Saturday, December 4

The Canon of our Educational System.

In a previous post (A Modest (Christian) Proposal (here)) I entertained several issues which engendered an interesting comment by Parableman, aka Jeremy Pierce. Mr Pierce writes:
I think your main point is correct, that people can learn the content later, but don't you think there should be some canon of literature, music, history, and philosophy that every high school graduate should at least have been exposed to once? ...(snip)... Someone entering college without having ever encountered Shakespeare, Plato, Beethoven, Hitler, Augustine, FDR, Van Gogh, Luther, Mozart, or Descartes has been seriously robbed of one of the things an education is supposed to be about. It's a shame that the skills don't get taught, but those aren't the only thing education is supposed to include.
Now I think that by and large, his dismay that by college our students haven't been introduced to his list of authors is both valid and probably not even close to being met by our students today.

There are two issues at play here. The canon for Americans and what should it consist of is the first. The second is the utility of philosophy.

Looking at the canon, the Periclean Greeks (and for some time before and after that) had a cannon or common core, they all read (or heard) Homer's two epic poems. The Romans, all read the Aeneid and later probably Cicero as well. Through the middle ages until perhaps the "Enlightenment" all read the Bible. Many of the well educated read Aristotle, Euclid, Thucydides, and Plato as well. Through the 19th century a well educated man was expected to be fluent in Latin and Greek, and a number of standard texts would have been read by all. Today's PC/Diversity push in our educational system has all but eliminated the "common core" from our universities not to speak of our K-12 curriculum. After all, Western civilization is the source of all "evil" as they see it, not the fount of almost all they see in their world which is good. The Hebrew all knew the Torah. I can't tell you what the common core or canon is for us today in America. The true "core" does not have to an exhaustive list. It's getting to the point, that all we have left for today's society is trying to get by with for a common canonical core is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and maybe the Federalist Papers (and look they're trying to drop the Declaration). Well, without a written canon we all have read, our society will not stand because we will even further lose the ability to talk to one another and meet on common ground, much less share a common cause. MTV and HBO will not serve to glue our people together. It takes ideas, not just shared (virtual) experiences. Our legislators should indeed should push for a canonical set of texts all read in this country. And there doesn't need to be 40 books in that list. Let's face, the Greeks got by with 2. The Hebrew nation stuck together through exile and then diaspora with 1.

As for the utility of philosophy, that should be self evident. I've blogged in the past in wonder at how "superior" so many feel over past peoples and civilizations in the past. But, from a philosophical standpoint, for our technical achievements, we remain by and large, intellectual midgets when placed alongside our forebears. Our ignorance about the matters which move and shape men is only exacerbated by the power our technology affords us. It is a Brave New World, we live in indeed. Please pass the soma.