Few Students Know Anything About Our Civilization

Most American high school and college students can hector you all day long about an array of “social justice” issues, but if you asked them anything about the roots of our civilization in ancient Greece and Rome, you’d get a blank stare. Of course, that’s because their coursework fills their heads with trendy politics and neglects subjects that used to be the pillars of educated citizens.

A recent report published by the Independent Institute makes that point and in today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins focuses on it.

Rather than the blatantly misleading “1619 Project,” the authors of the report argue in favor of a “490 B.C. Project,” that being the date of the first great clash between the Persian Empire and the Greeks. The authors say, “Our ideas about democracy, the idea that there is a natural law for all human beings, the question of whether slavery is natural, all come from the ideas and politics of the Greek poleis. Both Greece and Rome wrestled more than two thousand years ago with what citizenship meant, what freedom meant, what justice meant— just as we wrestle with them today.”

Sadly, few high school students learn much about the classical world, a problem that continues in college. Even if such courses are offered, they are lost among the sea of humanities courses that center on narrow, avant-garde topics.

Watkins writes, “At UNC-Chapel Hill, for instance, students can fulfill the ‘Historical Analysis’ general education requirement by taking either a class on ‘Classical Greece’ or one on ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Histories in the United States.’”

She concludes, “At the university level, it is not enough to simply offer courses on the classical world. Students need guidance and should not be expected to discern what general knowledge is the most essential for them to learn to be well-formed thinkers and responsible American citizens.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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