Another 'scholar' sounds off
Yet another Kansas State University student, Kent LaCombe this time, has taken out his blowtorch to roast those who question Bonanzaville's executive director Tim Hoheisel's decision to take Christmas out of Christmas on the Prairie (Forum, Dec. 11).
Yet another Kansas State University student, Kent LaCombe this time, has taken out his blowtorch to roast those who question Bonanzaville's executive director Tim Hoheisel's decision to take Christmas out of Christmas on the Prairie (Forum, Dec. 11). The Forum editors were the victims this time. Having already tasted Hoheisel's (also a KSU student) wrath - which included a charge of racism - I conclude that the KSU's scholars must be secluded from any and all criticism. Or perhaps their level of learning has been brought to such a perfect pitch that it justifies beheading benighted critics.
Learning to take rational criticism of one's positions is part of the academic experience. I recall a Jesuit professor who critiqued his students' papers in class for all to hear. It was, presumably, training for the sort of rough-and-tumble we would face in the academic world when submitting papers to symposia or journals. In my case, he pointed out that I had committed a mixed metaphor and a logical howler in the same paragraph. Had I been a student at Kansas State at the time, and thus immune to criticism, I apparently would have been justified in going ballistic in the professor's face.
For all of Hoheisel's and LaCombe's learning, however, they have been thoroughly rebutted by The Forum's readers. None to my knowledge are professional historians, but they make me proud. Several pointed out Bonanzaville's mission statement, which insists on veracity in portraying the recent history of Cass County and environs. Christmas is one of that history's major traditions. The museum itself is named after North Dakota's bonanza farms, which largely existed only from the late 1880s to the 1920s.
Another writer factually pointed out that most of the settlers from that era were indeed Christians. One noted that nobody was excluded from Bonanzaville's grounds or celebrations. Go to a Muslim country or Israel and expect to find Islamic or Jewish celebrations of their past, a letter writer accurately argued. So went the letters, and their authors were correct.
Even the assertion that the name change was just semantics (i.e. a neutral rephrasing) was challenged. Words matter. They represent ideas and notions. Indeed, if the change really was just semantics, why bother to modify the title at all, one phrasing being as good as another? Why borrow trouble?
LaCombe charges that critics "trivalized" religions other than Christianity. Nonsense. Other beliefs were merely put into perspective. If we cannot distinguish the size and impact between Christmas tradition locally and whatever else is in second or seventh place, then we cannot tell the difference between a firecracker and a nuclear bomb.
We all know stories of good, stolid parents who send junior or missy off to college, only to have them return spouting all sorts of ideas that contradict their parents' beliefs. Mom and Pop are at a loss to defend their own ideas. They eventually give in to the new-fangled ideas, regardless of their truth.
Ultimately, blame for Bonanzaville's collapse into political correctness lies with the Cass County Historial Society. There have always been Hoheisels and LaCombes out there, people so steeped in their academic training and their premises unchallenged for so long, they cannot but consider their critics as unthinking brutes. It takes local folk, unsure of themselves and their own traditions and readily dazzled by sophisticated novelties they feel they cannot dispute, to collapse into PC mode.
I fear we fight only a rearguard action against political correctness, an idea whose time has apparently come. (Note LaCombe's careful description of the society and Hoheisel signing off on the name change together, as if swept along by the Zeitgeist.) But it's good to fight on.
Have a relatively Merry Christmas, and a comparatively Happy New Year.
Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org