All who care about the life of the mind should study the history of Western civilization, its achievements and failures, and its artistic and cultural legacy. State and federal policy should encourage K-12 and college students to study the West, including how its ideals of liberty underpin the structure of our republic.
Today at 3:00 PM Eastern, join our conference call with NAS President Peter Wood as we discuss why Western civilization matters and what can be done to encourage its teaching. Call in to 855-369-0450 and use conference code 52275553 #.
You can also read The Vanishing West: 1964-2010, our recently re-released landmark study of the disappearance of Western civilization courses from the college curriculum.
Below, you can find a toolkit of various ways you can enjoy and study Western civilization, and promote its teaching.
Personal Steps to Enjoy and Study Western Civilization
- Read Closely
Those who seek to study the West should delve into its many great texts, seeking to read closely, to comprehend what the text itself says, to submerge oneself in the world it presents, to lay aside one’s own preconceptions, and to evaluate fairly the ideas and philosophies it espouses. Readers should read both for pleasure and for understanding. There is no single canon of all great texts, but there are many lists of great books. Louisiana Tech University publishes “The Master Works of Western Civilization,” a list based on Mortimer Adler’s in How to Read a Book; St. John’s College publishes the reading list for its great books program; the Library of Congress maintains a list of “Books that Shaped America”; and NAS has proposed a list of “Better Beach Books” for incoming college freshmen.
“The great conversation” is the ongoing process of individual thinkers and writers engaging with the best thought and work of their predecessors. Participate in that conversation by not just reading and writing, but also by engaging in dialogue. Consider joining a book club at your local library, church, or state affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. If you can’t find a good existing group, start one.
- Take Advice
Part of the joy of Western civilization is that it is so large, and there are always new parts of it to learn about. If someone recommends a new book, a new sonata, a new painting—take a look, and see what they enjoy about it. Telling other people about Western civilization, or learning as an autodidact, is only half the fun.
Many museums, historical societies, and historical parks use volunteers as docents and other support staff. You can share your knowledge and love of Western civilization by working directly for your fellow Americans, both old and young.
The universities may be increasingly uninterested in Western civilization, but intelligent, sympathetic appreciation and criticism continues in many individual blogs and online journals. Seek them out, read and forward the articles—and subscribe. A few thousand subscriptions may be enough to keep one thread of Western civilization alive, above all by supporting the young writers who will pass on the love of Western civilization to the next generation. You can also join or renew your membership in NAS!
Federal and State Reforms to Promote the Teaching of Western Civilization
- Reform College Accreditation
College accreditation organizations control a large amount of college curricula—and the Federal government controls college accreditors. The Department of Education and/or Congress should define acceptable accreditation rubrics to require a course in Western Civilization, and to encourage colleges to make their basic writing/composition course a course in Western Civilization. We encourage NAS members to write their Senators, Congressmen, the Department of Education, and their local papers, to rally support to enact these accreditation requirements.
- Reform College Common Readings
College common readings articulate institutional priorities. State legislatures should require college common readings at public universities to support appreciative inquiry into Western Civilization. We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to rally support to enact this college education reform.
- Strengthen High School European History Graduation Requirements
All students entering college should have a firm basic knowledge of Western Civilization. We support state requirements that high school students take a rigorous European history course, and be assessed by a statewide test. The curriculum framework should be established by a commission independent of the state education bureaucracy, and should be drafted along the lines of the . We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to rally support to enact these high school education requirements.
- Encourage Western Civilization Education Outside the Public Schools
The best hope for preserving Western Civilization may lie outside the public schools, especially among home schools and private schools with a classical or classical Christian education. State laws should make it easier for parents and private schools to teach Western Civilization. All states should make sure that a solid core of courses on Western Civilization qualify for dual credit, dual enrollment, and a transferable core of general education courses for public universities. They should make sure that on-line options exist for home schooling parents and that classical and classical Christian schools are not discriminated against in their eligibility to take part in such programs, or forced to teach a curriculum that contravenes their own educational system. We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to rally support to enact these high school and college education reforms.
- Reform Textbook Selection
Textbook selection can destroy education in Western Civilization. States should establish commissions, independent of the education bureaucracy, to select textbooks for public high schools that provide a rigorous, unbiased instruction in Western Civilization. These commissions should focus on history textbooks, but they should also have the power to inspect textbooks in civics, literature, and so on, to make sure they provide adequate and unbiased coverage of Western Civilization. We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to rally support to enact this high school education reform.
- Reform Core Curriculum Requirements
All college students should know and understand the history and structure of their nation and their state. We support state requirements that students at public universities must take the following courses before graduation: 1) one 3-credit survey course on the state constitution; 2) one 3-credit survey course on the United States Constitution; and 3) two 3-credit survey courses on state or United States history. We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to rally support to enact these core curriculum requirements—in all states except Texas, which already has comparable requirements.
- Reform Teaching Licensure
All K-12 social studies teachers should have a solid education in history and government. We support state licensure requirements for public school teachers specializing in social studies for middle school and high school students, including: 1) one 3-credit survey course on the state constitution; 2) one 3-credit survey course on the United States Constitution; 3) two 3-credit survey courses on United States history; 4) two 3-credit survey courses on European history; and 5) a major in history. We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to rally support to enact these core curriculum requirements.
- Strengthen Military History
Just as all American citizens should know the history of their country, American military officers should know their country’s military history. We encourage state support for military history at public universities with ROTC programs. We call for state requirements that history departments at public universities with ROTC programs dedicate at least one faculty line to military history. We encourage NAS members to write their state representatives, and their local papers, to express support for military history.
Further Reading from NAS:
The Vanishing West: 1964-2010 (2011)
Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History? (2013)
“Re-re-re-revising American History” (2015)
The Disappearing Continent: A Critique of the Revised AP European History Examination (2016)
Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics (2017)
David Gress, From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents, Free Press (1998).
Niall Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest, Penguin Books (2012).
Francois Guizot, The History of Civilization in Europe, Liberty Fund (2013 reprint).
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, Harper Perennial (2001).