For six years, many students of Ashland University participated in a type of movement and argument that I, from what I know, seemed to be fairly unique. It was not to gain more campus spoils or protest some foreign war; instead, it was a rather simple (at least, so we thought) request to let Greek and Latin stand beside French and Spanish in the university language requirement. For all of our efforts in those six years, we students were shockingly defeated time and time again (a detailed story that I shall get around to writing about sometime in the future). Opponents of classical liberal education, misguided in their views as to the purpose of a university, always seemed to win the day.
We tried to reason with them
, we tried to shame them
, we tried to pressure them with public support
. It all seemed to be to no avail. My peers and I would sit in committee after committee and get no where. The Faculty Senate, at long last recognizing it was unable to successfully challenge our arguments in favor of learning ancient languages, began a process of just trying to get rid of the language requirement at Ashland altogether. Currently they are trying to replace it with "global competency"-- an idea that, as stated in the literature passed around by the proponents of this, all students must become aware of their roles as global citizens who have particular (unspecified) global responsibilities. In the midst of this six-year debate, we had seen the university take away German and Ancient Languages; in its home stretch we were not going to let them change the very purpose of an education at the university. We stood before the Faculty and begged them to realize that there was more to an education than simply learn how
something works-- and that there was a greater goal to education than producing people capable of getting a job in an increasingly globalized market.
There is a beauty and magic to language in particular that extends past simply being able to help it advance you in the workplace. Language structures how the mind thinks; thus the best way to understand a people (whether you seek to understand modern-day Russia or ancient Sparta) is to try understand how they think and view the world. Yes, things can be translated and nearly everything is-- but a translation always, at a certain level, keeps part of the truth of that person's words out of reach. There is something truly remarkable about language that exhibits the grace of the human mind in its full glory-- it is what separates us from the beasts and enables us to be political. And now there is some science to prove it
; bilingual individuals fare far better against Alzheimer's disease because they have more control and better use of their minds. Even if you aren't fluent, the practice of learning a language is a tremendous, tremendous exercise of the human mind.
At times I thought us to be like Horatius at the gate. Though, perhaps we were and are just tilting at windmills; in his humor, Dr. Schramm complimented me with a copy of Don Quixote shortly before I graduated. At the end of the day, the student-led movement was simply outvoted by members of the Faculty. However, as futile as it might have been to try take on these progressive strands of relativism and narrow specialty that have been poisoning academia for so long, the fight in and of itself was good and noble-- and I am pleased to say that, from what I'm told, it seems students at Ashland may soon have the opportunity to study the languages of the Ancients under the direction of some of the good minds at the Ashbrook Center. Sophos kagathos.