21 June 2011

McCullough On Higher Learning - "It's Shocking"

Yeah, I know. I've been saying the same thing for quite some time now.

America's historian, David McCullough, recently revealed his thoughts on the current state of America's "esteemed institutions of higher learning" in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:

'We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate," David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, "I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don't know." Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. "It's shocking."

Of course, McCullough is no right-wing pundit simply railing against the ruling elite. He's a respected, Pulitzer prize winning (twice) historian in his own right. His concerns and warnings should be given serious consideration by all of us, particularly those in academia who claim to love their craft; yet who would normally be among the first to poo-poo most of McCullough's concerns. Let me take just a moment to highlight some of the points raised in the WSJ piece:

McCullough makes this observation:

"History is often taught in categories—women's history, African American history, environmental history—so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea what followed what."
As a fellow history blogger and a Civil War historian confided in me some time ago, it is difficult for historians to get advanced degrees in military history by focusing on battles and leaders. Much of the subject matter in the field has been exhausted. Thus, they now focus more on the "social aspect" of history - class, "gender" issues, race, etc. Case in point - read these recent posts (here and here) at Civil War Memory and see how the comments immediately gravitated to discussions on the abuses of "white men in power", race, sexuality, and discrimination against women. First, those commenting come off sounding like lab technicians examining something they don't quite understand (a different perspective and memory of the antebellum South) under a microscope. But put them under the microscope and examine their comments and thought processes as they discuss the topic and you'll kinda get an idea of what McCullough is talking about. Academic historians tend to gravitate to these issues because that's what their classes and professors focused on. They seem predisposed to head in that direction.

McCullough also brings up a point discussed often here - but, again, poo-pooed by complicit (and deceitful) academics:

What's more, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back"—such as, say, Thomas Edison—"are given very little space or none at all."
One well known Civil War blogger went so far once in dismissing PC concerns as to say he didn't even know what political correctness meant. Really? 

Again, McCullough raises a point I've raised as well:

"And they're so badly written. They're boring! Historians are never required to write for people other than historians."
You can read the complete WSJ piece here. You might also be interested in this recent post on the same subject matter.


Brock Townsend said...

Civil War Memory
That site is a waste of time unless you have a one track mind which only considers the Marxist viewpoint.

The Warrior said...


Thomas said...

Historians? No, agitators. Agitators that continue to divide because that's how they earn their keep. No division, no dollar. Slaves to their PC masters.

John Stoudt said...

Mr. Williams:

At the risk of side-tracking your post, I would add that an understanding of American history must depend upon an understanding of politics, economics, society, and religion. (and I would underscore the word religion). How can one understand the military history without a foundation of religious history?

For me, the Biblical justification of slavery is essential to understanding Southern secession and the Confederate war effort.

I was educated in a public school, but I learned nothing about the Southern Biblical defense of slavery. I recently presented an educational program to a group of three conservative Christian home schooled families, and they had not studied -- yet -- this topic. They seemed to be surprised that any American would use the Bible to justify the enslavement of others.

If any one teaches the antebellem Biblical justification of slavery, then should it not be Christian home schooling parents? They should be able to provide the doctrinal and historical context for this topic.

If I may ask: how do you teach the antebeluum Southern Biblical justification of slavery in your home school?

Thank you for your time,

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

John - I do not believe there is any "justification" for slavery. The institution is, by its very nature, antithetical to the Gospel of Christ. Stealing one's labor is theft - a direct violation of one of the 10 Commandments. I believe God "allowed" slavery for purposes only He knows. The example of the Hebrews and Egyptians provides us with some insight. Throughout history, during times of war, it has been considered one of the "spoils for the victor" to make slaves of those they conquered. That is a different topic altogether. American slavery was made possible because of "man stealing" - something the Bible specifically condemns and which was punishable by death. I address this in more detail in my book about Jackson's Sunday school class. Bottom line - those theologians who used the Bible to justify American slavery were, at best, sorely misguided.