Donald Kagen Retires, and Challenges Americans

Read this piece in the Wall Street Journal.  One of the best quotes I have read in a long time was contained in it.  Read the whole thing.

The tussles over course offerings and campus speech of course speak to something larger. Democracy, wrote Mr. Kagan in “Pericles of Athens” (1991), is “one of the rarest, most delicate and fragile flowers in the jungle of human experience.” It relies on “free, autonomous and self-reliant” citizens and “extraordinary leadership” to flourish, even survive

These kinds of citizens aren’t born—they need to be educated. “The essence of liberty, which is at the root of a liberal education, is that meaningful freedom means that you have choices to make,” Mr. Kagan says. “At the university, there must be intellectual variety. If you don’t have [that], it’s not only that you are deprived of knowing some of the things you might know. It’s that you are deprived of testing the things that you do know or do think you know or believe in, so that your knowledge is superficial.”

Classics teachers have bemoaned the educational space since 1987 when Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of The American Mind.  It’s a book you should pick up and read.

I recall reading it back then and thinking I wasted my college education.  From a gut feel, I understood the underpinnings of Western Civilization, but never really studied it.

It’s crucial for all Americans to understand and study it because it’s where our country came from.

My own children have a deeper knowledge of Classics than I do.  Their high school forced them to critically think.  One of my kids took the Humanities Core at Davidson College in North Carolina and considers it one of the best courses of study she ever did.

The problem is that most Classics professors don’t teach classics the way it was supposed to be taught.  They preach and indoctrinate-and of course from the far left wing.  Walter Russell Meade has done a fine job illustrating this in his blog.

Universities in America aren’t dominated by debate, but are held prisoner by dogmatic tenured professors that prefer to teach students like Foie Gras Farmers.  They force feed them ideas that won’t help them think through problems in the real world.

Fortunately, as parents we tempered the force feeding our kids received at their high school from some teachers. Their collegiate experience was good and they were taught to critically think.

The founders were steeped in knowledge of Classics.  Even those that vehemently disagreed like Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson.

Interestingly, in times of economic stress, the trend is to specialize.  I followed a course of study in business because I was focused on getting a job after college.  Some of my friends were engineering majors for the same reason.

Today, I see a lot of emphasis on specialization for the same reasons.   I understand it, but would tell those students to expose themselves to at least three foundational Classics classes.

The future will reward creative/critical thinkers.  Classics can give a foundation to engage in that type of thinking capacity.

Ironically, one thing I noticed when I went through the coursework of my MBA program at Chicago Booth-because the core curriculum underpins the entire undergrad collegiate experience at UChicago, it finds its way into the nooks and crannies of the MBA experience there too.  I found that valuable.

Without “free, autonomous and self-reliant” citizens and “extraordinary leadership”, America will not survive.  One of the horrible part of our welfare state is it biases people to become less self reliant-and less extraordinary.

Emerson and Thoreau would not be impressed.

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