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Are We Transmitting Our History and Culture to the Next GenerationAllan C. Brownfeld Salem-News.com
Those who have turned against the study of Western civilization have chosen a rather unusual time to advance their claims.
(WASHINGTON, DC) - It is becoming increasingly evident that, for a variety of reasons, we are no longer concerned about transmitting our culture and history to the next generation.
Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, writes in Intercollegiate Review (Spring 2014) that, "It's remarkably unfashionable to study---or even talk about---the West these days. Forty years ago the most important and popular freshman course at the best American colleges and universities was 'Western civilization.' It not only covered the general history of the West but also included historical surveys of art, music, literature, philosophy, science and other matters. But this course has long since disappeared from most college catalogues on grounds that Western civilization is but one of many civilizations and it is ethnocentric and arrogant to study ours."
It is claimed by some that to offer a course in "Western Civilization" is to become an apologist for "Western hegemony and oppression," as the classicist Bruce Thornton put it. Thus, Stanford dropped its widely admired "Western Civilization" course just months after the Rev. Jesse Jackson led members of the Black Student Union in chants of, "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western Civ has got to go." More recently, faculty at the University of Texas condemned "Western Civilization" courses as inherently right-wing, and Yale even returned a $20 million contribution rather than reinstate the course.
In Dr. Stark's view, "To the extent that this policy prevails, Americans will become increasingly ignorant of how the modern world came to be. Worse yet, they are in danger of being badly misled by a flood of absurd, politically correct fabrications , all of them popular on college campuses: That the Greeks copied their whole culture from black Egyptians.
That European science originated in Islam. That Western affluence was stolen from non-Western societies. That Western modernity was really produced in China, and not so very long ago. The truth is that, although the West wisely adopted bits and pieces of technology from Asia, modernity is entirely the product of Western civilization."
Ironically, those who have turned against the study of Western civilization have chosen a rather unusual time to advance their claims.
"We happen to be living in one of the triumphant hours of Western ideas and ideals," writes Washington Post columnist Edwin M. Yoder, Jr. "...the fact that much of the world, now unshackled, seems to be clamoring for the intellectual, political, and material benefits of the West might suggest even to the guilt-ridden among us that we, even we, have something to learn from and about it."
In his Wriston lecture on "Universal Civilization," V.S. Naipaul, the son of immigrant Indian laborers who grew up in post-colonial Trinidad and was educated in England, contrasts some of the static, inward looking, insular "non-Western" cultures with that spreading "universal civilization" that he finds to be based, above all, on Jefferson's idea of the pursuit of happiness.
Discussing the essence of Western Civilization---which sets it apart from others---Naipaul characterizes it in these terms: "The ideal of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system nor generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist, and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away."
It is a contemporary illusion that particular works of art, literature or music are, somehow, the possession of only those who can trace their lineage to the creators of such culture. Shall only Jews read the Bible? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only Italians admire Leonardo da Vinci and Dante, and only those of English descent read Shakespeare?
Western culture is relevant to men and women of all races and backgrounds, particularly those living in the midst of Western society. The distinguished black intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois recognized this reality when he wrote more than a hundred years ago: "I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.
Across the color line, I walk arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously, with no scorn or condescension. So, wed with truth, I dwell above the veil."
Some time ago, in his address to the freshman class at Yale, Donald Kagan, then Professor of History and Classics and Dean of Yale College, declared: "The assault on the character of Western civilization badly distorts history. The West's flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations known on any continent at any time in human history.
What is remarkable about the Western heritage, and what makes it essential, are the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience. More than any other it has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting the state's power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate....Western Civilization is the champion of representative democracy as the normal way for human beings to govern themselves, in place of the different varieties of monarchy, oligarchy, and tyranny that have ruled most of the human race throughout history and rule most of the world today.
It has produced the theory and practice of separation of church and state...thereby creating a free and safe place for individual conscience. At its core is tolerance and respect...Only in the West can one imagine a movement to neglect the culture's own heritage in favor of some other."
The West has its sins, Kagan acknowledges, but argues, "...most of its sins and errors...are those of the human race. Its special achievements and values, however, are gifts to all humanity and are widely seen as such around the world today, although their authorship is rarely acknowledged....Western culture and institutions are the most powerful paradigm in the world today."
Our unity as a nation is threatened, Kagan believes, by those who would replace the teaching of our history and culture with some other, "multi-cultural" curriculum: "American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western civilization, and especially from England, whose language and institutions are the most copious springs from which it draws its life.
I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania... Our students will be handicapped in their lives if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and the roots from which we come...As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group...increases and with it the danger to the national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many peoples to this country."
The failure to transmit our history and culture is not uniquely an American phenomenon, but can be seen throughout the West. The widely read Scottish writer, Alexander McCall Smith, professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, lamented in his book "Love Over Scotland," that, "...there were people, and not just children, who did not know how to add or do long division, because they relied on calculators; all those people in shops who needed the till to tell them how much change to give because nobody had ever taught them how to do calculations like that in school. There were so many things that were just not being taught any more. Poetry, for example. Children were no longer made to learn poetry by heart. And so the deep rhythms of the language, its inner music, was lost to them, because they had never had it embedded in their minds.
And geography had been abandoned too---the basic knowledge of how the world looked, simply never instilled; all in the name of educational theory and of the goal of teaching children how to think. But what...was the point of teaching them how to think if they had nothing to think about?
We were held together by our common culture, by our shared experience of literature and the arts, by scraps of song that we all knew, by bits of history half remembered and half-understood but still making up what it was that we thought we were. If that was taken away, we were diminished, cut off from one another because we had nothing to share."
Clearly, we owe the next generation more than we are giving them at the present time.
Salem-News.com contributor Allan C. Brownfeld received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary, his J.D. degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary and his M.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. He has served on the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia, and the University College of the University of Maryland.
The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, Mr. Brownfeld has written for such newspapers as THE HOUSTON PRESS, THE RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, THE WASHINGTON EVENING STAR and THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. For many years he wrote three columns a week for such newspapers as THE PHOENIX GAZETTE, THE MANCHESTER UNION LEADER, and THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. His weekly column appeared for more than a decade in ROLL CALL, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in such journals as THE YALE REVIEW, THE TEXAS QUARTERLY, THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, ORBIS and MODERN AGE.
Mr. Brownfeld served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and was the author of that committee's 250-page study of the New Left. He has also served as Assistant to the Research Director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to such members of Congress as Reps. Phil Crane (R-Il) and Jack Kemp (R-NY) and to the Vice President of the United States.
He is a former editor of THE NEW GUARD and PRIVATE PRACTICE, the journal of the Congress of County Medical Societies and has served as a Contributing Editor AMERICA'S FUTURE and HUMAN EVENTS. He served as Washington correspondent for the London-based publications, JANE'S ISLAMIC AFFAIRS ANALYST and JANE'S TERRORISM REPORT. His articles regularly appear in newspapers and magazines in England, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries. You can write to Allan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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