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The Classics and the Traditional Liberal Arts Curriculum


									      The Classics and the Traditional
          Liberal Arts Curriculum
                                 E. Christian Kopff

BEFORESTARTEDwriting this essay, I went         thoughtful people capable of judging
to University o Colorado library and            matters of general importance in a disin-
took out one o the best books in English        terested manner, with maturity, with a
on education, Albert Jay Nock’s Theory          wealth of general knowledge, and with
ofEducation in the Unitedstates (1932). It      the courage of the commitment (a condi-
is significant for our topic that, while        tion which is both intellectual and moral)
Nock‘s irritable tirade, Our Enemy, the         to face facts. A society without trained
State, is easily available in three separate    workers will not get its work done. A
editions and is featured in most Libertar-      society without educated citizens will
ian book catalogues that come my way,           collapse in times of crisis and will wither
Nock’s masterpiece, delivered as the            away in times of ease and prosperity.
Page-Barbour Lectures at the University             As Nock saw, there are a number o      f
of Virginia in 1931, is difficult to find and   very good reasons why a liberal arts
almost unknown, although in the 1950s it        education in o u r society must b e
won the praise of a young man named             grounded in the study of the languages,
William F. Buckley, Jr.                         literatures, history and philosophy of
   Nock makes the central distinction           ancient Greece and Rome. The cultures
without which discussion o our topic is
                                f                f
                                                o the ancient Mediterranean, including
futile, the distinction between education                                          f
                                                Israel, have provided the basis o educa-
and training. Education is the study and        tion from the Colonial and Revolutionary
mastery o a body of knowledge which is
            f                                   periods through the nineteenth century.
formative in character. Training involves       Greek fell from its position of educa-
learning information which is instrumen-        tional preeminence just before World
tal or banausic and which serves to solve       War I and Latin remained a “more com-
some immediate problem o r accomplish           monly taught language” until the 1960s.
some specific goal. Both training and           It is often asserted that the knowledge o  f
education are important for a society.          the ancient world possessed by our
Anyone, however, can be trained to do           nation’s Founding Fathers and the gen-
something. (Naturally the complexity            erations that followedtheRevolution was
and difficulty of the jobs will vary from                                             f
                                                superficial and consisted mainly o clas-
being a short order cook to being a brain       sical tags and exempla. Even were this
surgeon.) Fewer can profit from educa-                                          f
                                                true, a recent popular work o Professor
tion. The goal of education is t o produce      E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Cultural Literacy (1987),

136                                                                             Winter 1992
has shown how significant such shared         1908) as the first Professor, o Greek, at
information is in creating a common cul-      the Johns Hopkins University in 1876.
ture. Anyone who reads Jefferson’s liter-     Gildersleeve helped found the American
ary commonplace book, however, or who         Philological Association, founded and
peruses the correspondence of Jefferson       edited TheAmerican Journal ofPhilology,
and Adams will realize how deeply im-         composed a masterly edition of Pindar,
bued America’s revolutionary leaders          and was agrammarian parexcellence. He
were with knowledge of antiquity. This                               f
                                              was a devoted Son o the South, who
continued t o be true throughout the nine-                                       f
                                              fought each summer in the Army o North-
teenth century, as William L. Vance’s         ern Virginia, and in the 1890’s defended
recent two volume work on America’s                         f
                                              “TheCreed o the Old South”in theAtfun-
Rome (1989) has demonstrated. Thoreau         tic Monthly. The generation after him
comments that the only theft from his         included a few other figures whose con-
cabin on Lake Walden was his copy o       f   tributions to scholarship are still read:
Homer. (Harvard had a Greek require-          Paul Shorey (1857-1934), first Professor
ment until 1886.)                                                              f
                                              of Greek at the University o Chicago,
    It is important to distinguish between              f
                                              editor o Classical Philology and pro-
the classics as the foundation o educa-                   f
                                              pounder o the theory of “The Unity o       f
tion, aspaideia in Werner Jaeger’s sense,     P 1a t 0’s Thought ” ; Wi 1I i a m Abbot t
and the technical scholarly study o the       Oldfather(1880-1945), founderof theclas-
ancient world. The scholarly or scien-        sics library at the University of Illinois,
tific study of antiquity has been a central            f
                                              editor o the University of Illinois Studies
aspect of the history o scholarship from      in Language and Literature, and author o   f
the late Middle Ages until today. Ameri-      some 500 articles in the great German
cans have contributed relatively little t o   Realencyclopaedie. At Harvard, William
that study, although there have been          Watson Goodwin’s Syntax of the Moods
some important exceptions. By the late        and Tenses oftheCreek Verb(1889) is still
nineteenth century, when the Greek re-        in print and still used by every Greek
quirement was disappearing from Ameri-        scholar as John William White’s Verse o f
can colleges and the elective system was      Creek Comedy (1912) is still indispens-
slowly gaining ground, both under the         able for its field.
influence of Harvard, a few Americans            Most of these men had German disser-
were beginning to show distinction in         tations and German scholarly ideals. The
the study o classical antiquity. The          Great War of 1914-1918 saw the virtual
creation of research institutions on the      disappearance of the study of German
German model, such as the Johns Hopkins       from American high schools. Since most
Universityand the University of Chicago,      important work in the humanities in the
helped change the direction o the higher
                                f             nineteenth and twentieth centuries has
education in the United States, but in the    been done in German, Americans were
classics these institutions rather took       cut off from the possibility of making
advantage o than created the important
              f                               significant contributions to the study of
American classical scholars.                                   f
                                              many aspects o the ancient world. It is
    The Pater Philologiae in the United       possible to draw up a small list o e x c e p
States was Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve         tions in language and literature and phi-
(1831-1924). Born in Charleston, South        losophy. In the areas of ancient history
Carolina, veteran o the War between the
                     f                        and archaeology there has been a con-
States, professor for twenty years at the                         f
                                              tinuous tradition o accomplishment and
University of Virginia, he was appointed      even excellence. The general trend can
by President Daniel Coit Gilman (1831-        be briefly exemplified. After World War

Modem Age                                                                             137
I1 the American Philological Association         It is hard to characterize the contem-
published the first volume of a new criti-   porary situation of t h e classics in
cal edition o the most important ancient                                f
                                             America. The necessity o a command o     f
commentator on Virgil, the fourthcen-        Greek, Latin, and German for serious re-
tury A.D. scholar, Servius. Under t h e      search tends to discourage the type o    f
direction o the noted Ovidian, E. K. Rand,
            f                                publication now so common in modern
the “Harvard Servius,” as it came to be      languages. People committed to “liter-
called, employed the work and scholar-       ary theory” have been successful in dis-
ship of many o Harvard’s most promis-        couraging serious research and open
ing younger scholars. It was reviewed in     discussion, but they have not been able
the Journal ofRomanStudies in a massive      t o win prestige or recognition for them-
two part-review in 1948-49 by Eduard         selves. The gap created has been filled
Fraenkel, a student o the great German       by many foreign scholars, only a few o   f
scholars o the previous generation who                      f
                                             whom are o genuine international dis-
fled to England because o his Jewish                               f
                                             tinction, but none o whom is interested
ancestry. The point was made devas-          in sacrificing himself to develop a dis-
tatingly that one German classicist was                                      f
                                             tinctive American philology o high qual-
worth the most prestigious Classics De-      ity. It is possible t o hope that classics
partment in the United States. The next      will be spared the almost total collapse
volume of the Harvard Servius appeared       of scholarly standards that character-
two decades later and the work has yet       izes the study of English and the modern
to be finished.                              European languages. It is hard t o see the
    It would be possible to mention a few    rise of a new creative generation.
American Hellenists whose work has won           When the Chronicle of Higher Educa-
considerable attention in Europe and         tion announced in the summer of 1990
influenced the course of scholarship.        the near completion of the Plato Micro-
Milman Parry (1902-1935) was the             film Library of Plato manuscripts at Yale’s
founder o the scientific study of “oral
           f                                 Sterling Library, it also announced that
poetry.” Trained at Berkeley and t h e       time had passed the project by and that
Sorbonne, he published significant work      “literary theory” was the route to suc-
while a t Harvard and trained Albert Lord    cess in the humanities. The sponsor o    f
of the Department o Comparative Lit-                                      f
                                             the project was a member o the philoso-
erature at Harvard. George Melville          phy department, Robert Brumbaugh.
Bolling (1871-1963) of the Ohio State        When Donald Kagan, an ancient histo-
University has won much attention in         rian, addressed the National Association
Europe for his work on the text of Homer.    of Scholars in June 1990, he said that as
Few American classicists know his name.                    f
                                             new Dean o Yale College, he planned to
In the 1960s Elroy L. Bundy o Berkeley       improve the quality of the faculty by
transformed the study of Pindar,although     hiring scientists. He had given up on the
Americans had to wait for German and         humanities. Yale in the past decades has
Scottish scholars to point this out t o                                f
                                             had excellent scholars o high standards
them. It may be no accident that these       on its faculty, Robert Brumbaugh of Phi-
three men were educated in the West                                          f
                                             losophy and Fred Robinson o English, to
and South. One occasionally comes upon       name only two. The kudos, however,
American scholars at Ivy League schools      went to Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman,
who had great influence on a field, such     Harold Bloom, et al. I myself believe that
as William Scott Ferguson (1875-1954) at     Classics Departments in America have
Harvard or Gregory Vlastos at Princeton,     produced younger scholars capable o       f
but they are both Canadians.                 distinction and creativity. For the most

138                                                                         Winter 1992
part, however, they have never held ten-     the academy were the invention o the  f
ure track positions or hold them in insti-   sixties should dust off his copy o Mr.f
tutions unlikely to support demanding        Buckley’s Cod and Man uf Yule (1951).
scholarship. Classics, however, still has    That book is not about communists at
much to offer America as a source of         Yale but about liberals who politicized
culture and education.                       the elective system and filled it to the
   In the 1890s dissatisfaction with the     brim with attacks on and sneers at the
general quality of our educated citizenry                      f
                                             American way o life. A return to the
and a commitment to egalitarianism and       1950s in the theory and practice o ourf
democracy caused a revolution in our         elementary or high schools (“Back to
institutions o learning. In fact, those                    f
                                             Basics”) or o our colleges and universi-
institutions were beginning to produce       ties will accomplish nothing. It will not
educated citizens, but, as Tocqueville       be a conservative movement but a last
said of the French Revolution, half way      ditch effort to salvage the failures of
down the stairs we threw ourselves out       radicalism. Professor Thomas Short o      f
of the window in order to reach the          Oberlin Collegetells us in Academic Ques-
ground more quickly. The ideals of edu-      tions (1988) to call the college curricu-
cation were replaced with those o train-
                                   f                 f
                                             lum o the 1950s “the traditional liberal
ing. The change was not accomplished                              f
                                             arts curriculum.” O course, we are free
overnight and remnants o the old order       to call it anything we like and to repeat
remained. The facts, however, are very       the phrase over and over, in the great
clear. The theories which have gov-          tradition of Lewis Carroll’s Bellman, who
erned educational reform in the United       proclaimed, “What I tell you three times,
States (since Harvard sold out the past      it is true.” But we should not deceive
by the abolition of the Greek require-       ourselves. The college curriculum o thef
ment and the introduction o the elective     pre- sixties era rested on the same com-
system in the last decade o the nine-        mitment to mediocrity and hatred o ex-  f
teenth century) are the theories of          cellence,thesame devotion to egalitarian-
Rousseau, Condorcet, and the leaders o   f   ism and democracy, that is the foundation
the French Revolution. They had their        stone of today’s radicalized academy.
say in America in the period following             f
                                                 O what, then, does a traditional col-
our Tax Revolt against the English Parlia-   lege curriculum consist? We must in-
ment, but their advice was ignored. They     quire after the elements of a traditional
returned with a vengeance in the 1890s       elementary and high school curriculum.
and have remained in control ever since.     First, children should learn the old three
The revolution in curriculum came be-        Rs, the use of thealphabet and numbers.
fore World War I with the introduction of               f
                                             The list o subjects to study after that
the elective system into high schools        stage, to quote Abraham Lincoln, is short
and colleges, that is, by the expulsion of   and sweet, like the old lady’s dance: Latin,
Greek and Latin from the humanities          Greek and mathematics. Other subjects,
curriculum and their replacement by          including history, mythology, English
courses in English.                          vocabulary and syntax, even the basics
   It is the common fashion among cer-        f
                                             o our government, can be taught in con-
tain writers to blame the current woes of    nection with those subjects. Later we
the academy on the sixties. Anyone who       may want t o add the study of modern
believes that the poor preparation of our    languages, which will vary as time goes
students is due to the sixties should read   by. Today, of course, German is essen-
Nock. Anyone who thinks that t h e           tial for commerce and scholarship. Good
politicization and anti-Americanism of       secular schools may want t o offer other

Modem Age                                                                            139
languages, e.g., French, Russian, and Ital-   with the word “experiment” always in
ian. Religious schools, of course, will       their mouths, indicate that the subjects
insist on Hebrew. The principal goal o    f   best suited to provide the basis for this
all language study must be the command        formative education are Greek and Latin.
o significant works of literature in that     There is more evidence than language
language and an understanding o that f        arts through Latin programs in Philadel-
language’s role in our common culture.        phia and Los Angeles and Indianapolis.
Oral and written proficiency have their       There are also concrete examples such
place, but must take a backseat to forma-     as Montaigne and William Shakespeare,
tive knowledge.                               Ernst Renan and John Stuart Mill.
    This is not a visionary fantasy. I have      The advantages of this curriculum are
visited Latin classes all over America,       enormous. Even students who d o not go
from the Francis Scott Key Elementary         on to college, who do not finish high
School in the slums o Philadelphia to the     school, will have learned an enormous
Silverthorne Elementary School in the                    f
                                              amount o English vocabulary. Most
mountains of Colorado. Children before        English words come from Latin or Greek.
puberty learn languages easily,especially     Although the 100 most commonly used
if the languages are related to their own     words in English are rarely of Latin ori-
language and culture. Teachers are ex-        gin, the vocabulary of the professions
cited by the challenge o real teaching.             f
                                              and o serious discourse on most mat-
The curricula and texts are there, even       ters is ancient in its origins. The master-
for pre- school Latin.                        pieces of our language and important
    What about computers? The use o       f   books that are published now are writ-
the computer should be learned the same       ten in a heavily latinate English. Exten-
way the knowledge of English should be        sive work in language arts through Latin
learned, at home. School time should          programs in inner city and rural schools
not be wasted on it. As for the physical      proves that it is neither difficult nor ex-
sciences, my impression is that good          pensive to give Latin, the basis of our
science programs in major universities        culture, to poor children. We might con-
waste time in teaching the latest results                                         f
                                              sider putting off the promotion o “Glo-
o their own research to young people
  f                                           bal Democracy” until our own poor
who have to be untaught what they             youngsters can understand the vocabu-
learned in their advanced placement           lary used in discussing important public
courses in high school, when they could       policy issues.
have been mastering higher levels o       f      Albert Jay Nock spoke of the “forma-
mathematics or learning another lan-          tive character” of the study of ancient
guage, the elements of which will not be      civilization in words that are worth
rendered obsolete by further research.        quoting:
    If young people have learned the ele-             The literatures of Greece and Rome
ments o several difficult languages in           comprise t h e longest and fullest continu-
elementary school, before the changes            ous record available t o us, of what t h e
attendant on puberty have destroyed              human mind has been busy about in prac-
their natural aptitude for language learn-       tically every department of spiritual a n d
ing, and then go on t o perfect this knowl-      social activity; every department, I think,
edge in high school, they are ready in           except one-music. This record covers
college to read widely and with a sem-           twenty-five hundred consecutive years o   f
                                                 t h e human mind’s operations in poetry,
 blance of maturity. Over a thousand
                                                 drama, law, agriculture, philosophy, ar-
years of experimentation, ignored by             chitecture, natural history, philology,
generations of educationalist radicals

140                                                                            Winter 1992
  rhetoric, astronomy, politics, medicine,               cient tongues for theclergywill probably
  theology, geography, everything. Hence                 not be disputed by most people. Martin
  t h e mind that has attentively canvassed              Luther and John Calvin, the founders of
  this record is not only a disciplined mind
                                                         Protestant Christianity, were both pub-
  but an experienced mind; a mind t h a t in-
  stinctively views any contemporary phe-
                                                         lished scholars. The primary task o the
  nomenon from t h e vantage-point o an        f         Protestant clergy since its founding has
  immensely long p e r s p e c t i v e a t t a i n e d                                 f
                                                         been the correct exegesis o the Scrip
  through this profound and weighty expe-                tures. Those Scriptures are written in
  rience of t h e human spirit’s operations. If          Greekand Hebrew, and the major aids in
  I may paraphrase t h e words o Emerson,                reading them are written in Latin and
  this discipline brings us into t h e feeling of        German. In the formative years of
  a n immense longevity, and maintains us in             America, colonial and republican, the
  it. You may perceive at once, I think, how             clergy provided the educated backbone
  different would be t h e view o contempo-
  rary men and things, how different t h e
                                                         of our nation’s elite.
  appraisal of them, t h e scale of values em-                                          f
                                                            Beginning in the middle o the nine-
  ployed in their measurement, on the part               teenth century, there was a determined
  o one who has undergone this discipline
    f                                                    effort, described by Ann Douglas in her
  and on the part of one who h a s not. These            Feminization of American Culture (19 7 0 ,
  studies, then, in a word, were regarded a s            to turn the clergy from intellectual rigor
  formative because they are maturing, be-               and the masculine virtues into a caring
  cause they powerfully inculcate t h e views            service profession, typified by the fe-
  of life and the demands on life that a r e             male virtues. This largely successful
  appropriate t o maturity and a r e indeed
  t h e specific marks, t h e outward and vis-
                                                         movement has had many ramifications.
  ible signs, of t h e inward and spiritual grace        One result is the virtual disappearance
  o maturity.
    f                                                    from the clergy of professional knowl-
                                                         edge of the sacred tongues. I have seen
    Last, but not least, the Greekand Latin              Protestant clergy who cannot transliter-
languages are the means of the transmis-                 ate the Greek text of the New Testament,
sion o our culture. For centuries Homer,
      f                                                  who explicate an English translation in
Plato, and the New Testament, Virgil,                    direct contradiction to the clear mean-
Cicero, and St. Thomas, have introduced                  ing of the Greek, and who make gram-
young people into the meaning of being                   matical and exegetical errors. This indif-
citizens of our civilization. Our children               ference to minimal standards has, o      f
need to get to know them, too. There is                  course, opened up the profession t o nit-
no reason to be satisfied with the useful                wits too dumb to read the Bible and t o
but jejune translations, which is all we                 people who could not succeed in other
can offer them now. White Europeans                      professions.
have a right to their culture as much as                    I am speaking now of the mainline
Afro-Americans and other people o color.
                                    f                    Protestant clergy, where you may not be
The radicals who have run our educa-                             f
                                                         aware o the seriousness o the situation.
tional systems since the 1890s have                      The plague of both ignorance and sexual
robbed us of our cultural heritage. It is                pathology in the Catholic and fundamen-
time to revolt and take it back.                         talist clergy is a national scandal. How
    Let me discuss some practical results                        f
                                                         many o these horrible situations would
of this cultural highjacking in two profes-              not exist if a decent language require-
sions, chosen not quite at random, the                   ment were a prerequisite for entering the
mainline Protestant clergy and physical                  clergy? The Elmer Gantries would be
scientists.                                              frightened off before considering the pro-
   The need for proper command of an-                    fession and would betake themselves t o

Modem Age                                                                                      141
fields more suited to their inclinations        Alasdair MacIntyre has suggested. A
and abilities. Intelligent men would again      rootless, traditionless, monoglot scien-
takeseriouslyacall toaprofession where          tific elite has lost the basis of discovery,
they could work with other intelligent          in science or any other area. Since they
men.                                            cannot discover truth and will not live
    It is not so obvious that physical scien-   without grants, they must lie.
tists need a liberal arts education, rooted         Recently conservatives have talked
in the study of language. They them-            much of valuing creativity and an open-
selves assert that they have no time for        ness to the real world. If such an attitude
it. They have insisted on the abolition o   f   is to be more than talk, we must face the
language requirements in almost every           fact that creativity is not found in every
university graduate program in America.         tradition. Ours is oneof the few creative
This development is directly related to         ones and we must work to re-establish
the massive amount of fraud which now           our children’s direct contact with that
typifies scientificpublication in this coun-    tradition, which is their own, after all.
try. The scientific community has lost          Despite all the changes recent decades
trackof the historical and ethical roots o  f   have seen, culture is still transmitted
our civilization, the only civilization         primarily through language. The essen-
which has fostered the scientific ethic         tial works necessary for understanding
and considerable scientific research and        and transmitting our culture were writ-
discovery. Increasinglyyoung men enter          ten in Greek and Latin. Translations are
the sciences who do not understand that         marvelous tools, but no translation can
science is not a given, but an achieve-         be safely used or taught except by one
ment, a tradition o research and discov-        who knows the original tongue. An edu-
ery which is the hard-won accomplish-           cational curriculum founded on Greek
ment of one culture, fostered carefully         and Latin gave us Jefferson and Adams,
and slowly for millennia until the six-         Burke and Samuel Johnson, not to men-
teenth and seventeenth centuries. Sci-          tion Copernicus and Newton, Luther and
entists have lost touch with their own          Calvin, Michaelangelo and Bach. Educa-
culture. They live without a narrative          tors have developed curricula and texts
structure which frames and makes moral          which can teach these languages on any
sense of their lives. They seem to belong       level from pre-school through college.
to n o culture and feel the claims of no        Most subjects that are important for for-
cultural norms, claims that would be in-        mative education can be taught through
troduced and reinforced by a rigorous           and with these languages. The materials
study of their own cultural traditions          are out there, lying in the warehouses of
over the past twenty-five hundred years.        the Cambridge and Oxford University
For such people the borderline between          Presses. We have in our hands the mak-
fudging, misreporting of results, and out-      ing of a reactionary revolution of excel-
right fraud becomes as unclear as their         lence. The questions we must a s k our-
own cultural heritage. All too often it is      selves are the following: Do we have the
those who report or investigate such            will to give our children their own cul-
fraud who find themselves de-funded by          ture backagain? Do we have the courage
the “profession.” The attainment of truth       to restore meaning and creativity to our
is possible only within a tradition, as         nation?

142                                                                             Winter 1992

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