My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten it origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself....I have to admit that I've never read Paradise Lost. Nor, ah, Lincoln's third inaugural. His second one is really good, though!
[A]sk them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian war? What was at stake at the Battle of Salamis? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?
Who was Saul of Tarsus? What were the 95 theses, who wrote them, and what was their effect? Why does the Magna Carta matter? How and where did Thomas Becket die? What happened to Charles I? Who was Guy Fawkes, and why is there a day named after him? What happened at Yorktown in 1781? What did Lincoln say in his Second Inaugural? His first Inaugural? How about his third Inaugural? Who can tell me one or two of the arguments that are made in Federalist 10? Who has read Federalist 10? What are the Federalist Papers?
Some Suggestions for "Common Ground"
An academic writes that his students -- he has taught at elite universities like Princeton and Georgetown, but currently at Notre Dame -- are "know-nothings." The questions they can't answer are good starts for us.
By Grim on Monday, February 29, 2016