'Deplorable' professor creates 'anti-indoctrination mill' with new education startup

Michael Rectenwald riled NYU with his tweets. Now he's recruiting academics to teach courses that push back on critical race theory.

Published: May 3, 2021 3:06pm

Updated: May 4, 2021 1:12pm

Michael Rectenwald got himself chased out of New York University when the self-identified communist copped to tweeting against trigger warnings, safe spaces and bias reporting under the pseudonym "Deplorable NYU Prof."

The professor left two years ago with a golden parachute — the result of a legal settlement with the private university that included a retirement package.

He's not content anymore with just writing polemical books and fiction in retirement. Now Rectenwald is scouting for academics to join an educational startup, American Scholars, that is launching this summer.

It will feature prerecorded "anytime lessons" for students of all ages, with a focus on supporting homeschooling, college preparation and adult education, Rectenwald said in an exclusive interview Monday. A rudimentary website went live that night.

American Scholars will "challenge the ideologies that are being purveyed" in mainstream schools, including critical race theory, postmodernism and socialism, he said. It wants to prepare students for the "political outlook" they are likely to face in college.

Rectenwald characterized the American educational system as "very difficult terrain for anyone who's a political outsider … Even K-12 can be an indoctrination mill. [American Scholars is] an anti-indoctrination mill."

The venture will run on a subscription model in the range of $30-80 a month for different levels and amounts of educational content. It isn't planning to seek accreditation at this point, however, due to the difficulty of the process.

Matthew Pohl, the startup's Austin-based founder and CEO, told Just the News he was baffled that so few companies are interested in making education cheaper and more attainable. "The market is yearning for this," he said.

He spent a decade as an admissions officer, most recently at the University of Pennsylvania, and then an admissions consultant and educational entrepreneur.

"I've had a front row seat" to watch students increasingly lose their "grasp on reality" while racking up immense student-loan debt, Pohl told Just the News. "I was essentially responsible for that as a gatekeeper."

Too few students graduate knowing how to invest, own property and "navigate the world with constitutional rights on their mind." There's too much focus on getting into college and too little on "being mindful about the investment" — choosing majors with a good return and not paying for bloated bureaucracies that peddle divisive ideologies, he said.

Targeting families who "feel trapped, angered and confused" by CRT in schools

Rectenwald mentioned the new position in an unnamed "parallel" educational system on Facebook last week but didn't share details.

The principals reached out to him to serve as chief academic officer and offered him equity, he told Just the News: "Everything they said is something I've wanted to do but didn't have the capital to do it." 

Remote learning driven by the pandemic has shown parents what Pohl has seen in his visits to high schools, he said: that critical race theory is "being injected directly" into learning, with more to come thanks to federal funding.

American Scholars plans to target families who "feel trapped, angered and confused" about their children being exposed to CRT, as well as older customers who are "just very curious" about American history and government.

Pohl ran focus groups with 200 families, a quarter of them single-parent households. The top three subjects they wanted their children to learn were the Constitution, American history and financial security. 

The vast majority of families also asked for courses to be prerecorded, so students don't have to watch and participate live. That's why interactivity is built into American Scholars' proprietary technology, Pohl said: Students can dig deeper into their learning — say, by learning why their answers are right or wrong — without a live back-and-forth with faculty.

While the modules will be "high tech," interactive and "very entertaining," Rectenwald said they will be distinct from online educational services like PragerU because "actual scholars" will teach them. That includes him.

Over the next few days he'll get his hiring budget settled and start recruiting higher-level academics tasked with creating departments. He'd like to draw a few "academic stars" who can attract wider attention for recruiting less-visible positions teaching younger children. 

"I'd love to have Jordan Peterson come on," Rectenwald said, while acknowledging that's a hurdle because of the bestselling University of Toronto psychologist's ongoing health problems.

Pohl said he's interested in partnerships with other institutions that would expand the reach of American Scholars and make its customers eligible for scholarships. Asked about partnering with conservative Hillsdale College, which offers a selection of free courses on similar subjects, Pohl said he was open to it.

From NYU to dystopian novelist

Rectenwald wasn't planning to leave NYU when his tweets under the handle @AntiPCNYUprof drew hostility from colleagues in the liberal studies department. Shortly after taking a paid leave of absence, Rectenwald's application for promotion to full professor was approved.

He sued the university for defamation on the basis that several colleagues who were making explosive accusations against him — including sexual harassment and drug use — were using their NYU email accounts. 

The settlement let him retire in good standing, meaning he still has NYU email and access to other campus resources, Rectenwald told Just the News. He's kept busy, writing monthly essays for the free-market Mises Institute and a string of books, and doesn't plan to stop.

The memoir "Springtime for Snowflakes" came out before he left the university, followed by "Google Archipelago," a critique of "Big Digital" corporations. Rectenwald characterized last year's essay compilation "Beyond Woke" as a primer in his thought since 2016, when his Twitter identity was revealed. 

Rectenwald's first novel, "Thought Criminals," came out in December. The science-fiction dystopia imagines a future where a viral nanobot connects individual minds to a processing system called the "Collective Mind." 

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