Jewish World Review July 17, 2000/10 Tamuz, 5760
Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
ONCE UPON A TIME in the bad old days you couldn't graduate from most colleges and universities
without taking a course in both American and European history. Nobody grumbled about it. We
were prisoners of a system that honored Abraham Lincoln's famous caution: "Fellow citizens, we
cannot escape history.''
In those bad old days such cautions became cultural cliches and paraphrased as part of nearly
everybody's conventional information. History makes men wise, it teaches the future as well as the
past and enables us to understand the present. The past is not dead, as William Faulkner said every
Southerner knows, because it is not even past. Sometimes history even prevents our repeating the
mistakes of other peoples, other times.
An appreciation for history was considered indispensable to a democracy. "If a nation expects to
be ignorant and free,'' said Jefferson, "it expects what never was and never will be.''
This kind of thinking has not been totally lost, but it sure is hard to find in the places you'd most
expect it see it kicking and screaming. At 55 colleges and universities, including some of the most
elite -- Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Duke, Michigan and Stanford among them -- absolutely
none requires a course in American history. Only 22 percent require a course in any history at all.
Even more bizarre is what is required. At many colleges students must take two courses in a
"non-Eurocentric culture or society.'' These don't have to be history courses. Cultural studies
requirements can be met with courses in anthropology, human development, sociology, theater,
dance, film and video courses. "Historical studies'' and "social science'' requirements are satisfied
with courses in women's studies and public policy.
State requirements for California college students mandate an American Cultures course, but not
necessarily history. Course choices include "No Body's Perfect'' (in the English Department),
"Alternative Sexual Identities and Communities,'' and "Cultural Landscape of the San Francisco
Even those who support diversity can't be happy (can they?) that a Peoples and Cultures
requirement can be met with a course in "Afro-American Music'' and "Emotions and the Self.''
All these examples are taken from a most troubling report called "Losing American's Memory:
Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century,'' released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni,
a nonprofit organization which advocates more requirements for a liberal arts education. The report
shocked a lot of parents who shell out $20,000 a year (and more) to educate - to use the term
loosely -- their children at America's best schools. They learned that only 34 percent of the 556
randomly selected seniors surveyed knew that George Washington was an American general at the
Battle of Yorktown; 37 percent thought such a general was Ulysses S. Grant. Only 23 percent
correctly identified James Madison as "Father of the Constitution''; 53 percent chose Thomas
Despite all the black studies, only about 1 in 4 could identify Frederick Douglass as a black
abolitionist leader. Seventy percent didn't know that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves,
because it applied only to the Confederate states in rebellion and excluded loyalist slave states.
The pop culture, no surprise, gets the highest marks, with Beavis and Butthead garnering 99 percent
recognition, and rapster Snoop Doggy Dogg getting 98 percent identification. (If the students had
been asked about the source of a character known as Big Brother, the bet here (I'll lay 100 to 1
odds) is that majority would name the new television show of that name, and not George Orwell's
The report set off school alarm bells in Washington, where education is the topic of urgency in this
election year. It even provoked a rare burst of bipartisanship in Congress. Sen. Joseph Lieberman
of Connecticut, a Democrat, and Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington, a Republican, introduced a
resolution urging the nation's colleges to adopt American history requirements. A similar resolution
has been introduced in the House. Our civic life, our common purpose, our freedom, depends on it.
Jacques Barzun makes exactly this point with trenchant dismay in his best-selling book, "From
Dawn to Decadence.'' Says he: "When the nation's history is poorly taught in schools, ignored by
the young, and proudly rejected by qualified elders, awareness of tradition consists in only wanting
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink
©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate