This essay in the NYT (hat tip: Stanley Kurtz) suggests both that the multiculturalists won the "canon wars" and that it was a Pyrrhic victory (although one of the results is that apparently few students would have a clue about who Pyrrhus was). Focusing on the study of literature (and not really on either core curricula or other "humanistic" disciplines), the essayist suggests that the smaller proportion of students who major in English are exposed, above all, to the idiosyncratically specialized tastes of their professors, at the expense of a larger and deeper cultural awareness. Having been educated in a similar system themselves, the professors are apparently incapable of fleshing out the horizon in which students could situate their contemporary reading.
Time out, as one of my illustrious grad school professors used to say, for an anecdote. Speaking with a group of freshmen earlier this semester, I quoted the line, "Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger." "Oh yeah, someone responded, that’s so-and-so [I can’t remember the name of the evanescent contemporary cultural icon he cited]." "Actually no," I responded, "that’s Nietzsche."
One conclusion one might draw from the NYT’s line of argument is that an effort to inculcate students in something resembling the traditional canon (not worshipfully, but thoughtfully and critically) might actually "sell" better than the alternative, the result of which is to let increasing numbers of students slip away from the humanities to more lucrative and less apparently frivolous fields of study. There is, I think, a cultural and civilizational price to be paid for this flight. I wonder if we can recover some of what we’ve lost by trying to remember how to teach what we’ve forgotten. My experience at Oglethorpe, which has had a "Great Books"-oriented Core Curriculum for quite some time, is that many students come to be quite fond of it an quite proud of what they have come, through great difficulty, to know.