Scorched Earth

The great debate over the humanities curriculum is the one that never took place. What some disgruntled academics call "the traditional curriculum" is really the hopeless hodgepodge that was cobbled together in the period that stretches, roughly speaking, from the end of the Great War to the Vietnam era. The true traditional curriculum (that is, the classical curriculum) had already been destroyed by the great vandals—Harvard's President Eliot (a mediocre chemist) and the disciples of John Dewey—and out of the rubble a sterile and generic humanities curriculum had been patched together by well-intentioned and desperate men (Hutchins in Chicago, Meiklejohn at the University of Wisconsin). It did not work, it could not work, and the only people who mourn its passing are themselves the victims of a dumbed-down system that annually cranks out English Ph.D.'s like so many cheap VCRs: they may have the wiring to show films of Hamlet, but the only videos available are of Brian Di Palma's latest or old Doris Day movies.

Although both Thomas Molnar and Jacques Barzun have had valuable things to say, the last really good book on the collapse of American education was Albert Jay Nock's Page Barbour lectures. For their subtitle alone, the authors of Who Killed Homer? deserve our gratitude for reopening the one really important question in higher education, namely, the indispensability of classical...

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