Unification News for January 1995


The Bankruptcy of American Education

by Haven Bradford Gow

In his new book The Fall of the Ivory Tower (Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, D.C.), Hillsdale College president Dr. George Roche observes: "Higher education in America has become a popular bull's- eye, and with good reason. In spite of the massive infusion of money, including federal aid, which has doubled over the last few years, tens of thousands of students do not know when Columbus sailed to the New World, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, or when the Civil War was fought."

The sad truth is that "Businesses complain that they must reeducate college graduates in such basic subjects as grammar, spelling, and practical truth.... Meanwhile, growing numbers of professors receive huge salaries for teaching one or two classes a semester. Though constantly complaining about a lack of sufficient research opportunities and funds, they, as well as many administrators, have found ample time and resources to politicize the campus and to lead a frontal assault on the traditional liberal arts curriculum-all under the banners of `political correctness' and `multiculturalism'."

In his new work Recovering American Literature (Ivan R. Dee Co., Chicago), Dr. Peter Shaw, an eminent literary critic and professor of English, tells us that use of political and radical feminist criteria to evaluate works of literature and their authors has resulted in misinterpretations of such American classics as The Scarlet Letter and Billy Budd and also in a denigration of their authors. Dr. Shaw insists that literary critics and English professors display intellectual integrity and honesty in their examination of great works; and if they will, they will see the important and much needed wisdom, truth and moral lessons contained in the great works.

Clearly, we desperately need to rediscover the meaning of wisdom and virtue. In our institutions of learning, we need to re-emphasize the kind of education that cultivates minds and characters, communicates and affirms ethical normality and helps one develop the moral and intellectual refinement needed to distinguish between truth and error, right and wrong, noble and base, virtue and vice, good and evil.

Such an education demands the rigorous reflection on and conversation about the great works of the moral and intellectual giants of civilization. If, for example, one seeks to understand the meaning of love, what modern works can compare with George Eliot's Silas Marner, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and St. Paul's First Corinthians 13? If one is interested in the nature of law and of justice, what contemporary writings can compare with Plato, Cicero, Aquinas and Blackstone? If one wants to know what qualities a good society must have, why not read Confucius, Aristotle, Thomas More, Edmund Burke, John Adams and the founding fathers of this country?

If one wants to learn about the arrogance of power, why not read Shakespeare's Macbeth and Julius Caesar? If one wants to know about the pernicious effects of envy and jealousy, why not read Othello?

If one desires to understand how suffering can lead to wisdom, why not read King Lear, Dickens' Great Expectations and the Book of Job? If one wants to understand why justice sometimes must be tempered with mercy, why not read Measure for Measure? If one wants to understand better the intense and persistent demands of the human spirit, are there many contemporary works that can compare with Sophocles, Dante and Hawthorne? The intense study of and discussion about the great works of civilization will remind us that the true aims of education are wisdom and virtue.

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