Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, made the shocking observation that "faculties currently display scant interest in preparing undergraduates to be democratic citizens, a task once regarded as the principal purpose of a liberal education and one urgently needed at this moment in the United States." Bok was right on both counts--the neglect and the urgency--but he relegated his statement to a footnote. It should have been a headline.I couldn't agree more. There is an urgent need for serious, liberal arts education aimed at producing good citizens. That is what the Ashbrook Center does--through our Ashbrook Scholar program, which emphasizes great books and the Western canon; through our Masters in American History and Government, which provides a substantive advanced degree for teachers, so that they will have a well-founded understanding of the events that shaped this nation; and through our public events, which encourages discussion between scholars, practitioners, students, faculty, and members of the community.
Not long ago, I had a discussion with a friend who teaches at Harvard, and he asked me whether he should include Xenophon's Education of Cyrus in a 300-level class he was offering. It is a difficult book, he told me, and he wondered whether Harvard juniors could be expected to understand it. It is a difficult book, and I wondered aloud whether his students would be up to the task. But I replied that I assign the book to one of my classes--and assign them to read it cover-to-cover. He was astonished--"Your juniors can handle that?" No, I replied, this is what I assign for our freshmen. You see, it is still possible to get a good, liberal arts education.
Appropriate to my conversation with the Harvard professor, the NYT's article ends:
As our children go through the arduous process of choosing a college and trying to persuade that college to choose them, it will be a sign of improved social health if we can get to the point of asking not about the school's ranking but whether it's a place that helps students confront hard questions in an informed way. If and when the answer is yes, that's a college worthy of support, and all the alumni gifts and tax breaks can never be enough.The goal of the Ashbrook Center is to produce informed citizens who can answer "yes" to that question. So why don't you take the good author's advice, and make a tax-deductible contribution today to help us educate citizens.