In The Splintering of the American Mind: Identity Politics, Inequality, and Comunity on Today’s College Campuses, William Eggington examines the shift on college campuses toward identity politics and the relationship that change has to inequality and a growth in divisiveness in American public life.
The book is very dry and relatively indirect in its argument, but it does take an expansive look at the relationship between political ideologies from the left and the right and how their pull on the public sphere and on the public university has resulted in greater fracturing and less of a sense of community.
From the book’s dedication, “to America’s youth, that they may receive the education they deserve—not just for their sake, but for ours” to the conclusion, Egginton is clearly concerned with the effects political partisanship has on education and on community. The book is divided into three sections. Part I: Identity gives a history of the shift toward identity politics in universities, what this shift was reacting against (i.e. exclusion of minorities, the Cannon), and how these changes have resulted in greater specialization of academics and a breakdown of communication between those of different points of view. Section II: Inequality tracks how income inequality has caused inequality in access to quality education from K-12 to higher education. Part III: Community focuses on how the breakdown in communication at the university level has led to a breakdown in the community within the broader public sphere.
Egginton argues “Through all this, the left failed to see that while winning the battle over identity, it was losing the war over community. Universities had allowed the liberal tradition, civics, and the American idea of democracy to be painted as the antithesis of identity rather than its very condition of possibility” (5). He further asserts that we are in danger of losing our civic culture (12), and watching the news, it is hard to deny that that seems possible.
Although Eggington is often critical of the move toward identity politics, he still maintains that the greater sensitivity toward language of inclusion has resulted in a much more civil society, particularly among the college-educated. At the same time, he is also sensitive to the perspective of those who have been shut out of higher education do to growing income inequality and the change in the economy that has put many out of work. This sensitivity makes his perspective balanced, fair, and measured.
I think there is a lot of value in this book and the issues that Eggerton sets out to explain. Still, I did not really enjoy reading this work. I think it might make a great textbook for a higher ed classroom, particularly in the fields of education and Student Affairs.