Last month, undergraduates at Stanford University resoundingly beat back a proposal to return, after a near three decade absence, the study of Western civilization. The student run, "The Stanford Review," marketed the idea with the slogan, "Besides democracy, education, philosophy, logic, mathematics, engineering, literature, and theater, what has Western civilization ever done for us?" As the petition for signatures circulated, in predictable leftist fashion, any signers were labeled racists and bigots; the usual fare. If they say it, it must be so. After all, free speech to the left, translates to anything they agree with. The near 6 to 1 vote against drubbing is a frightening commentary on the state on higher education.
Three thousand miles due east, Columbia University, besides being an elite Ivy League institution, is one of the last to require a six class "core curriculum" which "focuses on the culture and history of Western and European civilization." The greatest of learning opportunities for one, can be oppressive, and denigrating to another. Ms. Nissa Aya, an undergrad, asserts this focus on the West has been highly mentally stressful for her.
"It's traumatizing to sit in Core classes," she said. "We are looking at history through the lens of these powerful, white men. I have no power or agency as a black woman, so where do I fit in?"
That's right. In the greater scheme of things, the vast majority of college students haven't reached an evolution point where they are entitled to societal power.
Ms. Aya, your power and agency, whatever the heck agency implies, are not bestowed; they come when you graduate and get a job and learn a skill. You will develop your place by your hard work and performance and becoming a tax paying citizen. And believe it or not, that does not have a lot to do with being black or white. If your attitude displays an openness that says you understand the world doesn't owe you, then you become the color of water. Conversely, past bitterness of being force fed "powerful white men" reeking from your pores, is a demeanor less conducive to employment opportunities.
Predictably, Miss Aya "is urging the school to inject more diversity into its required courses, claiming she suffered severe emotional trauma from reading too many books by and about white people." Diversity is the boundless elixir to heal all.
Yet even more recent evidence of core curriculum "trauma" was "triggered" by classroom review of a love struck Pluto opening the earth to kidnap and have his way with the nature goddess Persephone. "While Persephone was playing in this glade and gathering violets........trying to outdo her companions in her picking, Pluto saw her, prized her, took her: so swift as this, is love." Ah, the lewdness of this passage. The undisclosed, heretofore hidden dangers, no evils, of Greek Myth and Ovid were quickly exposed by a one prickly young co-ed. This youth made claim to be a "survivor" of "sexual assault" of indeterminate time and locale. Apparently, "her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text". The "student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class."
It was only months after the fact, "during a forum hosted by the Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board (MAAB) on Literature Humanities" that this fascism was unearthed and exposed. Mercifully, despite this surprise Mythology attack, the student has retained her health though it remains unclear whether her solipsism has abated. "When the student approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored" .The professor rightly, has been incarcerated indefinitely. (See William Briggs wonderful article for a cautionary partial inventory of other emotionally debilitating mythology tales).
Using Ovid as a metaphor The Spectator rants that "many texts in the Western canon contain triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background." A survivor of what, is what I want to know? Greek Mythology as a narrative of exclusion and oppression implies the need for warning labels. My thinking is so distorted that I thought low income kids read Ovid to get smarter to try not be low income any more....Silly me.
One common thematic in the slapstick of these two tales is the ubiquitous redefined and downgraded use of the word "trauma". Dennis Prager rightly points out that academia has insidiously woven it into the jargon to portray victims of emotional disablement suffered reading Shakespeare Trauma, to get a foothold back in the real world, is a foot soldier slithering through freezing mud in the Ardennes Forest helpless as Nazi shrapnel is exploding all around. Trauma is 8 year old hungry African kids who witnessed their father hacked to death and mother gang raped as rebels burned their village.
For better or worse, Western civilization was built almost solely by white men in Europe; the greatest invention of mankind, condoning freedom of expression and creativity like no others. There I said it. Western civilization is superior. Though this truth can be inconvenient, it makes for no obstacle on any campus of higher learning. Xenophobic, despotic, fascist, and of course racist are the new monikers for Western civilization; Screams of white supremacy and colonialism round out the alchemy. Oxymoron and hypocrisy hide behind clouds as Stanford and Columbia, two of the grandest accoutrements spawned by Western Civilization, are the pulpits for this specious drivel.
For 90 years, somehow Columbia inculcated in students the privilege and benefits in drinking in the knowledge and wonders of the history of Western Civilization. For so many of those years, students of all colors, races, religions, eagerly or at least dutifully, fulfilled the "Core" requirement with no complaint of debilitating mental duress or charges of xenophobia or favoring white supremacy.
With an almost instantaneous pivot, a Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board (MAAB) is seated "to give students, professors, and faculty a space to hold a safe and open dialogue about experiences in the classroom that all too often traumatize and silence students". In my opinion, the MAAB is an inquisition of sorts. The only reason a student should be silent is if they haven't done the homework. Make the classrooms safe....from what....from Locke....or Augustine; absurdity ad infinitum. Strange that some student's claim offense at the violence, racism, and sexual content of some of the greatest works ever put on paper, but no sensitivities at all to the graphic nature of cable TV, movies, U-Tube, or sometimes hate mongering lyrics of rap music; Hints of non sequitur waft from the lecture hall rafters.
There is a streaming fountain of wisdom to be absorbed and enjoyed. From Homer, Socrates and Vergil, to Dante and Voltaire, then Hobbes, Tocqueville, and Nietzsche, I name but a few. Yet students carp of the crippling concussive ghosts of dead white men. You can only place the horses next to the stream.
That Western Civilization has not provided a perfect linear progression of human advancement offers critics an invalid excuse to execrate. There were the crusades, followed by some centuries of imperialistic colonial behaviors by the Europeans. In our own backyard Native Americans were unjustly treated and now ongoing discussions on past slavery. What about other cultures? Slavery continues to be openly practiced in Africa today. Arabs haven't been at peace with each other since the Sunni- Shiite schism. Women and chattel remain synonymous in many parts of the Middle East. Little time is left for invention and creating in an economy of dictatorial repressive regimes. Somehow, the American culture provides the highest living standard on the planet.
So this now stale recording that Western Civilization catalyzes bigotry and subjugation hardly squares with the facts. From the automobile to relativity to penicillin to the IPhone, virtually every forward leap by mankind has been courtesy of freedoms of expression afforded by political systems evolved from early Greco-Roman cultures. So why such great significance attached to keep the "core" at Columbia and campaign for reinstating it other places? The thinkers of the Greco-Roman times are the bloodlines to our great, albeit imperfect, democracy today. To have awareness of history and the evolution of the philosophies that brought about America and Europe ties a person to their culture.
To my chagrin, these sniveling whiners on college campuses are rapidly metastasizing and spreading their dystopian poison. Shall we allow this historical revision to go unchallenged? While Plato toiled in 380 BC on The Republic and a generation later Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, the African continent and Arabian deserts remained culturally dormant. Paleontologists are finding evidence this was the first racist conspiracy.
This wave of thought police infiltrating academia has begat new vocabulary. Neo-colonialist professor's incessant "micro aggressions" in conjunction with attempts at "cultural appropriations" compounded by insensitively glorifying great literature by dead white men is the etiology of "triggering" from which debilitating physiological and epistemic harm, possibly permanent can occur. A "micro aggression" is a belligerent act so small that detection occurs only through the highest powered electron microscopes. "Cultural appropriation"; this devolutionary neologism was not to be found in our lexicon a decade ago. Look it up, I certainly can't define it.
The tenor of discussion from Columbia remains disturbing. This small outbreak, with just a little wind, could start a wildfire. The next Ebola may be upon us. Will school administrators cave in and let the tail wag the dog and dumb down the "Core"? Will the MAAB inquisition metaphorically kill enough non-politically correct professors to get rid of the "Core" altogether?" For students, there exists a simple fix to the problem. Don't enroll at Columbia. Why get exposed to a disease to which you may prove vulnerable? Why needlessly elevate your blood pressure? Stanford inoculated and the germs never got into even one classroom. For now at least, the cretins there have prevailed, you can attend lectures at Stanford with little worry of muddying your head with any knowledge of why Stanford came to exist in the first place. My freshman daughter (not at Columbia) fortuitously survived Ovid with little noticeable psychological scarring (we will continue to monitor) and what I want to believe a lot more wisdom. In our zeitgeist, I guess we're lucky it is still taught anywhere at all.