BYU American Heritage and Dr. Frank W. Fox

I took AHtg 100 from Frank Fox. American Heritage is a freshman-level required general education course that intends to be a blend of History, Economics, and Political Science. Overall I don't think it's a bad idea for a class. If it were implemented as advertised, I'm sure that it would enhance students' education. Who knows? Maybe if you take it from someone other than Fox it really will.

"You Guys are So Smart, so This Class is So Hard"

I generally oppose litigation of all types, but I would heartily support anyone that decides to sue Frank Fox. I don't think it would be hard to come up with a reason. The following happened the first day of class. It's not a word for word transcript, but it's as close to a quote as I can do from my memory. Dr. Fox went like this:

This class will stretch you. It will challenge you. I have to work really hard to make this class hard enough for you because you're so smart. You're way smarter than I was when I was in college. Okay, how many of you got a 24 or higher on the ACT? Come on. Raise your hands. How many of you got a 24 or higher on the ACT? Okay, how many of you got a 26 or higher on the ACT? 28 or higher? 30 or higher? 32 or higher? 34 or higher? How many of you got a 36 on the ACT? See, you guys are so smart. I really have to work to make this class hard enough for you.

So you're sitting there, and either you raise your hand and feel uncomfortable because everyone around you knows how well you did on the ACT, or else you don't raise your hand, and then everyone around you thinks you did really bad on the ACT. I'm not the most self-conscious guy in the world, but I still felt pretty uncomfortable, and I definitely feel that that was illegal or at least unethical of him.

At the beginning of every class (he may have missed it once or twice, but it seriously happened almost exactly the same way almost every time), Dr. Fox would do a little thing like this: "I've got some really difficult material for you today. This lecture is going to be really hard, and you probably won't understand it at all the first time. You're going to have to take a lot of notes, and you'll be writing furiously. This will really stretch your minds." That pseudo-quote may sound exaggerated, but it really isn't. He'd really say stuff exactly like that at the beginning of every class. I can't speak for everyone else, but that really rubs me wrong.

If Fox's class was hard, it wasn't because he taught hard stuff and made sure people understood it really well. It was because he would speak in vague generalities and jump to conclusions all over the place, and then on the exams he would ask you these vague questions that were much more about memorizing his opinions than understanding any real material. I'd always come out of the Testing Center wondering how Fox expected his exams to reflect anything about our knowledge of Political Science, Economics, and History.

I actually walked out of class the last day. He was trying to be all profound about his class and how it should be the climax in our lives, and he said the following (I think this is almost a word for word quote): "This class is the crucible, the refining fire, and if you can look on it and live, you can take anything this university can throw at you." He kept on going, but that was enough for me. You can see he's trying so hard to make his class more than it can or should be. He's turning American Heritage into a religion and himself into a prophet. I don't care how many messianic scriptures he quotes; neither he nor his class is the Christ.

Academic Integrity

I felt that American Heritage with Dr. Fox was out of place at a university. Unlike most academic classes (and as I understand it American Heritage is intended to be an academic class), Dr. Fox made little distinction between facts and his opinions. The material of the course, especially the Political Science sections, delved (appropriately) into deep questions. People have argued over these important philosophical issues for millenia and have never come to a consensus. It's appropriate to raise these questions, and even to share your opinion. But it's not appropriate to have The Answer to every question without even acknowledging that it is an opinion. And then to write exam questions requiring the concrete answers to these questions.

One example of this practice is how he taught about The Good. He taught us about how in art and philosophy alike, there is this thing called The Good which everyone agrees on if they are honest with themselves, and because of this agreement, we can come up with a political system that everyone agrees about. To demonstrate his point, he showed us various works of art (primarily extremes to make it easier for him) and pressured the class into agreeing on whether or not each was "beautiful." Beauty, you see, is part of The Good, and just as we can agree on whether a work of art is beautiful, we can agree on political issues. He then showed us a picture of the Parthenon, which apparently is the most beautiful building possible, and then he showed photos of many other buildings and ensured the class that these other buildings aren't nearly as beautiful of the Parthenon.

Whoa. I think we can basically agree that killing and stealing is wrong, but politics in general isn't nearly so cut and dry. And even though I personally feel that there is a distinct right and wrong, if I am going to communicate with anyone else in the world, I really need to understand that some people don't think so. In any case, it makes me mad that he teaches this, not as his philosophy, but as undisputable truth.

That's just one example. Overall, I felt that he made conclusions without explaining his evidence or mentioning differing views. I got to the point where I was utterly confused in his class because I couldn't tell whether or not to believe anything he was saying.

At the end of the semester I emailed him and expressed some of these views. I also mentioned that I thought he was an idiot. I was primarily complaining about these academic issues. His response was as follows: "Thanks for your input, Andrew. The ideas reflected in it more or less govern the academic world today, and they are the reason I choose to be the idiot I am. FWF."

I don't care what your views are, how strongly you hold them, or how many people agree with you, if you are a professor teaching an academic course, you can't hold yourself aloof from the responsibility of teaching soundly. Even in Sunday School we don't let people ramble on with their own philosophies--they have to teach what's in the scriptures.

The Book Scam

One of the main reasons I think of Fox as a bad person rather than just an arrogant professor is the American Heritage Book Scam. I simply can't stand a blatant straight-faced lie.

You see, Frank Fox wrote The American Founding, the primary textbook for American Heritage. He has 1) a vested interest in how well the book sells, and 2) complete control over the syllabus of the class. So what does he do? He puts the homework for the class into the textbook as tear-out sheets and adds to the syllabus that no homework will be accepted except if on the original tear-out sheets. That means that you must render your textbook unresalable in order to get a good grade in the class.

Why would he have such a policy? He even admits that the point is so that students must always buy a new textbook. Here's the dirty lie: Frank Fox claims that he does this to benefit students. That's right, he says that he saves the students money by making it impossible to resell his book. He claims that because students must always by his book new, more copies of the book are printed, so prices go down, and students save!

Let's break this down. Under the Fox Plan, the new book cost me $65 (I checked my receipt). Let's say it would be more expensive under the Honest Plan if less are printed, say $100 (I think that's an over-estimate, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt). So if I were to buy the book new at $100, if I could sell it back to the bookstore for at least $35 then the Honest Plan would be better than the Fox Plan (I think the bookstore would actually give you around $50). But that's only for the students that must buy the book new. Everyone else buys the book used at $70 and then sells it back at $35, so for the vast majority of students, the Honest Plan costs them half as much as the Fox Plan.

But from Fox's perspective, it's an entirely different story, and he would much rather stick to the plan that sends him a large check every semester, students be damned.


I think the main reason people put up with Dr. Fox is that most of his students are freshman and don't know any better. He also has tons of multimedia clips to keep everyone entertained. That way they are blissfully unaware of what's really being taught or not taught. In any case, I know that I am not the only student who was appalled by the class. Many students who are upperclassmen or prepared for college don't feel like they're getting their money's worth from AHtg 100.

Even if I learned nothing of Economics, Political Science, and History from Dr. Fox, I can't say his class has been completely useless to me. Let me stretch my imagination and come up with some other benefits. I've learned the true meaning of tenure. I've learned that if you focus on freshman-level classes, you can get away with more, especially if you entertain them, because the students aren't very experienced and are unlikely to complain. I've learned how to augment your salary by leveraging your authority and taking advantage of others. I've learned that... okay, so I'm about to run out of lessons, but here's the last one: I've learned that if I ever decide to be a lame and corrupt professor I can go to Dr. Frank W. Fox for advice.

Note: this page reflects my opinions and the facts to the extent of my knowledge. If any above statement is factually inaccurate, please inform me and I will promptly correct it.