Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.
CounterCurrent: Week of 1/26
“Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go!”
This chant could be heard resounding throughout Stanford University’s campus during a 1987 protest, one comprised of angry, Jesse-Jackson-inspired student activists. Their beef? Stanford’s required Western Civilization course, which was apparently racist and exclusionary toward minority students. Two years later, the course was eliminated and replaced with a new one: “Culture, Ideas, and Values.” The mob was victorious.
Of course, Stanford is not the only institution to axe their Western Civ requirement. Former NAS Executive Director Ashley Thorne, writing for the New York Post, mentions that “In 1964, 15 of the 50 premier universities in America — including Stanford — required students to take a survey of Western civilization. All 50 offered the course, and nearly all of them (41) offered it as a way to satisfy some requirement...By 2010, none of the 50 top universities required Western civilization, and 34 didn’t even offer the course.” By removing these requirements, American universities effectively deprive students of the essential education they need to understand the culture and institutions around them, replacing its history with an exclusive focus on the present day. It is like teaching an engineer how to build the penthouse of a building before he understands how to lay the foundation; the product may look nice, but it won’t be substantive or amount to much of anything.
My own alma mater, Columbia University, is one of the few holdouts with a Western Civ curriculum that is alive and (somewhat) well. I was lucky enough to study the great works of Western literature, philosophy, art, and music that are part of Columbia’s famed Core Curriculum, and while class discussions often veered into identity-studies territory, I was nonetheless exposed to a great many masterpieces. These requirements are a privilege for Columbia students, not a burden. Though even the century-old Columbia Core has been under attack for decades, most recently by the Butler Banner Project, a student-led and university-endorsed initiative that places the names of minority women (Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, etc.) above the original, “straight-white-males” engraved on Columbia’s Butler Library (Plato, Homer, Aristotle, etc.) for the sake of diversity and inclusion. The group also organizes book clubs and events in partnership with Columbia professors and campus organizations. These women’s works are not unimportant, but to set them above the fathers of Western Civilization is foolish at best and malicious at worst. Some of these contemporary works have already made it into Core classes, and there’s no telling how many more will join the ranks in the coming years.
In addition to the calls of diversity, a central argument against Western Civ requirements is the contention that “Western Civ” does not exist at all. The concept, critics argue, was invented in order to inspire Americans to enlist in World War I. While wartime patriotism may have been a peripheral effect of these courses, the claim of its primary importance is an absurd mockery of the millenia-old history of Western Civilization. In our latest research report, The Lost History of Western Civilization, Stanley Kurtz, Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, thoroughly debunks this common claim and makes the case for a reinstatement of the Western Civ course. Tracing the resistors’ ideological roots of deconstructionism, multiculturalism, postmodernism, and intersectionality, Kurtz ably dissects and refutes their arguments, while also highlighting the fundamental irony of “the West is evil; and besides, it doesn’t exist.” All those interested in defending Western Civ education would do well to read this report.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.
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