Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Students reading

John Moser’s post below, "What’s up with Universities and Ehrenreich?" leads me to this: For years the incoming Ashbrook Scholars have been sent a book to read over the Summer. They receive Winston Churchill’s My Early Life in June (as they are graduating high school), read it by early August, write an essay on education (the real subject of the book) and have two separate two-hour seminars (one on Saturday on the book, and one on Sunday on the writing); classes start Monday. I have always thought--and the students think--that this is a very good way to get into the college mode. It is a serious book that allows itself to be questioned; we end up having very good conversations as a result. The substance is just fine, and the conversational tone (so unlike high school) sets the stage nicely for their future learning. It is all high minded, slightly removed from the present, slightly foreign, but entirely interesting. They wonder at the man and his world and the good writing. They are struck by his vivacity and courage, note his sweet love for his nanny, marvel at his ambition, watch the man educate himself as he envies the young pups at universities who have teachers to help them navigate uncharted waters. And they note his exhortations to go out into the world and make a mark. These students don’t even know who Barbara Ehrenreich is. They have missed nothing.

Discussions - 4 Comments

I would think that the universities that assign such drivel as interested in teaching their students all about post-modernism, relativism, and the various oppressions that various victimized groups have suffered or are suffering. This is a poor excuse for an education.

Rather, they should be swept up by the human condition and human nature. They should wrestle with classical virtues and seen how they have/have not been exhibited by great and common persons alike. They should be enthusiastic about the endeavor to expand their minds with real knowledge of "first things" and difficult questions about the universe and our place in it. They should savor the beauty and poetry of truth as they sit around and deliberate. They should be encouraged to allow the harmony of language or the beauty of art to move their souls to greater depths. In short, they should be reading the classics and the great books. The Bible, Shakespeare, Sophocles, the Federalist, Homer, Lincoln, Austen, etc.

As Victor Davis Hanson said at an Ashbrook seminar, his daughter had read none of the Greeks while in high school but had a shelf of Maya Angelou books. Sad.

Terence Moore, please move to Virginia!

I would prefer that post-modernism be assigned rather than Ehrenreich. In fact, I regularly assign stuff by post-modernist authors in upper division courses on the theory of history. Not because I agree with it--far from it--but it forces the students to think about difficult issues. By contrast, there’s nothing complicated about Ehrenreich. One could sum up her thesis in one sentence--it’s no fun being poor. Wow, what a brilliant observation! Now, can we talk about how to avoid ending up poor? That’s the really important question, and one that Nickel and Dimed won’t help anyone answer.

I think that we essentially agree, John. Clearly, insights can be drawn from Marxists, post-modernists, and the like. I would also prefer a Marxist to a relativist or post-modernist who disbelieves in any truth itself but then propagates a certain point of view. Moreover, ultimately these viewpoints must be submitted to the canons of truth. If they are not found to be true or even advocate truth, then they are unworthy of being taught as principles to our young people intellectually and to live by. Sadly, our students have been fed at the empty trough of relativism for years as Western civilization and those dead white males and their great books have been found bankrupt and replaced with the oppression poetry of a Peruvian lesbian.

Ehrenreich’s book has little to offer and should not be read. It has little insight on poverty in the way that a Dickens novel might. We should wrestle with great thoughts in great books. But, we should also get past our obsession with oppression and victimization. In my opinion, they subject they have chosen reveals as much as the book they chose.

I think about the entrance requirements for Princeton or Columbia for Alexander Hamilton compared to the books the entering freshmen read today. First I laugh, and then I tremble.

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