I have written on this blog before about the importance of the liberal arts, but I now have an interesting negative example of how universities have been marginalizing not only the liberal arts but also American civilization in particular. Let me begin with a quote from this article by Ian Tuttle in the National Review Online, dated December 29, 2016:
“Recently, GW — a 25,000-student private university located in Washington, D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood — eliminated its American-history requirement for undergraduate history majors, making it theoretically possible to graduate from GW with a history degree without ever having had to take a college-level course in U.S. history.” (emphasis added)
Tuttle’s additional facts are interesting:
“Of course, GW’s decision is hardly novel. In July, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that “only 23 undergraduate history programs at the U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 national universities, top 25 public institutions, and top 25 liberal arts colleges require a single U.S. history class,” and where the requirement remained, students could fulfill it with courses such as “Mad Men and Mad Women” (Middlebury College) and “Hip-Hop, Politics, and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut).”
What does he think about this development in the university partly founded by George Washington himself? He gives us a clue:
“‘Globalism’ as the term of art for a sinister, George Soros–funded ‘New World Order’ has become the bête noire of a particular strain of contemporary politics. But the word ‘globalism’ is an accurate, neutral description of the type of thinking that has characterized elite universities since the end of World War II. To the administrators and academics who revise these institution’s mission statements, the nation-state has had its day. Local attachments breed conflict. Peace on Earth will reign when people share the intimacy of neighborhoods at the distance of nations. We need to work toward a ‘global community.’ Barack Obama was only parroting his education when he declared himself a ‘citizen of the world.’”
I have also made this distinction between a globalism that is simply interested in the broader culture that has something good to say to us as human beings–that is, the good, the true and the beautiful in fact–and the kind of globalism that is bent on eliminating national borders because they are believed to be too restrictive or promote national sovereignty or as Tuttle says, “breed conflict.” I have nothing against the former type of globalism–and neither does Tuttle–but the latter kind is the very kind that dismisses any talk of an American exceptionalism, an American uniqueness. George Washington was suspicious of this last kind of globalism, as in his eyes it tended to cause those who imbibed it to undermine “republican values” (not to mention traditional religious values). Washington could point for proof to those many who extolled the French Revolution–at least until,the Terror caused them to rethink that. Today it is all about how the United States was and is colonialist, imperialist, repressive of human rights (that one really is a head scratcher), and on the critics go.
These alleged sins make subjects like American History verboten. Of course it could be worse. There are those who believe all history is at best useless and impractical, or is useless unless it is tied to and viewed through the lens of identity politics. Where American history is still required, it is often taught from this perspective. To add insult to injury, American religious foundations are all but ignored or taught as typical “white, European” imperialism.
The liberal arts, history and American history have not been presented as essential just because some faculty members demanded it to give them enough students. They have a timeless purpose. They call each person to examine him or herself in light of the grand ideas of what is good, true and beautiful–and in Christian institutions, these ideas are especially important from a distinctly Biblical viewpoint. This self-examination, properly guided, produces a maturity of thought and manners, as well as a proper humility in the face of a grounded metaphysics (God as opposed to mere temporal goods). But it does not and should not lead to skepticism IF properly guided and grounded in the Christian Scriptures. Yes, I have also argued that the liberal arts, including history, have a practical consequence. They do teach critical thought, improve writing and oral communication and make people better able to be rationally creative and innovative. But they have a deeper purpose, articulated above.
American history is no different. It just happens to emphasize the distinctly American way of thought and life that have made us as individuals and as a nation “exceptional” in certain ways. I am not arguing that American thought and life is always right–”America, right or wrong.” But nor am I arguing that we don’t have something very important to say to the rest of the world, through or history or by way of other disciplines. Moreover, it is especially strange that a history major would not require American history. I would go so far to say that it is rather odd that any university would allow a student to graduate without at least one course in American (specifically American) history. But perhaps in the case of GWU I might want to omit American history if it taught like too many other history courses at American colleges and universities. Nevertheless, properly conceived, American history is essential to a true education.
In the near future I will be posting another article on the liberal arts in general.
For the entire article, see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443421/george-washington-university-us-history-no-longer-required-history-majors