The National Association of Scholars
Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), was kind enough to alert me to an error made in my January 6, 2014 article entitled "More of Those European Dead Guys." I quoted Cathy Young of the Boston Globe, who wrote that the NAS "led the way in eliminating Stanford University's Western Culture requirement."
Ms. Globe was incorrect, and this misinformation needs to be rectified. In fact, the NAS is ardently opposed to Stanford's elimination of its Western Culture requirement. In a paper entitled "The Vanishing West: 1964-2010 The Disappearance of Western Civilization from the American Undergraduate Curriculum," written in May of 2011, authors Glenn Ricketts, Peter W. Wood, Stephen H. Balch, and Ashley Thorne discovered that "only two percent of colleges offer western civilization as a course requirement. Remarkably, western civilization is rarely even required for history majors. By contrast, most institutions from 1964 through the 1970s did have this requirement."
As a result of this elimination of courses dealing with Western civilization, what has emerged is a "form of curriculum apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism and colonialism."
The five main findings from the Western civilization history survey course include:
1. Western civilization survey courses have virtually disappeared from general education requirements.
2. Even for history majors, Western civilization surveys are rarely required.
3. American history survey requirements for history majors are rare.
4. Surveys of American history are not included in general education requirements.
5. World history is on the rise.
The authors emphasize that:
... [c]learly, many of those who will eventually assume positions of opinion leadership in our society as teachers in our schools, or as participants in public life, are no longer learning about their civilization's great story, its triumphs, its vicissitudes, and its singular role in transforming the human condition. What is the future of a civilization whose heirs have largely become blinded to its history? And what can we do to revive the study of Western Civilization?
The widespread emphasis on 'multiculturalism' is an inadequate answer. That's because, in practice, multiculturalism leaves students ill-equipped to understand the context of their own lives or the world around them. Western Civilization is so interconnected with and influential in the rest of the world that students who are left with scant knowledge of it can achieve at best only a superficial understanding of the larger picture.
Reviving the Western Civilization survey in the form that served earlier generations probably is neither feasible nor desirable. Historical scholarship, including knowledge of the West's interactions with other civilizations and cultures, has progressed. An up-to-date survey would have to take account of this new scholarship.
But a historical overview of the Western ascent toward freedom, scientific and technology mastery, and world power, is no less essential to the current generation than it was to those past.
The National Association of Scholars was founded in 1987 by Herbert London and Stephen Balch. It was originally called the Campus Coalition for Democracy. The advisory board of the NAS has included several notable conservatives such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S. ambassador and adviser to Ronald Reagan. Whereas beforehand, subscription was limited to academics, since October 2009 NAS membership is open to anyone and includes a subscription to Academic Questions which focuses "on the perceived excesses of political correctness in academia." The National Association of Scholars asserts that "merit is central to achieving educational opportunity."
To that end, The National Association of Scholars believes that affirmative action programs undermine the principle of individual merit; recommends that "colleges and universities protect the academic freedom of scientists who express skepticism of man-made global warming"; and has expressed concern about non-curricular, residential programs which "instruct students in progressive ideologies of social change." In addition, the NAS maintains that colleges and universities should avoid "vague definitions of harassment" but should certainly respond to instances of sexual harassment promptly and firmly.
The NAS absolutely "defends Western Civilization courses." Peter Wood wrote in 2007 that the NAS is not a partner with either the left or the right. Rather, it describes itself as "liberal," referring to classical liberalism.
In 2011, the NAS launched its Center for the Study of the Curriculum, which conducts yearly reviews of higher learning institutions' common reading programs. The "2012-2013 report found that 97% of college and universities chose books published in or after 1990." Wood has written that:
... What is lamentable is the scant attention to important books, let alone classics; the relentless emphasis on the short-term and easily accessible; and the dominance of books that emphasize personal perspectives over efforts to know the world as it really is. Literature is not entirely neglected but is overshadowed by what are now called (courtesy of the Common Core Standards) 'informational texts.' Taken collectively, the readings are uncommonly light for students about to undertake a college education.
In this 2009 NAS Conference YouTube video, Victor Davis Hanson talks about the importance of Western civilization. Robert Messenger at the National Endowment for the Humanities has written that "Hanson is not sanguine about our culture." Hanson has stated that "[he doesn't] see enough people standing up to defend the West. We don't realize how tenuous its legacy is and how it has to be transmitted from generation to generation. The nature of man doesn't change, and that's reassuring, since we know the necessary conditions that can save him from himself. The legacy of the West is a guidance system through the natural perils of human nature and behavior."
The National Association of Scholars has made specific recommendations about how to reinstate Western history programs in order to meet the needs of 21st-century students. First and foremost, "Western Civilization survey courses should be a prerequisite for upper level courses in many liberal arts fields, including philosophy, art history, political science, sociology, anthropology, literature, and economics." Additionally, "history majors, whatever their specialized fields, should be required to complete at least a two-semester survey course in the history of Western Civilization." Moreover, "incoming freshmen should be provided with a recommended reading list that includes at least one single-volume synthesis of the history of Western Civilization." Professors of history are needed "who are competent to teach basic Western Civilization courses." This will require a major overhaul concerning how "graduate schools prepare doctoral students and how colleges and universities hire historians."
The NAS is at the forefront of reinstating Western civilization courses. In light of the ongoing historical illiteracy that is now the norm in America, these much-needed recommendations take on special urgency.
Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.