalitarians according to Henry, believe that all people are equal and no one should have advantages over the other. The book works to explain the never ending conflicts between the two and how they have created a change in way society views people. The author points out that, "egalitarianism has been winning far too thoroughly," and that this has brought about a whole new system of values. Egalitarians have created a society where everyone is deemed deserving instead of rewarding those who have earned it. This has caused a movement that pushes to kept everyone equal instead of pushing everyone to their full potential.

Early in the book one starts to realize how Henry wants it to be. Henry claims society has taken a turn for the worse over the years and has lowered the standards be trying to make people equal. By making everyone equal society has done little to push advancement. He illustrates this by describing the decline of the Scholastic Aptitude Test verbal score over the years (from 478in 1963 to 422 in 1992). This decline of education can linked to the dumbing down of the textbooks. Henry describes the current high schol text books as no harder then what the average eighth grader was doing before World War II. No progress has been made because the egalitarians did not want to make anyone person less then the others. They assumed by making education easier everyone has an equal chance. Henry calls this absurd and describes this as creating a nation of people who cannot compete in the real world. He goes on th further point out that the "very essence of school is elitism," and it is used to promote the idea that knowing and understanding more is better.

The author also criticizes Affirmative Action or as Henry calls it Affirmative Confusion. He defends the idea that America is America and egalitarians are ruining it by pushing for multiculturalism. For Henry, multiculturalism means, "quotas over competition, allocation of resources over attainment of them." Multiculturalism is the reminding of people that they are not the same, which contradicts the egalitarian belief that everyone is equal. Elitist claim that this is the problem and want to bo back to awarding people on merit and accomplishments rather then race. By doing this we are only hurting our own ability to function in the world.

Henry has a tendency to be too harsh. For example, Henry tells of an episode where a mother was suing for the right to allow her mentally retarded daughter to go to her high school prom. The daughter was the same age as some of the others but was only an eighth grader. The mom described her daughter as being handicapped, not stupid. Henry asks, "If she is not 'stupid', then what does mentally retarded mean?" Doesn't this help to establish that maybe Henry might think a little unconventional.

Henry provides a view that is seen from only the position of the elite and works to show how ignorant the other side tends to be. If Henry had his way and was calling the shots there would be even a greater division between the upper and lower classes. Henry believes that egalitarianism is just slowing down advancement for the rest. Henry seems to think that there are very few people who are actually disadvantaged and those who are create that problem for themselves. It is because of ideas like this that over the years the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. I guess I feel this way because I believe in egalitarianism. We are different and always will be different. The reasons we have programs such as Affirmative Action and public aid it to help those who can not compete or are disadvantaged. Can't one say that all of society would benefit if ther was more of level of equality in society? Everyone would be in better shape in the long run.

Overall, the book is a must. It gives an insight into how the "other side" views things. Henry must be commended on bringing up problems that have effected society for years and eventually must be effectively dealt with. This book gave me a chance to view the other side. A side that I and many others will probably always be left looking into from the outside. -- Chris Stroh Illinois State University cgstroh@ilstu.edu       Back to top...


From: jlgord (Janelle L. Gordon) 
Subject: Re: Review: Henry (Huck) 
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996 14:29:57 -0600 (CST) 

   

It sounds like Henry has been going down the same blind path as Dinesh D'Souza. You sound like a true right wing "elitist" American.--By the way this is not a compliment. Both you and Henry contradict your own views. Henry's statement that the "essence of school is elitism"is exactly why America is in the condition that it is in. If we can't give our young people any hope or desire to go to school then we definitely can't even think about competing with other countries. You speak about the lack of self esteem in America because we can't keep our businesses in the U.S., but self esteem needs to start somewhere and if it's not in the schools and when you're young then I don't know where else to start. This decline in education is not due to the "dumbing down of textbooks", but the "elitists' who say " An education is only for the select few." As a minority female who has just returned from studying in France, I actually agree with you that we need to "worry about enrolling our students in calculus and foreign languages,"but that doesn't mean we should continue to allow America and its "elitists" to oppress minorites and women. Haven't we learned anything from history? Although I must say that I'm not the least bit surprised-- white America "elitists" still don't have a clue! I had to ask myself "where would Henry be today if we didn't have these necessary so-called reforms of feminism, affirmative action, multiculturalism, and PC?" He would probably still be writing a book about a "problem" that didn't exist and about an issue he had no knowledge of. I think you need to open you eyes and take a good look at America. Although there still is the white male dominating group, America is a country of diverse people with a diverse ethnic culture. Like it or not, America is ethnic and race and gender issues need to be confronted before America can truly move on.

Janelle Gordon Former Pos 334 student Back to top...


Date: Sat, 10 Feb 1996 12:57:46 -0600 
From: Rob Huck <rhuck@catseye.marble.net> 
Subject: Henry Review 

Chris makes a strong case in favor of Henry's views, but then, surprisingly, disagrees with him. Despite having read Henry's book, Chris still assumes that Henry was talking about the rich. Elitism, as Henry defines it, has nothing to do with money or class. It's only criterion are ability, knowledge, and ambition. All of these qualities transcend race, gender, and class. Colin Powell fits nicely into Henry's Weltanschauung (view of the world) because he achieved success through hard work, intelligence, and dedication. Barbara Jordan would be another excellent example.

All Henry was trying to say is that our society should make it possible for people like Powell and Jordan to emerge. Despite their disadvantaged backgrounds, they succeeded because they had the chance to prove their intellectual superiority and they worked really, really hard. How could anyone disagree with this?

I didn't use the following quote in my review because it was too long. Perhaps I should have. Please read it and show how this is unreasonable.

"The kind of elitists I admire are those who ruthlessly seek out and encourage intelligence and who believe that competition - and, inevitably, some measure of failure - will do more for character than coddling ever can. My kind of elitist does not grade on a curve and is willing to flunk the whole class. My kind of elitist detests the policy of social promotion that has rendered a high school diploma meaningless and a college degree nearly so. (All right, a Harvard degree means something. But what is the value of 'honors' when up to two thirds of Harvard undergraduates have been getting them?) My kind of elitist hates tenure, seniority, and the whole union ethos that contends that workers are interchangeable and their performances essentially equivalent. My kind of elitst believed that maybe the worst thing about Japanese business was the de facto lifetime job guarantee it offered, and saluted the recent erosion of that pledge."

This is the core of Henry's beliefs (and mine as well). Please show me any mention of race, gender, or class. Please show a specific example where Henry states that only rich, white men should be allowed to rule. He never says it. If you are going to charge him with racism, sexism, or classism, you could at least give some examples.

Rob

============================================================================== Robert Huck rhuck@catseye.marble.net

"Death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue." Paul Celan

==============================================================================     Back to top...


Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 10:38:04 -0600 
From: Rob Huck <rhuck@catseye.marble.net> 
Subject: Re: Comment on Review: Henry (Huck) 

Oh the dangers of assuming facts before you ask the questions. Ms. Gordon charged me with being a "right-wing elitist". I have been voting since 1982 and have never voted for any Republican, ever. Not just at the Presidential level, but at all levels. I even voted for Mondale in '84. Yes, I was the guy in Illinois who voted for Mondale.

You say that America's sorry public education system is the result of "elitists who say an education is only for the select few." Prove it. Show some numbers. As ISU's Dr. Pope always said "give quantifiable, verifiable proof for your assertion". If you can't, which you can't, don't bother to respond.

Second, the importance of self-esteem is entirely exaggerated. Young white women are said to have low self-esteem, but they get better grades than young white men or blacks and they are more likely to go to college than white men or blacks. Second, even if self-esteem was that important (which I doubt) how does one acquire it? I had always believed that self-esteem was built by attempting to do something difficult and then doing it. By gearing education towards the dimmest of the students, you may be able to convince them that they can accomplish something, but that is an illusion. Completing simple tasks is easy, but if one does nothing but that which is easy, one's self-esteem is built on sand. If you start to challenge students from the beginning, if you tell them that *real* education is hard work followed by even more hard work, they will fail sometimes, but their self-esteem will have a solid foundation.

You say several times that America's "elitists" are oppressing women and minorities. As a former English teacher of mine always said "be specific, use examples." How does offering a challenging curriculum constitute oppression? How does demanding hard work result in oppression? That is what I mean by elitism. That those who show intelligence and are willing to challenge themselves should be rewarded. Those who are satisfied with mediocre work and just getting by, should do just that. Just get by.  

Tell that to my black female boss, and her white female boss, and her white male boss, and his white female boss, and her black female boss. In case you're curious, I'm not anyone's boss.

America is multi-ethnic? Really? I hadn't noticed. ;) So that's why three of the nine people in my office are black. I guess that's also why we have a Cuban as well. Gee, thanks for letting me know. ;)    

============================================================================== Robert Huck rhuck@catseye.marble.net

"Death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue." Paul Celan

==============================================================================       Back to top...


Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 11:44:37 -0600 
From: Tom Crews <tscrews@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Re: Henry review 

   

> Chris, It seems you argue against yourself at times. You state you are an egalitarian but most of the arguments you present in your review seem to favor elitism. Society would probably benefit if there was more equality. The question is at what price are you willing to pay to achieve that. Henry believes the opportuntiy to become successful already exists. He contends that egalitarians insist on helping those who don't take advantage of their opportunities. In many cases I would agree with Henry. In a capitalitic society things are not going to be equal. People don't achieve at the same levels because of different abilities and motivations. Hopefully we can create close-to equal opportunities but to work towards making the results equal when they are not is what the fight between elitism and egalitarianism is all about. I happen to side with the elitists for the most part. What do you think? TC > -- Tom Crews TSCREWS@ILSTU.EDU   Back to top...


Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 12:17:05 -0600 
From: Tom Crews <tscrews@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Re: Comment on Review: Henry (Huck) 

Janelle, You said: Both you and Henry contradict your own views. Henry's statement that the "essence of school is elitism"is exactly why America is in the condition that it is in.

How so? Henry argues that elitist ideas such as merit, competition, high standards, are what education used to be but no longer is because of egalitarianism.

You said: If we can't give our young people any hope or desire to go to school then we definitely can't even think about competing with other countries.

Do you mean college? Henry states that we have too many in college based on the limited opportunities that are in the job market that require a college education. I do agree with you in that college should be a realistic hope or expectation (if this is what you meant).

You speak about the lack of self esteem in America because we can't keep our businesses in the U.S., but self esteem needs to start somewhere and if it's not in the schools and when you're young then I don't know where else to start.

Self-esteem is gained through the family environment mainly at a very young age before children ever even get in school. Schools do have an influence on self-esteem as well and should make use of the opportunity to make a difference.

You said: This decline in education is not due to the"dumbing down of textbooks", but the "elitists' who say " An education is only for the select few."

Henry believes there should be less people allowed in colleges. He doesn't mention limited opportunities for any other level of education. To blame the decline on education to elitists simply means you have no idea what you are talking about.

You said: As a minority female who has just returned from studying in France, I actually agree with you that we need to "worry about enrolling our students in calculus and foreign languages,"but that doesn't mean we should continue to allow America and its "elitists" to oppress minorites and women.

With what statements by elitists do you draw the conclusion they want to continue to oppress minorities and women?

Tom Crews
Current POS-334 student    
Back to top...


Date: Wed, 14 Feb 1996 11:03:37 -0600 
From: Tom Crews <tscrews@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review of In Defense of Elitism by William Henry III (Tom 

Review of William Henry III, IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM Reviewed by Tom Crews  

"If you wish to produce an elite, you must live by elite values (p.59)." William Henry asserts that society is so caught up in egalitarianism that the elitist ideals that have made America great (hard work, study, merit, reverence for heritage, particularly in history, philosophy and culture) are being lost. He believes egalitarian-society in its attempt to provide equal opportunity lowers the standards and contends that those who don't succeed are merely victims of some kind of social injustice. Egalitarians, Henry claims, are not just concerned with equal opportunity but equal outcomes. In this quest they have changed the rules for what it takes to get ahead and what is quality; underemphasizing winners and over assisting mediocrities. Victimology, political correctness, and multi-culturalism are all misguided and leading to an erosion of elitist ideals. Henry believes since the end of World War II the debates on social issues in this country are being won by the egalitarians.

Henry makes a strong case that in today's education system, from elementary through college, that elitist ideas are losing out to egalitarian ideas. Social promotion, lower SAT scores, cooperative education, the movement to end tracking, high school graduates who can't read or write, mainstreaming special education students and judging (grading) students against their potential instead of absolute standards are all strong examples of egalitarians being more concerned with bringing the bottom and mediocre up instead of the elitist position of making the brightest even more capable. Henry tells of an elementary class in its effort to involve a mentally retarded student who was unable to speak turned her into a giant ruler having her lie on the floor as they used her to measure. The funding for the gifted (the smartest) is practically non-existent (2 cents out of every hundred dollars spent from K-12). Henry doesn't even mention the frequent complaint of teachers and administrators that students who are major discipline problems are allowed infinite opportunities to "reform" and are allowed to stay in the educational system. To remove a student from the school or even a particular class in most cases is a very difficult process. It seems the effect this has on the overall learning environment of school is secondary to this individuals endless number of rights.

Henry points out that in the textbook business publishers are more concerned with political correctness than accuracy, perspective or challenge. Publishers now employ more people to censor books for content that might offend any organized lobby than they do the correctness of facts. One of the books scheduled for adoption in Texas had 231 factual errors one being that the United States had used nuclear weapons to end the Korean War. A leading publisher in the textbook business admits some of the most outrageous misstatements in textbooks are deliberate attempts to placate pressure groups. Claiming that ancient Egypt was a "black" civilization, that the Iroquois were a main source of ideas for the Constitution of the United States, and elevating the minor or mediocre accomplishments of women in the past are classic illustrations of this egalitarian effort to distort history. In this process not only are their falsehoods, exaggerations and distortions but an effort to put down the accomplishments of the European, the white, and the male. Henry maintains that universities have caved in almost entirely to the "special pleading studies" stating they are intended to redress historical grievances, sometimes by willfully misunderstanding and reinventing the past. Additionally they minister to a paranoid sense of victimology among self-proclaimed minorities. In the quest for equality in this country it seems that teaching multi-culturalism and the mentality of believing one's identity is determined by which group one belongs to, all too often lead to more of disuniting than uniting of our people making them more resentful, hostile and paranoid.

Some of Henry's objections go too far as to how history is taught currently. He refuses to call Indians Native Americans, a title he reserves for dinosaurs and skunks, because Indians were immigrants to this land too. It seems to me that their is a major difference in having been here for thousands of years opposed to four or five hundred. Henry is also opposed to the renaming of the Custer National Battlefield to Little Bighorn National Monument because General Custer died honorably in combat pursuing the stated objectives of his government. The objectives of our government was to break yet another treaty that gave the Indians land forever. The stated objectives of the Third Reich was to eliminate all Jews from the face of the earth. Should Heinrich Himmler and those obedient Nazi's have parks and monuments named after them in their honor?

Henry also wants to celebrate victory and conquest by the Europeans of the Indians because they has a superior culture. Being advanced technologically is one valid criteria for judging one culture superior to another, but if that technology is used to kill massive numbers of people in the quest for economic gain then I would consider that a trait of cultural inferiority. For Henry to believe the Meso-American civilization to be inferior to European because they couldn't journey to and conquer Europe or at least fight the invader off is rather a primitive view of life. The new history, it seems, in an effort to erase the savage-barbaric portrayal of the American Indian of the past, have made Indians out as having the near-perfect culture and that they were always the victim. An honest view of history will reveal that both the white man and the Indian were guilty of some very uncivilized-uncultured behavior. Regardless, the method in which Americans dismantled and destroyed Indian civilization is a disgrace to morality. To honor George Custer for his abilities to kill Indians (real people),even though it was applauded by white Americans, is not right.

Henry believes that the main effect of Affirmative Action has been to de-credential those minority achievers who rise entirely through persistence, hard work, and knowledge. He cites the example of a friend who went to Harvard Law School and the Wharton School of Finance, and was on the partner track at a big New York City Law firm before leaving to take a big job in New York State finance. She said it was obvious that every new person she met thought she was hired because she was a black woman, and not because she had the best resume in the room. Affirmative Action unfairly stigmatizes the accomplishments of all minorities. This leads to a resentment by and a feeling of superiority of the majority, something contradictory to the aims of Affirmative Action.

Henry notes that blacks who are admitted to medical school have lower average scores than whites who are rejected. In Texas, white applicants generally need scores in the ninety-second percentile while blacks scoring as low as the fifty-fifth percentile get in. Recruiting sufficient numbers of black and Hispanics is a major problem for prestigious colleges as well as businesses. Henry states that many businesses find it easier to steal black employees from other companies and pay them a higher salary than whites at the same job than it is to find qualified blacks. He also maintains that businesses find it easier to hire a black and then qualify them for the job than to find a qualified black to hire.

Henry offers four possible answers as to why blacks and Hispanics cannot perform as Asians are; 1) Asians are inherently,i.e., genetically superior; 2) the Asian communities teach their people better values; 3) the Asians are individually more ready to work hard, make sacrifices, and defer gratification; or 4) the Asians are just not victims, in the way that blacks are, of the entrenched, all-explaining racism of American society. Henry says that it is only permissible to voice the last reason as an explanation in mainstream debate today. He doesn't come out and state what his answer is but one can deduct it's not number four and one can assume by reading this book that he thinks reasons two and three have merit. One can't rule out the possibility that Henry believes reason one, Asians (as well as other races) are genetically superior to blacks. On several occasions throughout the book he criticizes the egalitarian assumption that talent is distributed evenly across the lines of class, race, and gender and that differences in performance reflect only differences in opportunity, not the differences in ability. I really think Henry means that whites and males have outperformed minorities and have done so because they have had the opportunity. But, one has to wonder because he also mentions the fact that studies trying to find out if one race in genetically superior to another are taboo.

-- Tom Crews TSCREWS@ILSTU.EDU      
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Date: Tue, 18 Mar 1997 08:15:03 -0600 
From: Don Martin <damart1@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: In Defense of Elitism (Martin) 

William Henry, In Defense of Elitism (First Anchor Books,1995) Review By: Don Martin Mail to: damart1@odin.ilstu.edu

The notions of liberty and equality are integral parts of America, aren't they? Opportunities to pursue the prior notions therefore should be equal, correct? How is it that some individuals and cultures seem to inherently contribute to society more than others? The latter question is the central theme of the Henry's argument in support of elitism. Henry uses the term elitist to refer to those in society who contribute to the positive advancement of society in areas such as academia, technology and the business community. These are the people in society whom should be rewarded for their efforts and whom we should focus on, asserts Henry. Furthermore, Henry believes by supporting and concentrating on elites society as a whole will benefit from their achievements. While elitist counterparts, egalitarians, believe there should be equality in opportunity for contributions from everyone in society. It is the egalitarians who are misguided in Henry's opinion, and are to blame for America's dismal state.

A wide range of topics are addressed by Henry throughout the book including- school curriculums/education, affirmative action, women's roles, the fairness of America and the evolution of society. In Henry's opinion America's educational system is misguided. Citing two problems as the increased attention given to social problems versus basic education and a loss of rigorous standards held in the past.

Equal pay for equal work is strongly supported by Henry. While, the notion of equivalent pay for equivalent work is struck down. Henry believes that there are jobs which historically have been low in pay. Furthermore, no one forces a woman to take any particular job and that the results are simply a matter of choice.

A large majority of Henry's opinions are simply wishful notions of an America that simply does not exist. An example is the belief that affirmative action's disappearance would transcend into presenting equal opportunities to groups historically denied and society will morally adjust itself to conform. It is obvious to almost everyone-white and black, especially the latter group, this will not happen anytime soon. Simply glancing at the statistics of minorities in upper-management in almost all of the Fortune 500 is proof enough, not to mention the shift in attention to diversify corporate America by these same companies.

I do concur with Henry's notion that some individuals seem to contribute more. However, the faults of those that do not seem to contribute are not always personal and can reflect an injustice or inequity in society. Despite the undisputed fact that some individuals or groups have been held down by past circumstances, Henry believes that in contemporary society they now should be able to contribute equally. In a healthy society free from racism, sexism and even elitism (especially the elitists Henry refers to)equal opportunity may exist, however this is a far stretch from the state of contemporary America. Also in accepting Henry's notion of elitism- racists, over-zealous patriarchs, chauvinists and the like may become bedfellows.

Henry fails to adequately explain the inequities in opportunity. His argument centers on the notion that some people are simply better-off than others, possibly by birth, and it is no fault of theirs that they assume better opportunity for advancement. On its face that is true, a person born to educated or wealthy parents does have increased opportunity. What about the person born in public housing who may in fact turn out to be just as able, but is denied opportunity because of socio-economic conditions. Why should we not embrace and support the latter person as well. By doing so we can break the cycle of poverty, while an additional person is contributing to society, bettering the chances of his/her offspring to do the same. By focusing only on those deemed to contribute more, society is limiting itself.

A parallel can be drawn in Henry's beliefs to an elementary teacher who puts more time and effort into raising to level of work done by the "A" students than by "C" students. Focusing on the former, as Henry asserts, will work towards the betterment of society, increasing overall achievement. However, if only ten percent of the class receives A's and forty percent receives C's, helping the C's would seem to the better choice for a favorable outcome simply because of sheer numbers, not to mention that those receiving A's will more than likely be motivated to continue to do so without additional efforts by others.

I am not saying that all of our attention should be focused on those in society who are mediocre or deemed failures, as Henry asserts we have perpetually practiced.. What I am saying is that analyzing and addressing the underlying issues of the less-opportune will help us understand "pebbles before they become boulders." Additionally, problems that currently exist in third-world countries, such as a very small percentage of people possessing a very large majority of the wealth, would transcend to America.

Henry does not provide much in the way of solutions to problems which do in fact exist in society. He often presents issues without proposing any possible solutions. While the solutions that he does offer are either not feasible or are impractical. Although much of what is stated in the book is generally well written, that does not excuse the subtly prejudiced, borderline racist and even male-chauvinist connotations Henry assumes. In following the beliefs of a William Henry society will move even closer towards the "haves and the have-nots"- a better overall society?     Back to top...


Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 09:46:22 -0600 
From: Kari Didricksen <kadidri@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: review In Defense of Elitism, William Henry 

In Defense of Elitism by William Henry III Reviewed by Kari Didricksen

Some cultures and individuals contribute more than others. This is the focal point of Henry's arguement in support of elitism. Henry blames many elements for the trouble we are in and heading towards. One element is the school system. He belives the standards have been lowered so not to stigmatize those who would not otherwise pass if the standards where higher. He believes that opportunity does not have to be equal, but that it only needs to exist. This will be enough for the talented and motivated, and the rest may heve a harder time. Let that be it then. The most important thing is for maximal performance of the most talented. Those are the ones who will make a real difference. He believes in only supporting and encouraging the most talented no matter how many or little there are of them. I find this to be an ignorant remark on his part. Every student has the potential of being an A student. Some just might need more help than others, but Henry would say let them sink or swim, it is not our place to care. Maximal performance from the maximal amount of students would seem more in the interest of us than the minimal number performing at a higher rate. Henry also asserts that schools are wasting their time on worrying about social problems and not focusing on the education of the students. The schools are wasting time by providing counseling, free hot lunches, and physical protection to students. So, if your indigent and can not afford food that is not the problem for society or schools to deal with. I find fault with this arguement. Are we to let children suffer because their parents are not equipped to support them with the basic essential support that they need. Who is to say that that student will not be an overachiever.

Henry believes that multiculturalism is a downfall on our part. Fairness does not exists to Henry. It is a downfall on the part of egalitarianism. Henry dabells with the notion of differences in intelligence in conjunction with race. He adamantly refutes that he believes this, but he brings it up to suggest that there might be something there. Henry does say that blacks are unequally treated due to past and present racism, but that is no grounds for affirmative action. He says if anything affirmative action "breeds racial resentment on both sides". Henry affirms that the only people who gaining from affirmative action are the middle-class minorities instead of the truly oppressed. Henry believes that if we take away affirmative action, equality will take over and everyone would have a fair chance based only on merit and not on race or sex. The problem with this arguement is that racism and sexism still occurr today, how will getting rid of affirmative action just make that disappear. It won't and it can't. It can not change how one person feels about someone of color or of the opposite sex. Those are a persons own ideas and noone or nothing can change that. Look at big corporations. How many women do you see as CEO's? Maybe one or two. How many of African American's do you see running companies? Not many. This will not change unless we make people change it.

Henry talks about egual pay for equal work, being what we should base pay on. He rebukes the notion of equivalent pay for equivalent work. Historically he says, there have been jobs that pay less. It is not because of racial or sexual orientation. He believes that woman choose those jobs and that is the only reason why they make less than a man. The problem with this arguement is that woman are not paid equally. They make less than men even though they are performing the same work and doing the same job. Men are paid more and have always been paid more.

Henry does not agree that woman are a minority. He says that as a group they have not been discriminated against. He backs this up by saying the doors to woman are more open than the doors to African Americans. He also adds that they have risen in the ranks. He cites statistics of woman in middle but not upper management, and more woman are enrolled in law and medical schools. What he does not look at is that these woman are in school but what is waiting for them when they get out. Will they be offered a chance to make the same money as a man in their field. The answer is no.

Henry is trying to push the idea that elitism is a system that the best and the brightest can succed in. This is how it should be. He considers egalitarians whimpy in the fact that they show humanistic feelings towards those who are not in the position to take or have all. He is very narrow-minded, sexist, and racist. He out and out talks about segregation and the fact that mothers who work are to blame for their children's poor performance at school. He offers no solutions at all. They are all his ideas of what should be and how things are. It is elitism against egalitarianism, and for our sake eagalitarianism is on top.  

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Date: Tue, 24 Feb 1998 12:24:05 -0600 
From: Timothy Alan Clark <taclark@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: In Defense of Elitism (Clark) 

In Defense of Elitism by William A. Henry III, Doubleday Dell Publishing, 1994. Tim Clark E-Mail--taclark@ilstu.edu

Elitism, or the thought that an elite society exists, are ideas not readily endorsed by many Americans. In his book "In Defense of Elitism," William Henry pulls no punches as he details his views on the elite and the extent to which the American people have tried to present themselves as an egalitarian society.

Henry was not trying to appeal to all audiences as he wrote this book, a statement he confesses himself from the start. In his defense of elitism Henry is not mindful of offending readers as he offers suggestions concerning education, affirmative action, and feminism, many of which are extreme and border on radical.

Henry begins his defense by examining a "vital lie" Americans have begun buying into. Henry explains that while every part of the human race may have something to contribute, this does not mean that all contributions can be seen as equal. "Some people are better than others--smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace. Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal. Some cultures more accomplished than others." Given this and accepting it as true, Henry wonders why we as Americans insist on treating everyone as equals? He suggests this idea stems from our founding fathers original term of egalitarianism, the idea that this was a society founded on democracy and the equality of all its people. Henry believes that over the years, the term egalitarianism has been distorted so that it no longer resembles the term our founding fathers were envisioning. Henry offers a quote from Paul Fussell to clarify his idea. "Democracy demanded that all citizens begin the race even. Egalitarianism insists that they all finish even." Henry feels one need only use common sense to see that not all of us will finish even. Smarter people, harder working people, more productive people, the elites are going to pull away from the pack.

Henry also examines how the American people have begun to try to harness the elites from pulling away thus keeping the race more even. Henry illustrates how the American education system has slowly drifted from an institution that promoted and showcased the best students to one which places the majority of its influence on the students that need the most help, leaving the smarter more successful students to fend for themselves. Henry feels this can be easily understood when one examines the evolution of the term "special student." In the fifties, Henry claims, this usually meant a student who excelled in school and ranked near the top of his/her class. Now it is more commonly associated with a student who is severely handicapped. Henry refers to this phenomenon as "the dumbing down of American schools." Henry believes teachers and school board members have contributed to this "dumbing down" as they have begun to select textbooks that were more sensitive to minority students than books which were more factually correct. Henry examines one such incident in Texas where one group of conservative citizens found over 200 factual errors in one history textbook, only to be criticized. Henry also views the "Afrocentric" curricula of some textbooks as detrimental to students. While he believes it is important to teach students more about Africa than has been taught in the past, he feels many texts assert things about past African life that are false. One of these falsehoods he identifies is the idea that ancient Egypt was an "black" civilization. He feels these books are written this way to give minority students a sense of self-esteem despite a drop in their factual education. Henry states that this idea of making students "feel good about themselves," is not one limited strictly to minority students, but students in general. He feels the education system has turned to a system in which students are influenced to praise themselves, rather than learn skills or possible ways to earn applause from others. So in an attempt to provide an education system where all students are equal, Henry feels America as a whole has suffered, and regardless of the education curricula, the smarter more resourceful students, the elite, are going to succeed.

Next Henry turns his sights on Affirmative Action and multiculturism, or "Affirmative Confusion" as he refers to it. Henry feels affirmative action has done little to aid minorities' ability to get quality jobs. Henry instead states that companies have begun to adjust quotas by hiring minority workers and placing them in token jobs and assigning the meaningful jobs to the middle-class worker. Henry explains that while companies may think they are providing a service to minorities, that many minority groups themselves recognize what is taking place, and thus do not favor affirmative action. He also feels that quotas lend way to racial mistrust. Henry explains that co-workers know that certain employees are hired on the ethnic status rather than their qualifications. Although the employees may not know which employees, they begin to doubt the competence of their fellow workers based on their race. In effect then, what affirmative action has done, is created a wider gap between the elite and the people it was created to help. The exact opposite of what it was intended to do.

Perhaps Henry's most radical and factually unsupported views come during his chapter on feminism. In this chapter Henry makes the claim that "You could eliminate every woman writer, painter, and composer from the caveman era to the present moment and not significantly deform the course of Western culture." This is a direct slap to the face for which Henry does not apologize nor does he provide much information to validate his claim. Henry is equally crass when he dismisses female literature as either "overblown hagiography of minor figures proffered for rediscovery or feminist critiques meant to reinvent the past to suit the needs of the present." Henry makes a small retreat from the radical edge when he explains that he does favor "equal pay for equal work," but he seems doubtful a woman can do equal work as a man, and still play her role in the family. He feels this is why women have constructed the statement "equivalent pay for equivalent work" something Henry is not in favor of.

William Henry presents some very interesting and thought provoking arguments and suggestions throughout his book. While many of his claims are sure to seem irrational and offensive to many, he supports most of his arguments very intelligently and gives ample information to back his claims. If I could note one definite exception to this, it would have to be his chapter on feminism. I feel in this particular chapter Henry is exceptionally crude and a bit disrespectful to the female gender. It is one thing to attack the recent feminist movement and its participants, but to suggest that women have made no significant contributions to Western society is absurd.

Henry is at his best when he is describing the current state of the American education system. I think he is absolutely right with his statements concerning the "dumbing down" of American schools. I think it is important to showcase and praise the most gifted and talented students in each class. It only makes sense to me, after all, these are the people who are likely to have the most impact on society after their education is complete. Many of Henry's other ideas deserve attention, however the manner in which he presents them seems to be too offensive. All in all, I feel Henry delivers a strong argument for elitism, but I am doubtful he will persuade many to see things his way due to the strong accusations and matter of fact statements he makes against many minority groups. Back to top...


Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 21:41:56 -0800 
From: heather freeman <hmfreem@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: Re: In Defense Of Elitism (Henry) 

Re: In Defense of Elitism: Henry, William A. by Heather Freeman

What if in a race there was no winner or loser? Or in a literary contest everyone’s writings were considered equally brilliant? There would either be no special rewards given or everyone would win the same prize. All contestants would start at the same place and end at the same place, together. This is the way egalitarians believe the world should work. They preach that all humans are equal, no matter what their differences in performance or contributions. Therefore, all outcomes should be equal. Elitists, on the other hand, believe that, "opportunity does not need to be exactly equal. It need only to exist (19)." William A. Henry admires elitists who encourage intelligence and competition. Elitists are not always winners. Real elitists believe that failure will strengthen character. However, not all who claim to be elitist are worthy of the title. Some consider themselves superior because of birth or because god deemed them to be. To be elite does not mean belonging to a special group or club. Being a member of a certain ethnic group or belonging to a ritzy country club does not make you elite. Being an elitist means giving individuals' rewards for going above and beyond the norm. IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM it is explained why a predominately egalitarian world would be unrealistic and unhealthy. Essentially, by gaining equality of outcomes, we would be losing our personal liberties.

Every domestic policy is centered on the debate between egalitarianism and elitism. This includes feminism, multiculturalism, and affirmative action. The classroom is one place where egalitarianism seems to be winning. In the old days schools taught such elite views as discipline, self-denial, and the importance of honoring your betters. The classroom was strictly a place to get an education. These days schools appear to teach students' self-expression and offer feel good classes.

Why have classrooms turned into therapy sessions, where students, who can barely meet the standards, slide by? Henry offers five explanations. One is that school, as well as the teachers, are playing social workers. Free lunches are given and counseling is offered for the physically and mentally abused. Teachers have begun to feel that they are there to aid their students emotionally rather than to teach them. Another problem is schools are being watched carefully by organized minority groups. These groups believe the failure of minority students is the fault of the school not the students, their families, or their communities. A feeling of entitlement is another factor. Students use to only feel entitled to an education. Now students feel entitled to recognition whether they have sufficiently mastered a subject or not. A fourth reason for the decay of our school system is students disregard of authority and less of an interest in learning. The fifth reason, given by Henry, which seems to be a little far reaching, is that students believe their teachers will not get raises or promotions and might even be fired for students low test scores. In the name of equality books that were once taught in the classroom are being taken off the school library shelves. Textbooks are now being censored so as not to offend any lobbying group. By doing this some facts are being eliminated from textbooks. One source, from the publishing industry ,admitted to Henry that some misprints are indeed written in deliberately to appease pressure groups. If this is true, that we live in a world where history can and is being rewritten, we should be scarred for future generations. How can they escape past mistakes if they are not knowledgeable about them?

The face of America is changing. In the next fifty years non-Hispanic white people will no longer make up a majority. Henry claims a new more diverse culture will reshape the nation’s future. He says at the core of the multiculturalism debate is that minorities have already changed the past. The view of America is quite different when done by people who hold a grudge. The most dangerous threat does not seem to be coming from the gay and women’s rights groups, but from groups with a racial agenda. Henry states that multiculturalism does not promote elite views. It advances "quotas over competition, allocation of resources over attainment of them, a cabinet that ‘looks like America’ over one that has sufficient background not to require on-the-job training (65)." Multiculturalism is strongly defended by egalitarians and rejected by elitists because of six basic elements. It asserts that evenly distributing society’s rewards is the only way to achieve fair competition. Second, all cultures are considered equivalent. Multiculturalism is critical, almost to the point where it rejects European heritage. Fourth, it does not promote one standard language for the nation. Multiculturalism considers drugs, gangs, and violence a natural response by the poor to their environment. Lastly, according to Henry, multiculturalism embraces the belief that blacks who are successful are "acting white". Underlying these elements is the belief that talents and intelligence are distributed equally across all race and gender lines, and that differences in performances occurs because of unequal opportunities not abilities. However, there is no existing evidence, at this time, on whether or not there is racial differences in intelligence. Henry claims research on this topic is taboo because we do not want to know if differences exist. He seems to believe that there is some kind of conspiracy that is not allowing these types of studies to be done.

White male executives should be held responsible for the failure of affirmative action. Instead of spending the time and money to find minorities who are qualified, they steal them away from other companies by offering them more money. When they do this the same people climb the corporate ladder while other deserving minority candidates do not receive a chance. In other cases, companies will take on "token" employees, who they give meaningless jobs, to satisfy pressure groups. This causes racial resentment to grow. Minorities, who often times deserve their position, are looked at with either suspicion or resentment by their white male peers. The only way to put an end to these resentments is to put an end to affirmative action. "A farewell to particular schemes would not in itself rollback commitment to social progress any more than their survival makes social progress popular. In fact, a farewell to quotas might engender great goodwill among whites and, for that matter, self-esteem among blacks for daring to brave unregulated, meritocratic competition," says Henry (81).

In his round up, of groups who claim to be treated unfairly, Henry did not forget to include the handicapped. He offers examples of times when the handicapped, believing they were treated unfairly, fought the systems that oppressed them. The handicapped have the right to demand that they have the same opportunity, to do the same things, everyone else can, but it is ridiculous to expect them to be able to do everything exactly the same way. We need to accept that people have different and varying talents and abilities. Unequal abilities does not diminish who a person is. However, giving people rewards that they did not deserve is the equivalent to giving them charity.

One of the most obvious, and to Henry the most offense, places that egalitarianism has appeared is in the arts and the media. Henry claims that women and minorities consider all cultural expressions to be equal. A decline in technique and skill has occurred. People are confusing what is popular with what is good. There has been a "dumbing down" in journalism. Forms of entertainment have appeared that just celebrate being alive. Cameras and camcorders lead the masses to believing that starting a family and having a roof over your head means that you are an ambitious and accomplished individual. The reason behind this is that minorities were excluded in earlier decades from being able to make mainstream tastemaking decisions. Previously all decisions were made by the white male. They now want their traditional crafts to be considered art. Real art is oil painting, opera, and ballet. These traditional crafts, In Henry’s view, are the blues music, square dancing, and quilt making. Instead of art being admired it has turned into a community fellowship.

IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM is an intelligent, in-depth look at what being elite really means. While he tends to take his view to the extreme there are a few times were he credits other views besides his own. Henry not only gives his opinion he is also able to adequately refute the arguments of the other side. At several points he can appear to be hard hearted and even paranoid, about such issues as the poor, minorities, and the handicapped. To Henry, though, he is just being a realist. Back to top...


Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 23:21:01 -0800 
From: "Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: REVIEW: William A. Henry III (Knepper) 

William A. Henry III, IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM (Doubleday, 1994).

Reviewed by Eric Knepper, Illinois State University. February 25, 1998 ===========================================================================

One word describes the ills that have befallen the United States: egalitarianism. The noble goal of egalitarianism, the idea that everyone should be equal, has caused many problems in America. Among those discussed by William A. Henry III in his wonderfully honest book "In Defense of Elitism" are the problems with affirmative action, the downfall of American education, and the mind-numbing state of American entertainment, television, and news reporting. Summary and solution: embrace elitism and shun egalitarianism.

First, a definition and history of elitism and egalitarianism in America. "The great post-World War II American dialectic has been between elitism and egalitarianism ... The tension between them has swung way out of balance, and the wrong side, the unthinking and nonjudgmental egalitarian side, has been winning ... This [movement] carries inclusion to its ... extreme, celebrating every arriviste notion, irate minority group, self-assertive culture, and cockamamie opinion as having equal cerebral weight" (3). Why are we unable to admit that some things and some people are better, smarter, and more worthy than others?

Affirmative action and its egalitarian goal of equal rights in America, to the detriment of minority citizens everywhere, has resulted in increased tensions between people of different races and colors. One case in point, through the policies of affirmative action blacks are admitted into schools they are unqualified for, most of these students end up dropping out of school: two-thirds of blacks at the University of California at Berkley fail to graduate. In addition, those who do succeed are questioned; their achievements are seen as inferior because of the benefits they received, or were perceived to have received, through affirmative action. "The best way to dispel assumptions of black inferiority is to observe it first hand. Watching an affirmative action beneficiary struggle to (not quite) keep up has the opposite effect" (73).

Mr. Henry does NOT suggest refusal of college education to black students, rather this is a plea for students to attend schools for which they are qualified. Society’s values have changed since affirmative action was implemented. Admittedly not everyone’s values have changed, but admissions officers of colleges and universities are well aware of the need to admit qualified students AND desire to admit students of different cultural and racial backgrounds. Yes, the removal of racial quotas will result in an initial decrease in the numbers of black students attending elite schools. The lack of black students at elite colleges and universities should be seen not as racism but as a fair assessment of the types of students who are qualified to attend those schools. This trend would reverse itself over time as black students realize that their success, or lack thereof, depends on their performance and not on their racial background.

In the past anyone was able to become an American, now America must change its identity to accommodate everyone. The quest for multiculturalism and equality in America, specifically the call from blacks and Hispanics for more rights, has resulted in several unfortunate attitudes. One of these is the skepticism non-Europeans harbor towards European culture as responsible for most of mankind’s freedom and progress. European culture has had its share of atrocities. However, the improvements in world-wide nutrition and health, increases in education across the globe, and more representative forms of government should not be overlooked before condemning European culture.

Other unfortunate attitudes of blacks and Hispanics are the ideas that drug-dealing, gang crime, and other deviant behavior represents natural responses of the poor to their unfortunate (and often self-perpetuating) situation; and that speaking standard English, getting good grades in school, and succeeding are seen as "acting white". These self-inflicted attitudes are more suppressive than any proposed policy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Women put themselves in a similar situation. Women who succeed when quotas are operating wonder if their success is the result of their achievements or of their being female. And just like other "minorities" women demand special privileges. Which brings us an interesting question: Why do women consider themselves "minorities" when they represent fifty percent, give or take a percent or two, of the population?

Women demand special privileges for child care and time away from work to spend with their families. There is nothing wrong with that. The double-standards arise when women demand equal pay and equal opportunities despite these special considerations. Should a male employee be treated the same, paid the same, and promoted at the same rate as a female counterpart who demands a flexible schedule and has taken time away from work to accommodate her family? Women are demanding equal pay for unequal dedication to their jobs. And the frequent complaint by women that "their professions" are lower-paid than those of men is completely unfounded: they choose their career path and are able to become teachers or garbage-men (excuse me, I should have said "garbage-women" or better yet "sanitation engineers").

Perhaps the most spine-tingling, daring, and exciting statement made by Mr. Henry is that "you could eliminate every woman writer, painter, and composer from the caveman era to the present moment and not significantly deform the course of Western culture" (119). He means no harm by this honest assessment of Western culture’s historical past: it has been sexist and has offered little opportunity for females. He continues: "Of course you would lose individual artists of merit … But you would eradicate few if any true giants" (119).

Mr. Henry validly asserts that egalitarianism has run amok in the American education system at all levels from primary school to graduate school. The trend in primary schools and elementary schools is for every student, regardless of ability, to be in the same classes. The focus of education has changed from stimulating the brightest to bringing the backward up to speed. Mr. Henry presents a perfect example of this method of education where the brighter students are urged to help pull the others to their level: "pupils who were engaged in a study of the concept of perimeters tried to find a way to involve a classmate who is mentally retarded and unable to speak. Their solution: to turn her into a giant ruler. They coaxed her to lie on a pad and used her to do their measuring" (35). Is this type of classroom exercise providing a worthy benefit to all of these students?

In our quest for scholastic equality, we have lowered the bar of achievement in our schools. Students have become more disruptive and lessons easier. Textbooks are less challenging. In a sampling of 788 texts used between 1860 and 1992 the following conclusion was drawn: "Honors high school texts are no more difficult than an eighth grade reader was before World War II" (42). How embarrassing. I have compared my education to the education that my parents received. I feel that my education has been entirely inadequate. In my pre-college years I read far fewer books than either of them and learned much less history as well. I don’t need statistics to tell me that our standards are declining, I have experienced it. None-the-less here’s a statistic: nationwide SAT scores have declined over time, despite the test becoming easier.

When students perform poorly, it is the teacher’s fault, or the school’s fault, or the system’s fault, or perhaps society’s fault. It is never the student’s fault. And don’t even dream of blaming the parents. Despite evidence to the contrary, parents refuse to accept any of the blame for their students’ poor behavior and poor attitudes toward education. If only they would take an objective look at what they are saying and doing. Few parents are active participants in their children’s education and become involved with school boards or volunteer to assist at school functions. The only time most parents become involved is when it is time to defend their child’s poor performance and to deflect the blame for that poor performance elsewhere. A friend of mine teaches first grade in a Chicago suburb. She isn’t allowed to be alone in a parent-teacher conference to ensure that she or the school can’t be sued at a later date for pointing out a child’s scholastic failures.

Mr. Henry also points out that the same forces of egalitarianism have been at play in higher education. As more and more people demand college education (it has become a right and not a privilege) the standards for achievement have been lowered to ensure "fairness" among students of different backgrounds and abilities. When Mr. Henry’s mother attended Trinity College in the 1940s a course in Shakespeare meant reading the plays, all thirty-seven of them. He notes, with apparent embarrassment and shame: "By the time I went to college, it was possible to get out of Yale as an honors English major without ever having read Chaucer or Spencer; I know, because I did" (161). What will the standards be when a college education becomes attainable by everyone in America as President Clinton proposes?

The proliferation of college education is unnecessary and should be modified. Instead of attending college most students should attend vocational schools. The purpose of attending college is not, as most students will tell you, "to get a better and higher paying job." The purpose of higher education is to raise the intellectual capacities of its students, to "enlighten" them. What usefulness does a degree in "gay studies" or "women’s studies" present its holder (unless, of course, they are going into a career in that specific field in academia, which few are able to do)? The answer is an obvious "very little." Mr. Henry asserts that "the total bill for higher education is about one hundred fifty billion dollars per year, with almost two thirds of that spent by public institutions run with taxpayer funds" (153). The real point becomes: should the government cover the cost of educating students who are interested in nothing more than getting a job with a higher paying salary and pay for these types of nonsensical, "feel-good" degrees?

The consequences of egalitarianism on American entertainment, television, and news reporting has been a "dumbing-down" of American culture and awareness of the world. Entertainment has been simplified, its primary purpose is to provide an escape from reality rather than living and experiencing it. Everyone’s experience is the same, no matter what their education or background. Take for instance video games and "virtual reality" which require no thought processes for the participants - everyone has the same experience. Even game shows (with the noted exception of "Jeopardy!") have become easier so that more people can enjoy playing along and win more often (in "Wheel of Fortune" the contestants are given forty percent of the letters in the final round).

Other forms of entertainment cater to the masses in similar ways, especially when compared to more "traditional" and "elite" forms of entertainment. Square-dancing and "the Macarena" compared to ballet. Rap music compared to opera. Weaving and photography compared to oil painting and sculpting. Art has become less cerebral. "The prevailing popular notion that high culture is hard brain-work is, in fact, true. That is part of its point, not necessarily to exclude the less able but certainly to challenge them to stretch themselves and heighten their learning" (176).

American news coverage is perhaps the most embarrassing of the problems pointed out by Mr. Henry. Viewers will only watch or read what they are able to comprehend in the few minutes they are willing to devote to news. The result is that TV and print news has to cater to the masses or perish. When coverage of John Wayne Bobbitt’s severed penis takes precedence over all other news items that represents "the abandonment of the high ground of elitism, of presuming to teach and improve the public, for the swamp of egalitarianism" (187). People resist thinking. Take for instance the current situation with Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Most public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Americans want to attack Mr. Hussein, in fact many urge us to "go all the way to Baghdad and take care of that &%$@!# once and for all." Never mind that such an action would make us murders and assassins. Yes, he is a tyrant and has caused the world a lot of agony. However, it is not our place to assassinate heads of state of other countries, no matter how much we dislike them. (If this were China would we be so gung-ho to attack?).

I have digressed, my apologies. "What America needs is a renewed reverence for fact, for knowledge, for citizen awareness" (188). Everyone has heard the gloomy statistics of how few people know who their Senators are, how few people read the newspaper or watch TV news (such as they are), and how few people actually vote. While I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Fiji, the Fiji Times consistently contained more international news than The Chicago Sun Times and usually more than the Chicago Tribune. Fiji citizens typically knew more about American politics than most American voters.

One particular aspect of this work is difficult to agree with: Mr. Henry’s valuation of different cultures. He presents seven criteria that determine whether a culture is "superior" or "inferior" relative to others. The three criteria that are most appalling include judging a culture by its ability to defend themselves from invaders, their promotion of modern science, and their expansion and conquest of other cultures either through trade or force. I lived in a developing country for over three years and have visited several others. While there are aspects of every culture that are worthy of praise and emulation and other aspects that are not, judging a culture as "inferior" based on its failure to fulfill all of his criteria is ludicrous. Is the Chinese culture "inferior" because it did not consider the violent uses of gunpowder before the Europeans did and was invaded by the British and forced to relinquish Hong Kong to Britain? Before making a decision, consider that the Chinese had an advanced civilization by 1200 BC, were the first to develop a printing press (among other worthy inventions) and constructed the Great Wall of China (which is 1,400 miles in length) around 215 BC ("1997 Information Please Almanac").

This last criticism is a minor one considering the other strengths of the book. I praise William A. Henry III for his determination and honesty, "In Defense of Elitism" has taken its place among my favorite books. There are many more enlightening, eye-opening, and brutally honest observations than those presented here. There is a lot to contemplate in this work; all of it worthy of further consideration and discussion. That is if the reader doesn’t decide to turn on the TV instead. Back to top...


Date: Tue, 3 Mar 1998 06:07:33 -0500 
From: Douglas Stephen Phelan <dsphela@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: Re: In Defense of Elitism (Clark) 

I enjoyed reading your book review, it was interesting. Henry is not trying to win a popularity contest, although some of his ideas you wrote about seem to be true. I agree with the education claims Henry makes, interestingly, I am reading the Asante book on Afrocenticity, and Asante makes claims to the Egyptian race, as Henry argues against. Your opinions were interesting, I would have enjoyed reading more of them. Good review.

Doug Phelan      

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Date: Tue, 3 Mar 1998 11:54:13 -0800 
From: "Eric T. Knepper" <eknepp@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: Re: In Defense of Elitism (Clark) 

Concerning "Henry's most radical and factually unsupported views": do you need a scientific study to prove every statement?

A simple search through your history books and the encyclopedia for women who have significantly impacted the course of Western society would verify the accuracy of this "direct slap to the face" as you call it. Can you find more than 10? Can you find more than 5?

Now remember, he did NOT say: women have not been important. He states, correctly, that women haven't had a SIGNIFICANT role in the development of Western society.

Henry also addresses the question: WHY NOT? Because men haven't let them.

... This refusal to OBJECTIVELY look at the past is one of the faults in our current society that disgusts Henry (and other elites like myself). ... I think the term Henry uses is "clit lit". Again, OBJECTIVELY looking at the issue would reveal that Henry is correct. The current trend of making heroes (sorry, heroines) out of women who were previously unrecognized and ignored by historians represents a grasp for self-importance and adds nothing to our collective historical heritage.

Have a great day!
Eric Knepper
eknepp@ilstu.edu
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Date: Tue, 3 Mar 1998 15:39:58 -0600 
From: "Brian L. Kelly" <blkelly@ILSTU.EDU> 
Subject: Re: In Defense Of Elitism (Henry) 

In response to your review of IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM, I would like to pose a few questions to you. First, do you agree with the basic doctrines of elitism; that basic inequalities exist between all people? And if you do, could you give a few examples from the book, and how Henry defended the examples?

Thank you, Brian L. Kelly
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Date: Tue, 3 Mar 1998 08:04:57 -0500 
From: "Spalding, Nancy L." <SPALDINGN@MAIL.ECU.EDU> 
Subject: Re: In Defense of Elitism (Clark) 

In addition to Asante's book, you might want to look at Not out of Africa, by Mary Lefkowitz (sp?). While Asante brings a whole new view of Africans and African history as not irrelevant, and is therefore a necessary corrective to the marginalization, and even invisibility of African history, Lefkowitz brings some very solid classical historical grounding into the debate.

Nancy Spalding
Political Science
East Carolina University

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