Contra Mozilla

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Western Civilization and the University

So my boss sent me the proposed changes to the general requirements curriculum. This is largely because eh wants me to go to the hearing/planning meeting tomorrow and fight for keeping the 8 hours of science as being 4 hours each in two separate categories, to prevent students from just taking 8 hours of biology and skipping chemistry, physics, earth science, and physical sciences (all of which are in our department) altogether. FWIW, I think we should require 12 hours, with a sequence of 8 and then one more out of that sequence, but that's just me (and many other universities), but the next best option is to have two separate 4 hour sequences.

The biology department seems to have a desire to outright require a two-hour sequence.  This would virtually eliminate the chemistry/physics cashcows of physical science (and to a lesser extent, earth sciences) since neither class currently exists as a two-semester sequence, and most students would prefer the relatively easy intro biology courses to the relatively more difficult chemistry, physics, or even physical science counterparts. Such is inter-departmental politics.

Moving on, I noticed that among proposed changes was this gem: "3. Removal of Western Civilization as a history option in the required slot for General Studies Program; move Western Civilization to the elective area." As I understand it, this makes Western Civ an optional history class as opposed to a required one, albeit one which does still fill a requirement There is, after all, the requirement of "Any 1000-2000 level courses from the following Social Science disciplines: Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, Leadership, Interdisciplinary Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Sociology or other Social Science areas: 9 hours" with  6 of those 9 hours being either a six-hour sequence in literature or a 6-hour sequence in history. US or World history is its own 3 hour category.

Under different circumstances, I would consider protesting this change. I think that the single most important course in history for a student to take is that of Western Civ, which is not generally covered in much depth once one enters post-secondary school. American History, or the History of the US, and World History are probably next, but the former at least has been covered (in theory) by the high schools. To banish Western Civ. to the lost realm of "electives,' even "elective which fulfill a requirement," is to deprive a great many students of their cultural heritage.

With that said, I know a number of the newer history profs and lecturers: one specialized in race relations in the south, and another in Middle Eastern History*. The former currently teaches Western Civ and frequently remarks that she is having to learn it all over again, having not really studied it much in the course of gaining a doctorate in history focusing on the history of the United States. Such is not an uncommon occurrence in history or really any field. Based on her conversations with me, she is doing a reasonably good job of trying to teach the material objectively, but then again she has mostly covered Egypt, Greece, and (pre-Constantine) Rome to this point. I can only hope that the attempts at a fair presentation continue through the medieval period. The Middle Eastern History specialist remarked to me that he did not even bother to apply to any school whose mascot was "the crusaders" or "the knights" or "the templars" or (gasp) "the saints," because they would obviously have a wrongheaded approach to teaching history in general and Middle Eastern, Islamic history in particular. This latter man is actually Jewish, but decidedly un-Western, perhaps even anti-Western** (though I suppose that any course he teaches about world history outside of the west is probably a thing of beauty, as he does put lots of effort into the preparation).

Being as I am at a state (read: secular) university, and being as these are the kinds of professors who largely work here, we may be doing the poor students a favor by sparing them a cynically taught version of Western Civ. Utter ignorance of one's cultural heritage is probably preferable to complete disdain of that heritage, especially if it is manufactured disdain.

*A third one is actually a convert to Catholicism, and wrote his dissertation on anti-Catholicism in the US, particularly during the mid 19th century ("Know Nothings" featured prominently). He would probably do a nice job of teaching Western Civ.

**But still a colleague and perhaps a friend no less.

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