Do We Teach Western Civilization?

I have been trying to formulate a satisfactory answer to this question for as long as I have been in education. I have been involved in K-12 classical education for more than six years, including five years as a founding faculty member of a classical K-12 charter school in Savannah. Throughout that time, I have had to navigate the rather peculiar amalgam that is classical education and the perhaps more peculiar intricacies of American public education. And this question is one that has recurred, in various forms, throughout that time. Of course, depending on who puts it and how it is put, the expected answer can differ wildly.

A few examples:

The school at which I taught had some unique demographics when compared to classical schools in the United States. While the classrooms were diverse in effect, the students were more than three-quarters African American and more than three-quarters from low-income households. Most classical schools, whether private or charter, tend to be middle class—typically upper middle class—and overwhelmingly white. As can be imagined, our unique demographics presented us with some interesting challenges.

Before the school even opened its doors, for example, an editorial ran in a local newspaper decrying the Eurocentrism of the typical classical curriculum and demanding that “our children be taught our history.” This criticism was reiterated by the state of Georgia in their critique of our school a few years later, when they stated bluntly that a classical curriculum is “inappropriate for this demographic.” More recently, the members of the DC Public Charter School Board alleged that African American students might find a classical curriculum “alienating” during the public question-and-answer session with a group seeking to start a similar school.

These sorts of criticisms are, of course, not unique to the school that I was a part of. They are questions that are being raised in Classics as an academic field as well. The recent racist incident as a meeting of the Society for Classical Studies provides an example of the sort of debate that is going on in that field, as some classicists seek to hold on to an older theory of the Romans and the Greeks as the founders of Western Civilization while others aim for a broader interpretation of classics, perhaps even an elimination of Classics as a separate field in favor of a Department of Ancient History.

Personally, I have struggled with these questions.

One the one hand, I am aware of the history of classical education and of the academic field of Classics, and the ways in which both have been used to justify and perpetuate racism. There is a deep association between classicism and racism in the early modern era that continues even to the present day. Advocates of classical education often reiterate the racist arguments of their nineteenth-century forebears without even realizing that they are doing so. At the opening of our school, one prominent advocate of classical education spoke about the idea of “becoming fully human,” an idea with roots in classical humanism, but with some very troubling associations in south Georgia.

More than that, most classical schools seem like some sort of bizarre Victorian revivalism, idealizing the “tougher” educational practices of the a century ago. They seek to model themselves on whatever was done in schools before the influence of John Dewey, taking no account of the significantly changed world and changed United States that have been brought about by technology and globalization.

The most troubling aspect of the rhetoric and practice of contemporary K-12 classical education, I think, is the constant talk of the Platonic trinity of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful coupled with an emphasis on the Western canon. Each of these things on their own seems to me to be a good thing. I think it is good to want students to know what is virtuous and right, to seek the truth, and to recognize and appreciate beauty. And I tend to agree with the Great Books philosophy that some works are just time better than others. The problem arises, for me, when these two ideas are coupled. When a classical school proclaims that they guide students to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty and then provide a reading list which consists entirely of authors from one rather small peninsula (that is, Europe), this is problematic. The not-too-subtle implication is that India, China, Africa—the whole rest of the world—have somehow fallen short of the Absolute, the Best, the Greatest. I agree with the DC Public Charter School Board; such a curriculum is indeed “alienating” for students of color—for any student, to be quite honest.

One the other hand, however, I think that the findings of E. D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy, have not been sufficiently taken into account by the critics of classical education, nor by the educational establishment as a whole. There has been enough discussion of Hirsch’s bestseller since it was published in the mid-1980s, and I don’t want to rehash the debate. But I can say with absolute certainty that my own experience has confirmed Hirsch’s findings for me.

After introductions on the first day of class of our new school, I spent some time trying to get a sense of what my students already knew so that I can build on their prior knowledge. I asked a series of what I thought were rather simple questions that any sixth-grade American student should know: Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? Can anyone name and point to all seven continent on the map of the world over here? What is this building called (pointing to my poster of the Parthenon)? Does anyone know who the first emperor of the Roman Empire was? After a moment of silence: Has anyone heard of the Roman Empire before? Silence.

This is disturbing. This should be disturbing to anyone reading this. Not one of my 50 sixth-graders could identify Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence; could name and point to North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica on a map; had ever seen the Parthenon before; could identify Augustus Caesar as the first Roman emperor; or had even heard of the Roman Empire. Not one. This isn’t their fault, of course. The Georgia social studies curriculum for grades K-8 includes absolutely no history from before Christopher Columbus; that means no Mesopotamia, no Greece, no Rome, no Middle Ages. And what it does include seems more often than not to be a hodge-podge of this and that from modern history rather than any real narrative that would provide a sense of the scope of historical development in the world.

An all-European “Western canon” curriculum is alienating. However, an education that doesn’t provide a child with even a basic understanding of the world they live in and how it got to be this way is undoubtedly more alienating.

And so I find myself navigating these two extremes.

In my next post, I will continue this discussion by proposing my own solution to the problem.

Primary Source: From the “Moralia” by Plutarch (ca. 100 AD) (Introduction to Western Civilization 3.9)

Plutarch was a Roman author who lived in 46-120 AD. He is most famous for the many biographies he wrote about important people of the Greek and Roman worlds. The selections below are about Sparta and are from his “Moralia,” a collection of short stories and sayings.

35. [In Sparta], when the time had arrived during which it was the custom for the free boys to steal whatever they could, and it was a disgrace not to escape being found out, when the boys with him had stolen a young fox alive, and given it to him to keep, and those who had lost the fox came in search for it, the boy happened to have slipped the fox under his garment. The beast, however, became savage and ate through his side to the vitals; but the boy did not move or cry out, so as to avoid being exposed, and left, when they had departed, the boys saw what had happened, and blamed him, saying thatit would have been better to let the fox be seen than to hide it even unto death; but the boy said,”Not so, but better to die without yielding to the pain than through being detected because of weakness of spirit to gain a life to be lived in disgrace.

36. Some people, encountering Spartans on the road, said, “You are in luck, for robbers have just left this place,” but they said, “Egad, no, but it is they who are in luck for not encountering us.”

37. A Spartan being asked what he knew, said, “How to be free.”

55. While the games were being held at Olympia, an old man was desirous of seeing them, but could find no seat. As he went to place after place, he met with insults and jeers, and nobody made room for him. But when he came opposite the Spartans, all the boys and many of the men arose and yieldedtheir places.Whereupon the assembled multitude of Greeks expressed their approbation of the custom by applause, and commended the action beyond measure; but the old man, shaking his grey-haired head and with tears in his eyes, said, “Alas for the evil days! Because all the Greeks know what is right and fair, but the Spartans alone practice it.”

69. Another, passing by a tomb at night, and imagining that he saw a ghost, ran at it with uplifted spear, and, as he thrust at it, he exclaimed, “Where are you fleeing from me, you soul that shall die twice?”

71. Another, in the thick of the fight, was about to bring down his sword on an enemy when the recall sounded, and he checked the blow. When someone inquired why, when he had his enemy in his power, he did not kill him, he said, “Because it is better to obey one’s commander than to slay an enemy.”

 

 

 

Review Questions

 

  1. Why did all of the Spartans at the Olympic Games stand up in 55? Answer in a sentence.

 

  1. In a paragraph, describe the sort of virtues the Spartans practiced according to these selections from Plutarch’s writing.

Our Dark Age

Every period in history is remembered in popular consciousness by a set of characteristics which have attached themselves to it. Although this popular characterization of a given period is often little more than stereotype and caricature the power exerted by this collective summarization of an epoch nonetheless permanently colors perception of the period. These characterizations frequently even become the title by which the period is remembered, guaranteeing that any time the period is mentioned the immediate implication of the truth of this characterization will follow inevitably. The Renaissance, for example, is characterized as a great period of “rebirth” and of the flourishing of the arts.  The Scientific Revolution as, of course, a period of revolution in the sciences. At some point, every historian wonders how his own era will be characterized by future generations; how will the present age be remembered by those a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand years from now? What summarization or title will be bestowed upon our era? In addition, the conclusion one reaches about the reputation of the present among those of the future has imminent ramifications for potential courses of action to improve the heritage bequeathed to posterity by the current generation.

To arrive at a conclusion concerning how our age might viewed in retrospect, one of the soundest methods is the use of historical knowledge as a measuring stick by which to evaluate the present, one of its most traditional and important usages. In a comparison with previous eras in history, our age bears the most striking resemblance, unfortunate though the fact may be for us its denizens, to the two great dark ages of earlier times in Western Civilization, namely the Greek Dark Age and the Medieval Dark Age.

Both of these dark ages are characterized by the dissolution of centralized governmental and military authority. In the case of the Greek Dark Age, the authority which dissolved was that of the old order of the Greek peninsula, the Aegean Sea, and surrounding areas which is best exhibited by the wealth and power of the Minoan and Mycenaean peoples. With the onset of the Iron Age and the ostensible Dorian Invasion, however questionable the size and nature of the latter event may be, a fracturing of institutional unity gave rise to a fracturing of cultural and intellectual unity in a world of increasingly prevalent sectionalism. The inception of the second dark age of Western Civilization arose from similar circumstances. The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD removed from the western half of the Mediterranean Sea and most of Western Europe the institutional and cultural structures which had maintained some level of stability in and among societies. This institutional collapse was swiftly followed by a period of rapid cultural and intellectual decline coupled with ceaseless warfare among various tribes and peoples competing for dominance within relatively insignificant realms of power.

The cataclysmic event which triggered the onset of the current dark age is almost certainly World War I. Merely contrasting a map of Europe before and after the war is ample evidence. A look at the events “on the ground,” so to speak, is even more revealing. Through  Europe, and much else of the world, political structures collapse and disappeared altogether or were replaced by ideologies which arose from the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment eras, ranging from Marxism and other socialist philosophies to the radical, notably not Classical, forms of republicanism and democracy advocated by some 18th and 19th century thinkers. Throughout the civilized world, the old structures of government which had united various peoples under a single figure and various empires under a universal civilizational outlook were abolished. Along with these institutions went the cultural and intellectual unity of Western Civilization and of the old order in a supracivilizational sense.

Greece emerged from its dark age at about the time of the poet Homer, in the 7th century BC, and the flourishing age of Classical Greece followed quickly. The Medieval Dark Age ended with the rise of Charlemagne and the dawn of the Carolingian Renaissance at the turn of the 19th century AD. Although it is less clear in the case of the Greek Dark Age, there is sufficient evidence to establish the thesis that the various elements of a vibrant culture were kept alive during both of these dark ages by the fastidious work of certain concerned groups and individuals.

In the better documented case of the Medieval Dark Age, more often than not these individuals were the Fathers of the Church and other great Christian thinkers. Cassiodorus and Boethius, contemporaries who lived in Italy shortly after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, for example, each recognized the precarious nature of their age and the tremendous task which their circumstances had placed before them. Each sought to preserve the greatest elements of their Greco-Roman heritage while allowing these to pass through the formative lense of Christianity. The result was that when the dark age did finally end some 300 years after this men lived, the ensuing era, which lasted nearly a thousand years, was a period of rapid scientific and technological progress as well as intellectual and cultural flourishing which remains still the greatest period in all of the history of Western Civilization.

If we are greet our current circumstances soberly, we must be honest about the perilous time in which we, who wish to bear our heritage and to pass it on to future generations, find ourselves. We must work with the same assiduity as our great forebears to preserve and improve about our great Western tradition. We must form the same sorts of assemblies for this task which our fathers before us formed. And we must continue their great work. If not, our progeny will have us to blame for the destruction of the greatest civilization the world has ever known.

Earliest Greek Cultures (Introduction to Western Civilization 3.2)

The earliest Greek culture did not begin on the Greek peninsula. It began instead on a small island just south of the Greek peninsula. That small island was Crete, which was home to the Minoan civilization from about 2700 BC until the end of that civilization in about 1450 BC.

Although the Minoans are very important because they were the first culture to develop in Europe and their culture formed the foundation for what became ancient Greece, we actually know very little about them. In fact, we are not even sure what they called themselves. The name “Minoan” is a name that historians have given to them. Historians got this name from King Minos, a character in a Greek legend about the island of Crete.

Most of what we know about the Minoans was learned by studying the art and architecture of the ruins they left behind. For example, they built a huge, complex palace at Knossos, on the northern part of Crete.

From looking at the art they left behind there, historians can tell that the Minoans thought that bulls were very important animals. They probably viewed them as having a special religious significance. The bulls might have been symbols for the gods. This special emphasis on bulls is probably due to the fact that bulls, because they are very aggressive, are often used to represent masculinity and virility. Some paintings left behind by the Minoans show young men and women jumping over charging bulls. This was probably a religious ritual of some kind.

It is also clear from the art and architecture they left behind that the Minoans were very rich and powerful. Art in Egypt shows people wearing Minoan clothing presenting gifts to the Pharaoh of Egypt. At the time the Minoan civilization existed Egypt was a very powerful nation. If the Minoans were friends with the Egyptians, this shows that the Minoans were powerful as well.

In about 1450 BC, there was a volcanic eruption on the island of Thera, a small nearby island. The eruption caused the sky to blacken and rain ash on the Minoans’ fields. As a result, many of the Minoans’ crops died. It also caused an earthquake that damaged their large palace and other structures. As a result, many Minoans died. Others fled from Crete never to return. Minoan civilization came to an end.

At that time, another group of Greeks who lived on the southern part of the Greek peninsula were rising in power. This group, the Mycenaeans, used the decline of the Minoans as an opportunity to spread their own power. The Mycenaean civilization flourished on the Greek peninsula and on the islands near Greece, including Crete, from about 1600 BC to 1100 BC.

The Mycenaeans spread their power by using new weapons they developed. These weapons were made of bronze, a metal that made their weapons stronger and deadlier than the weapons of the other peoples around them. When the Mycenaeans conquered Crete, where the Minoans had been, they began to admire Minoan culture and adopted many aspects of it. Through their conquests, the Mycenaeans spread Minoan culture all over Greece and the islands of the Aegean Sea.

Eventually, however, Mycenaean civilization also came to a violent end. In about 1100 BC, a group of people called the Dorians invaded Greece from the north. Not much is known about the Dorians or where they came from, but it is clear that they were using weapons made of iron, a kind of metal that is even stronger than the bronze weapons the Mycenaeans were using.

Following the Dorian Invasion, Greece entered into a 300 year period of warfare and cultural decline. We call this period the Greek Dark Age. While the Greek Dark Age was a period of great turmoil for the Greeks, Greece emerged more powerful than ever at the end.

 

Review Questions

 1. What animal was very important to the Minoans? Why was this animal important to them?

2. What kind of weapons did the Mycenaeans have that made them so powerful?

3. What kind of weapons did the Dorians have?

4. What do historians call the 300 year period between 1100 BC and 800 BC? Why do they call it that?

Western Civilization (Introduction to Western Civilization 1.5)

Now that you have become acquainted with the way a historian thinks and does his job, it is time to get down to the work of learning history. Before we begin, however, I would like to take a moment to discuss the specific part of the world whose history we will be studying this year. Although China, India, Japan, and many other nations of the world all have rich and fascinating histories, we will not be learning much about them this year. Instead, our focus will be on one specific civilization, which we call Western Civilization. Western Civilization is our civilization. As interesting as other civilizations might be, there are some good reasons why we want to focus on Western Civilization only this year.

First of all, because Western Civilization is our civilization it is very important that we learn about it. Before we can learn about and appreciate other civilizations, we have to know about our own. One very famous saying in ancient Greece, a place you will learn about this year, was “know yourself.” What this means is that the first and most important thing a person can do is get to know who they are. We can get to know who we are by learning about our civilization. We can learn about all of the things that make up our heritage and that still influence us today. We will learn, for instance, why we speak the language we speak and why we have the science and technology we have. This will help us to understand ourselves and the world around us.

Secondly, Western Civilization has, over the last several hundred years, become the most important civilization in the world. The ideas that started in Western Civilization, ideas that you will learn about this year, have spread all over the world and are being used by people everywhere today. In a sense, Western Civilization has become the whole world’s civilization. The idea of democracy, for example, started in ancient Greece and is now being used by people on every continent to decide what kind of government they want to have. Another example is communism, an idea that started in Germany a little more than 150 years ago. Communism is now the economic system of China, a very large and very ancient country in Asia. Capitalism, another Western idea, which started in Great Britain, has had an equally large effect on Japan, another ancient Asian nation. Everywhere around the world today, people are adopting Western science, religion, technology, philosophy, and politics and making them their own. In order to understand why these ideas are so popular and so influential, we have to start here at home, where they started, in Western Civilization.

Western Civilization has had a very long history with a lot of interesting events, people, and ideas. Our civilization started more than 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia, an area in the middle of what is now the country of Iraq. There, the ideas started that would later be developed by the Greeks and the Jews. These two groups of people were very different from one another but their ideas would combine into one in the Roman Empire, especially after that Empire converted to Christianity in the 4th century. Throughout the Middle Ages, which lasted from about 400-1400, Christian thinkers, including philosophers, scientists, theologians, poets, and others attempted to sort out the heritage they had received from Greece, Rome, and Judaism. They wanted to combine it into one in Christianity. The eventual result of this combination would be the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Baroque, three time periods that happened one after the other from about 1350-1650. During these periods, there was a huge burst in creativity and in thought. Many of the greatest artists, musicians, authors, scientists, and philosophers in the history of the world lived during this time. This time was then followed by a period of major turmoil and tumult, beginning with the Scientific Revolution, which began in about 1650, and the Enlightenment, a period that lasted about 1700-1800. During this time, many of the ideas that people considered very important were questioned. The way people thought and lived changed completely. This change continued throughout the 1800s, with massive transitions in society as people moved away from the country to live in cities and away from farming to work in factories. This leads us to our own time, during which we are still seeing the effects of both the most ancient ideas of Western Civilization, such as the ideas of the city-state and of monotheism, and are still experiencing the changes that have been taking place since the Enlightenment.

You may remember what you read earlier about history being the memory of a large group of people. In order to know where you going, you have to know how you got where you are. It is only then that you can decide where you want to go. As the young people who will eventually be in charge in our nation, it is up to you to learn about our heritage and to guide the future of Western Civilization.

 

Review Questions

 Use your own words to answer both questions in a paragraph:

1. What is Western Civilization?

2. Why is it important for us to learn about Western Civilization?

History and Its Importance (Introduction to Western Civilization 1.1)

Imagine waking up in the desert and not being able to remember who you are, where you are, or how you got there. To find your way home you have to know at least one of those things. Unfortunately, you do not know where home is – or even whether you have one!

This is the situation we find ourselves in if we do not know history. History is like memory, but for a large group of people instead of just one person. The same way that your memory allows you to remember who you are, where you are, and how you got there, history allows us to remember who we are as a family, a school, a state, a nation, or even a civilization. It tells us where we are and how we got here. It also helps us to decide where we want to go.

The historian Edward Gibbon, whom you will read about when we study the Enlightenment, once said “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” We learn through our experiences of the decisions we make and the consequences of those decisions. If I make a bad decision and get hurt because of it, I will know not to make that decision again. Similarly, I know that I want to continue to do things for which I get rewarded. Our memory is what helps us learn from our experiences. We remember what happened to us in the past and we make decisions about our future based on those memories. There is a saying you might have heard: the person who does not know history is doomed to repeat it. In other words, if you do not know what mistakes to avoid and what models to follow, you are not going to make very good decisions.

The first historian was a man named Herodotus. He was a Greek man who lived in 484-425 B.C. You will learn more about him in the section on the Ancient Greeks, but a short passage from his book, The History, might help us now as we try to understand what history is and why it is so important. The first sentence of the first history book written by the first historian is this:

These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory; and withal to put on record what were their grounds of feuds.

In that one sentence, Herodotus gives us a lot of help in understanding history.

First of all, notice that he uses the word “researches” to refer to his work. People have been telling stories about the past almost as long as there have been people. Those stories have been passed down from grandparents and parents to children and then by those children to their children. Although these stories are interesting and important, and you will learn more about these stories when you read about mythology later, they are not history. What makes history different from just telling stories about the past is that history involves research. Herodotus did not just write down the stories he had heard from his grandma and grandpa. He travelled to different nations looking for old buildings and old books to help him get his information. Historians today do the same thing. There are a lot of great stories in history, but history is more than just stories. It also involves using some detective work to find clues and talk to witnesses to put those stories together.

In this sentence, Herodotus also tells us that he did all of this research for three reasons:

1. “Preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done.”

To preserve something from decay means that you want to make sure it never goes away. He wanted people to remember the great things that others had done before them.

2. “Preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory.”

What this means is that Herodotus wanted to make sure that the “great and wonderful” things people had done were remembered so that we can honor them. If you do something great, like play very well in a baseball game or get very good grades, you want to be noticed for that. Herodotus thought the people he wrote about had done some great things and should be recognized for what they had done.

3. “To put on record what were their grounds of feuds.”

He wanted the people who read his book to remember the reason the Greeks and the Barbarians had fought a war with each other. Here Herodotus is talking about the Greco-Persian Wars, which you will read more about in the section on Ancient Greece.

Herodotus is saying something very much like what we have already said. He wants to give us examples of great men, people who had a great deal of courage and wisdom, so that we can follow their example. He also wants to tell us about the decisions these men made, so we can learn from their experiences. If they made good decisions, we want to try to make the same decisions they made. If they made bad decisions, we want to try to avoid those.

So maybe you are not entirely sure if you are going to like this history thing. It sounds okay, but maybe you like another subject more, like math, science, or – maybe – lunch. History can help you here as well. All of those other subjects have a history. All of the things we know about nature that you will learn about in science class are things that were discovered by the people you will learn about by studying history. Aristotle, for example, was an ancient Greek philosopher who was one of the first people to write about zoology, the study of animals. One of Aristotle’s most important students, Theophrastus, is sometimes called “the father of botany,” which is the study of plants. He is called by this title because he wrote some of the first books on the subject. Much later, two men named Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, both of whom read the books written by Aristotle, would make important discoveries in astronomy, the study of the stars and planets. One of their most important discoveries was that the earth revolves around the Sun. You will read about all four of these people and many more scientists, mathematicians, writers, soldiers, and others as we continue. (Those of you whose favorite subject is lunch will also be happy to know that food has a history, too!)

In this course, we will focus on the history of our civilization, which is usually called Western Civilization. Western Civilization begins with the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians more than 5000 years ago and continues with us today. Many of the things we do every day are part of our heritage as members of Western Civilization. When your parents vote, for example, they are continuing a practice that started with the Ancient Greeks more than 2500 years ago. If you have to take medicine when you get sick, you are doing something that goes back to the Ancient Greeks and that became very important during the period we call the Enlightenment. The architecture and art you see on many buildings in your city might come from the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, or the people of the Renaissance. All of these are things other members of Western Civilization who lived before us have given us. It is our job to learn about these things so that we can contribute our own part when it is time for us to make the decisions.

 

Review Questions

  1. What is history? Answer in a sentence.
  2. In your own words, write a paragraph about why it is important to learn about history.
  3. What is your favorite subject other than history? How do you think history can help you better understand that subject? Answer in a paragraph.

 

Vocabulary Words

 Civilization – a nation or group of nations which share a common culture, government, economic system, language, and/or religion

Heritage – something inherited from one’s ancestors

History – knowledge of the past learned through research

In Defense of Dead White Men, Part 5: The Restoration of Western Civilization

Previous: In Defense of Dead White Men, Part 4: Origins of the Western Difference

A return to the earlier, and more healthy, way of viewing foreign cultures through the lens of Western Civilization is simultaneously the first and final step in a process of the restoration of proper education in Western heritage. It is the first step in that a return to the traditional Western appreciation for diversity will restore a proper view of the West itself. Western Civilization cannot be seen as merely one civilization among many without doing a significant disservice to the history of the world. If Western Civilization can once again be seen as a hugely diverse entity which absorbs what is best in other cultures and transforms what is worst, as the finest, highest, and purest expression of the universal human condition rather than the perspective merely of Europeans, a proper view of the West will have been restored.

The approach of Justin Martyr and the subsequent Church Fathers who drew upon Justin’s ideas provides a model which can be imitated in the modern world. They viewed the ideas of the pre-Christian Greeks and Romans as worthy but incomplete and, through a long process of sorting and amalgamating brought them into the fold of Christendom, and therefore of Western Civilization, in a form modified in accordance with the fundamental standards of Christian belief. Similarly, the practices and ideas of non-Western civilizations can be seen as incomplete and flawed but nonetheless noble descriptions of the human experience. These practices and ideas can then be sorted for their value in the light of the universal truth and applicability of the standard practices and ideas at the core of Western Civilization, and finally completed and taken in. The awareness must remain, however, that these ideas are not being taken in because Western Civilization itself is lacking, but because these ideas are lacking and in need of completion, a completion by which Western Civilization is, in turn, strengthened.

In addition, the return to this proper perspective in Western Civilization of other civilizations must be supplemented with an immersion of primary and secondary students as well as college undergraduates in the foundational texts of Western Civilization. A true “common core” would reflect the full range and development of Western thought including its literary, scientific, and philosophical output. Texts should be selected for study by high school and college students based upon their importance to the history and thought of Western Civilization, rather than misguided hopes of engineering a pseudo-multicultural homogeneity. Through this process, the student will learn an appreciation for his own civilization, which will allow him to authentically appreciate other civilizations. He will also acquire a knowledge of the intellectual and social history of the modern world and, succinctly, the very best that has ever been thought.

The great texts of other civilizations as well as criticisms of Western Civilization from both within and without are best introduced only after this immersion in the texts of Western Civilization has occurred for some time. It is, in fact, only at this point that a student will be able to understand these critiques and appreciate these other civilizations. Reading a criticism without knowing what is being criticized will only produce prejudice. Learning about the thoughts and practices of others without having the firm foundation of one’s own intellectual heritage is a sure recipe for a confused, facile, and more than likely unsympathetic view of others.

The same is true of an appreciation for minority groups within Western Civilizations, such as African-Americans or the Jews of Europe. Their experience has been as much formed and informed by the history and thought of Western Civilization as have those of the majority populations and they, in turn, have had a significant effect on the development of Western Civilization. Once the wider context of Western Civilization is understood, the experience of smaller groups within it can at least be fully appreciated. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is one demonstrative example. There, King argues against the tyranny of the majority within the United States, itself one of the great exemplars of the ideals of Western Civilization, using arguments from the history of Western Civilization, such as the early Christian martyrs, and the thought of Western Civilization, such as the concept of natural law. An approach to history which wrenches African-American history out of its Western context renders the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and indeed the entire Civil Rights struggle in the United States, unintelligible. In turn, the experience of African-Americans has done a great deal to shape subsequent developments both in the United States and in Western thought more generally. The student ignorant of these contributions will also experience the world as unintelligible.

For the American student who is not educated in Western Civilization and who does not come to view the world and himself through the lens of this civilization, the entire world, in fact, is unintelligible. “Know thyself” was one of the most profound mottos of ancient Greece. To “know thyself” one must first know the forces, social, political, and ideological, which have been one’s shaping forces. One should, in addition, be exposed to those ideas which best describe the nature and situation of man in any social, political, or ideological context. With an understanding of self comes an understanding of the world. A thorough grounding in the history and thought of Western Civilization, far from inculcating notions of innate European superiority or any such nonsense, will allow young people to see the world from the standpoint of a thorough understanding and an appreciation for authentic diversity.