Matthew Kaminski, "Democracy may have had its day", WSJ 4/26/2013:
Donald Kagan is engaging in one last argument. For his "farewell lecture" here at Yale on Thursday afternoon, the 80-year-old scholar of ancient Greece—whose four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War inspired comparisons to Edward Gibbon's Roman history—uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.
Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are "individualized, unfocused and scattered." On campus, he said, "I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness." Rare are "faculty with atypical views," he charged. "Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values." He counseled schools to adopt "a common core of studies" in the history, literature and philosophy "of our culture." By "our" he means Western.
The most striking fact about the higher learning in American is the confusion that besets it. [...] The college of liberal arts is partly high school, partly university, partly general, partly special. Frequently it looks like a teacher-training institution. Frequently it looks like nothing at all. The degree it offers seems to certify that the student has passed an uneventful period without violating any local, state, or federal law, and that he has a fair, if temporary, recollection of what his teachers have said to him. As I shall show later, little pretense is made that many of the things said to him are of much importance.
And then there's Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987, where… oh, never mind. Still, talk about ignorance of the past. Each narcissist in succession thinks that he's the first to notice that Kids Today lack a moral core and don't share a common grounding in canonical texts and ideas, while Professors Today don't know what they're doing and are too uniform in their commitment to diversity.
For more on Donald Kagan's farewell, see Jim Shelton, "Yale's Donald Kagan, a lightning rod to the nation, retires", New Haven Register 4/25/2013; Jiwon Lee, "In last lecture, Kagan stresses the liberal arts", Yale Daily News 4/26/2013; Scott Johnson, "Donald Kagan Looks Back", Powerline 4/27/2013; "Kagan's Farewell Lecture", Powerline 5/4/2013.
Or watch the videos of the lecture yourself here (in five parts).
While I have your attention, I want to treat you to some more of Robert Hutchins' fine 1936 rant, this time about "the degeneracy of instruction in English grammar":
The degeneracy of instruction in English grammar should not blind us to the fact that only through grammatical study can written works be understood. Grammar is the scientific analysis of language through which we understand the meaning and force of what is written. Grammar disciplines the mind and develops the logical faculty. It is good in itself and as an aid to reading the classics. It has a place in general education in connection with the classics and independently of them. [...]
I add to grammar, or the rules of reading, rhetoric and logic, or the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning. The classics provide models of excellence; grammar, rhetoric, and logic are means of determining how excellence is achieved. We have forgotten that there are rules for speaking. And English composition, as it is commonly taught, is a feeble and debased imitation of the classical rules of writing, placing emphasis either on the most trivial details or on what is called self-expression.
For discussions of the "cultural void, [...] [and] sense of rootlessness and aimlessness" among youth of even earlier eras, see "Kids today", 3/11/2010.