Donald Kagan's farewell

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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.

Seems like I've heard this before. For example, in Robert Maynard HutchinsThe Higher Learning in America (1936) — which argued for a return to education founded on Great Books, because

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.


  1. Bill W said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    "The classics provide models of excellence; grammar, rhetoric, and logic are means of determining how excellence is achieved."

    He must not have delved too deeply into the devious logical casuistry of the Attic Orators–Demosthenes, etc.

  2. fev said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    And their music–it's just noise.

  3. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 9:16 am

    I add to grammar, or the rules of reading, rhetoric and logic, or the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning.

    Is this a grammatical sentence? Would someone parse it, please!

  4. Ø said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 9:27 am


    I think it means "I add to grammar (i.e. the rules of reading) rhetoric and logic (i.e. the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning)."

  5. djw said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

    fev–The music of kids today or of the ancients? Have you listened to that stuff?

    I agree that too much of what passes for "liberal arts" today does little to challenge students to think creatively, reason logically, or perform exceptionally; I know of too many English teachers (and department heads) who think that spending more than 5 or 10 minutes to read an essay is probably wasting time, and marking up errors in style, grammar, or reasoning is just too intimidating for the students. I teach in an engineering department where the students write nearly nothing in classes other than mine because that's just not what engineers teach. I cringe.

    On the other hand, I refuse to believe that good writing, creative thinking, and challenging ideas ended with the ancients. We've had one or more brilliant folks since Aristotle, and they may be worthy of our time, too.

    Ø–I think you're right. That wasn't the way I parsed it the first time, but yours makes more sense than mine does!

  6. Jason said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    An' ain't nobody memorizin' Confucius no more. Damned shame.

  7. Circe said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    I used to think that this longing for a Golden-Age-Long-Gone-Never-to-Come-Back was a "unique" feature of a section of academic politics in India. Looks like it is more of a pandemic than a localized epidemic.

  8. Andy Averill said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

    "…only through grammatical study can written works be understood."

    If that's true you're going to be in deep doo-doo when you get to Shakespeare.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

    The extent to which U.S. high school and college education was self-consciously modeled on certain classical models (or perhaps a Renaissance et seq. conjectural reconstruction/adaptation of those models) was already in steep decline by '36 when Hutchins was complaining and has further declined since then. It may be a good or bad thing that prestige colleges first started admitting students who knew Latin but not yet Greek on the assumption they could catch up on the Greek in the following 4 years (I think Yale crossed that line as early as the 1890s), but the doomsayers who predicted that eventually an absolute majority of college graduates would have zilch acquaintance (not even a year in high school) with either classical language were proved correct. Kagan was a popular teacher when I was an undergraduate because he taught ancient history classes that did not require any ability to read original-language source materials (he may have also taught a few tiny-enrollment seminars that did, to be fair). A hundred years before I graduated, 100% of my college's B.A.'s would have read both Homer and the New Testament in Greek. In my class, I'd say it was about 2% for Homer and <1% for the NT. OTOH, the percentage of graduates a century earlier whose math had gotten as far as single-variable calculus was probably dramatically lower . . .

    The attempt to teach "rhetoric" in English along self-consciously classical models (arguably sophistical, of course) lasted for a while, but likewise proved unstable.

  10. arcseconds said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 11:32 pm

    One of the things we should take into account with our attitudes towards university education today is that the proportion of the population with degrees has been increasing significantly for the last century or so.

    Even if you hanker after the grand old days of classical education in Arts curricula and think current liberal arts are highly watered down, on the whole the population is vastly more educated than it was at any time in the past. And I wouldn't be surprised if the proportion of people who can read Greek has mostly stayed static!

  11. maidhc said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 3:54 am

    To quote from "The Varsity Drag":

    Why should a sheik learn how to speak
    Latin and Greek badly?
    Give 'em a neat motto complete
    Say it with feet gladly!
    First lesson right now
    You'll love it and how you'll love it!

    Here is the drag, see how it goes
    Down on your heels, up on your toes
    That’s the way to do the varsity drag!

  12. Doug Wykstra said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 6:04 am

    I see nothing in any of the examples you listed that any of the individuals who made those statements "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." Of course, implying that they do think they were first is the only way you could reasonably label them narcissists, so I understand the reasoning behind your framing of their statements.

    Of course, this framing carries with it the additional implication that anyone who attempts to bring attention to a societal ill must think s/he is the first person to ever bring it up. So I feel compelled to ask why you think you are the first person to ever notice that some professors have inaccurate, nostalgic views about education?

    [(myl) If you read Hutchins and Bloom, and listen to Kagan, you'll see that their diagnoses are almost exactly the same, and their prescriptions are also, mutatis mutandis, very similar. Hutchins was a major figure in the history of American higher education — dean of Yale Law School, president and chancellor of the University of Chicago — and his books were widely read and discussed, and remain so today. And yet Allan Bloom, who taught at Yale and the University of Chicago among other places, managed somehow not to mention Hutchins in his widely-read and widely-discussed book The Closing of the American Mind — a truly extraordinary omission. And then we have Donald Kagan, who as dean of Yale College famously feuded with the faculty over educational philosophy, and whose lecture about what's wrong with American higher education is under discussion here — a lecture that (as far as I can tell) never mentions either Hutchins or Bloom.

    By the normal standards of academic discourse, Bloom and Kagan's failure to mention earlier work is bizarre.

    As for my own approach in this blog post: In the first place, I'm not asserting that Hutchins, Bloom, and Kagan have inaccurate views about the history of higher education, or for that matter have incorrect prescriptions, merely that Bloom and Kagan have an oddly a-historical approach to the analysis. And in the second place, my failure to cite earlier observations (of this odd failure to cite earlier observations on the part of a certain type of educational philosopher) is due to genuine ignorance of any earlier observations to cite. In my defense, I'll note that we're talking about one topic among hundreds covered in a wide-ranging web log, not the focus of a controversial book or a major academic address on a central theme of my life's work. But if you know of previous observations along the same lines, I'll be very happy to learn about them.]

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 9:50 am

    Hutchins/Bloom/Kagan are probably all focused on a lost "Golden Age" that was actually fairly brief (basically the first half of the 20th century, plus or minus), viz. the transition period after most U.S. elite colleges stopped being explicitly Christian and instead swapped in mythologized versions of "Western Civ" and the "Great Books" as a semi-idolatrous substitute source of transcendent truth. It should not be particularly surprising that that proved an unstable equilibrium, although it may seem paradoxical that the post-medieval infatuation with the pagan ancients as educational role models had previously lasted for centuries as long as it remained embedded in a post-ancient Christian matrix.

    But as to arcseconds' point: the first decent stats I could google up quickly say that in 1948 (when Kagan and Bloom were teenagers), 429K out of 5.6M U.S. high school students were taking Latin whereas by 2000 it was 177K out of 13.5M – so Latin enrollment dropped well over 50% in absolute terms as total enrollment grew well over 100% in absolute terms. And 1948 is already late in the process – I have seen earlier stats I can't google up without taking 15 minutes I don't have this morning, but IIRC prior to WW1 only a minority of the U.S. population in the relevant age group completed high school but possibly an absolute majority of those who did had studied Latin. I watched a documentary recently about some of the history of Jim Crow segregated schools in my native Delaware, from which I learned that while only a tiny percentage of the black students a century ago managed to complete high school (when there was only one public high school in the entire state they could attend), all of those who did had been required to study Latin (the school hired Latin teachers out of the tiny pool of black alumnae of e.g. Radcliffe and Oberlin).

    What we have now may be better in many ways, but the centrality of Latinity to whatever passed for high-falutin' formal education at the time was a constant among English-speaking people from the days of, say, the Venerable Bede until circa 1920, so noting its passing is something more than an applied case of generic whining about how today's kids are uniquely horrible/slothful/disrespectful/etc., which I expect is already a stock comic theme in Plautus if not in Aristophanes.

  14. Chris Cooper said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 9:56 am

    @Coby Lubliner

    > I add to grammar, or the rules of reading, rhetoric and logic, or the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning.

    >Is this a grammatical sentence? Would someone parse it, please!

    Obviously, it's grammatical. Parsing it is trivial.

    @ Ø

    > Coby,

    >I _think_ it means "I add to grammar (i.e. the rules of reading) rhetoric and logic (i.e. the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning)."

    That's obviously right; so why add an implied sneer with your "I _think_ …"?

    @ djw

    > Ø–I think you're right. That wasn't the way I parsed it the first time, but yours makes more sense than mine does!

    Is everyone trying to prove Hutchins's point?


  15. Lane said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    The Hutchins link is not working for me.

    Declinism has indeed been around a long time. Now, as paranoids say, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you," and as declinists say "just because declinism has been around since the invention of writing doesn't mean society isn't going down the tubes *right now*." But since this is essentially a temporal mode of criticism – things were better *before* and they're getting really bad *now* – any declinist who wants to be taken seriously has to overcome the hurdle of explaining why Kids Today *really are* degenerate, why it really is urgent this time, and whether the many declinists who came before were right or wrong.

  16. M.N. said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    Chris Cooper @9:56: Yeah. It's just that when the sentence is written down, it can get a little garden-pathy. The string "the rules of reading, rhetoric and logic" is particularly unfortunate. When spoken aloud, of course, it's easy to interpret ("I add to GRAMMAR, or the rules of reading, RHETORIC and LOGIC, or the rules of writing speaking and reasoning"). If I had to transcribe the speech, I'd use parentheses or dashes instead of commas for exactly this reason.

    "I think" is usually interpreted as a sign of politeness. Technically, by saying "I think that p", Ø is making a weaker statement than if he had just said "p". And, for that matter, it's technically a statement about his own mental state (which we could have inferred if he'd just said "p", assuming he was obeying the Maxim of Quality). Ø is giving his interlocutor the option of updating his knowledge state with "Ø believes that p" while still remaining agnostic about the truth of p itself. If he'd just said "p", on the other hand, the addressee's only options are to accept the truth of p or to challenge Ø ("no, I think you're wrong about p").

    If you're not convinced that Ø is being sincere (if you suspect him of false humility, for instance), then that's one thing. But an "implied sneer"?

  17. Katie said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    Somewhat trivial, but: "In my class, I'd say it was about 2% for Homer and <1% for the NT."

    Wait, really? How long ago was this? My class, which had some 1300 students, almost definitely did not include 26 students who had read Homer in Greek. I'd say 10 tops.

    At any rate, these men all sound like rather unsavory characters, but the paragraph you quoted from Hutchins is actually pretty reasonable. College really is mostly about signaling one's ability to get through four years of satisfying one's superiors and reach all the appropriate developmental milestones. (Obviously, this is specific to elite liberal arts colleges.) And it's absolutely true that nobody pretends that anything of value is being taught during those years. Any curriculum, classical or not, would do the students at these colleges a whole lot of good.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

    @Katie: I graduated from college in 1987 but obviously everything has gone to heck in a handbasket since then . . . I'm not perfectly visualizing exactly how many students were seated around the quite long wooden table when I was taking Homer in spring of my junior year (with a lovely tweedy old-school professor who's now long dead), but it was certainly much closer to 27 (out of class of approx 1350) than 10 (and of course not everyone in that class was in the same graduating year as me and there were other people in my graduating year who would have taken the same or a similar class at a different point in their academic progress, including I would guess a handful who might have read Homer in Greek before starting college).

  19. KevinM said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

    "I add to grammar, or the rules of reading, rhetoric and logic, or the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning." It is hard to understand – especially because "or" can be a miscue for "alternatively" and because it's easy to read grammar rhetoric and logic as a list, instead of reading the first as the object of "to" and the second and third as the object of "add."
    Phrased a little more clearly for the printed page, the sense is:
    "To grammar, or the rules of reading, I add rhetoric and logic, or the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning."
    BTW: What's with "Rare are "faculty with atypical views," he charged."?
    OK, atypical things are rare. But isn't the whole thrust of his presentation a plea for more uniformity?

    [(myl) It certainly seems odd for Prof. Kagan to complain that students (and their courses of study) are too diverse, while faculty are too uniform. The way to resolve the paradox, I think, is to interpret him to mean that faculty who agree with him are rare. The tone as well as the content of his talk suggests that he would be happy with faculty uniformity in support of his views.]

  20. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

    Come to think of it, it was during Kagan's brief and stormy tenure in senior management at Yale at the dawn of the '90's that the unfortunate concept of addressing the budgetary stresses of the moment by axing the Linguistics Department (also I think maybe Sociology, which never would be missed . . .) was put on the table, but I don't know how much credit/blame for that particular proposal should go to Kagan as opposed to others in management at the time whose tenures also soon came to variously stormy ends (and then the budgetary stresses melted away because the endowment started throwing off money at a rate beyond the wildest dreams of Scrooge McDuck).

    Of course, we all seem to be relying on secondhand accounts of Kagan's valediction which quote only brief fragments. The whole thing is apparently available on the web as a series of youtube videos, but . . . it looks to run about an hour and I'm not going to devote an hour. If someone were to transcribe it (I can probably skim a transcript of an hour lecture in <5 mins), that would be a mitzvah. It does sound from context like it was aimed at a generalist audience of undergraduates et al and one would not necessarily expect that sort of presentation, just as a matter of genre, to be accompanied by a lot of scholarly apparatus and citations to prior declinists. The quite capacious room he spoke in is where as an undergraduate I saw orations on controversial topics of the day by such luminaries as Bob Guccione of Penthouse and a high-ranking spokesman for the apartheid-era South African government, neither of whom spoke in footnotes.

    [(myl) FWIW, you can read Google's automatic captions from the speech here.

    The transcript mixes accurate regions with passages featuring a certain "Anguish Languish" charm, e.g. rendering

    The social sciences, far from producing a progressive narrowing of differences, and a growing agreement on a common body of knowledge, and of principles capable of explanation and prediction,


    the social font-size is far from producing
    a progressive narrowing
    of differences me
    and of growing agreements
    on a common body of knowledge
    and of principles capable of explanation
    and prediction


    A liberal education was one suitable to a free man, who, it was assumed, was well born and rich enough to afford it.


    a liberal education
    was one suitable
    to a free man who
    it was a sarong
    was well born
    and rich enough
    tool ford

    Or my favorite, Kagan's opening,

    My subject is liberal education. The term requires definition, especially as to the questions, what is a liberal education, and what is it for?

    my subject
    liberal education
    and today more than ever
    that term requires definition
    especially as to the questions
    what use electrolytic pickling
    and what does it for

    I feel that the concept of higher education as electrolytic pickling is a metaphor with significant possibilities.

    Still, you should be able to get the drift…

  21. Ø said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

    Chris, I had some brief difficulty parsing that sentence until I saw that "reading, rhetoric and logic" might not be a list. After that, as you say, it became trivial. But then some doubt arose in my mind when I began to ask myself how it could be that grammar is the rules of reading while something else is the rules of writing and speaking.

  22. Alex Blaze said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

    Strangely, the solution for everyone thinking the same or that BA's don't confer much useful knowledge is increased specialization, not liberal arts. I'm sure they have counter-intuitive ways of arriving at the liberal arts, but getting everyone to read the same books – books that aren't known for providing on-the-job training – will only producing people who all think the same.

    Because the argument from these sorts of people is never "the canon should be taught alongside everything else"; it's "the canon should supplant these books that I don't like, but it can exist along some technical training."

    That conclusion only happens if the "uniformity of thought" decried on campuses by these sorts is more "there are thoughts I don't agree with, and since I care little about them they all seem the same to me." That sort of sloppy thinking shouldn't be creating college curricula.

  23. pjharvey said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 2:21 am

    Perhaps it is that those with decades of additional experience in research and learning simply don't realise how far they have progressed compared to when they, too, were students. It is easy to lose sight of our own progress if we think it not particularly remarkable, and any external comparison made will then suffer as a result.

    Anyone remaining in academia for any amount of time and who looks back at high school will almost certainly be baffled by how easy the subjects seem to them, and could falsely reason that it is because teaching has been simplified, instead of reaching the more obvious conclusion that they have long outgrown the broad fundamentals being taught.

  24. PaulB said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 7:43 am

    I wonder, when we talk about people in days of yore having read the New Testament, etc. in Greek and all that jazz, just how many of these people force-fed the classics could really read them independently? Or did they just half-ass their way through the texts under the direction of their teachers? To me, the real question is what percentage of these folks, once their Latin and Greek schooling was behind them, actually read a text in one of those languages for pleasure or edification. I'm guessing the percentage is miniscule. In my view, any education, including one based on the classics, is just jumping through hoops unless it has a serious impact on the way you think. Most people have always been happy just to have the hoops behind them.

  25. Michael said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 11:44 am

    Heh. Cranks complaining about the good old days is such a common trope, that it is quite glaring that these folk would not reference those that came before them (i.e. Kagan with no Bloom or Hutchins). Didn't Newton say he saw farther by standing on the shoulders of giants? Apparently Kagan and Bloom prefer to work alone, cursing the darkness and ignoring the lights around them.

    Having earned a teaching credential from the local state college, his assertion that you quoted at the beginning is very entertaining and hard to ignore. Indeed, most of those that go through the credential program went to that same school for undergrad and majored in liberal studies. The curriculum of that liberal studies program is basically teacher-training. Which came first, though? Did the liberal arts students seek teaching credentials or did the department itself originate with the design of promoting teacher training?

    I do agree with previous commentators that the structure and wording of the second paragraph is a bit disturbing. If there are rules for writing and for speaking, why does that paragraph seem to violate the latter?

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    Skimming the Ladle Rat Rotten Hut transcript myl kindly provided we can now see that Kagan does expressly mention Bloom by name (not specifically for having written That Book, but as a personal example of someone who bucked the consensus when both he and Kagan were on the Cornell faculty during a tumultuous period and thus in Kagan's opinion an example of the good sort of professor of which today's faculties supposedly have too few). Since Kagan's reference by name to the 18th century Ur-Declinist Gibbons is transcribed as "givens," I'm not yet prepared to say he *doesn't* mention Hutchins, because I can't even imagine the range of orthographic possibilities to search for . . .

  27. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

    @Alex Blaze: the obvious historical counterexample is that the English-speaking peoples on both sides of the Atlantic developed from the 16th through 19th centuries into one of the more radically pluralistic societies in human history largely because: a) almost everyone agreed that the answers to most important questions could be derived from a single canonical text (the Bible); but b) everyone was at liberty to read and interpret that text for himself, even without the benefit of being able to read Greek. Attempts by teachers and other adult authority figures to impose their own interpretation of the text on subsequent generations met with rather mixed success. Myl in another thread recommended Cobbett's interesting-sounding "Grammar of the English Language, In a Series of Letters, Intended for the Use of Schools and of Young Persons in general; but, more especially for the Use of Soldiers, Sailors, Apprentices, and Plough-boys." I rather suspect the last bit of the title may have been an allusion to Tyndale's famous boast almost three centuries earlier that his goal as translator was to enable "the boy that driveth the plow" to have just as much ability to read and interpret the canonical text as the Bishop of London had.

    At a higher social stratum, the fixed classical curriculum of high-end education in Victorian/Edwardian England seems in practice to have produced a dizzying array of dotty eccentrics with an extraordinarily wide range of beliefs on any subject you might care to name. Being compelled to translate Herodotus line by line at age 13 or what have you was perfectly compatible with turning into a Col. Blimp type in favor of subjugating the Fuzzie-Wuzzies with a Maxim Gun but equally compatible with turning into some louche Bloomsbury habitue enamored of free love and Fabian gradualism. There's an essay by Auden somewhere or other about the vastly different idealized images of the ancient Greeks different factions in the English intelligentsia liked to believe in, ranging from Pioneers of Science to Libertine Aesthetes, and the advocates of all of those viewpoints had been compelled to read more or less the same Greek texts in school.

  28. William Berry said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Coby Lubliner said,
    May 5, 2013 @ 9:16 am

    @Coby Libliner: "Is this a grammatical sentence? Would someone parse it, please!"

    One gets bogged down a bit initially, but the basic sense is clear enough. It is just a really awkward and miscast sentence. It takes only modest adjustment to recast to a much higher degree of readability and clarity. I suggest: "To grammar, or the rules of reading, I add rhetoric and logic, or the rules of writing, speaking, and reasoning."

    So, what is going on with Hutchins' stylings?

    I wouldn't want to waste time researching the matter, but I suspect that much of what he writes approaches this "style". I am reminded of C. Wright Mills's remarks on the writing of C. H. Parsons, in which he suggests that this style is just a kind of academic jargon that is built on ego and pretension. Mills cooked down two rambling, convoluted, repetitious paragraphs of Parsons into a couple of concise sentences.

  29. William Berry said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    Sorry: Thought I had read the whole thread, but I see that Kevin M beat me to it.

  30. Chris Cooper said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

    @ M.N.

    > "I think" is usually interpreted as a sign of politeness.

    I believe it was sarcasm here – which is why I was a bit impolite in my comment.

    > If you're not convinced that Ø is being sincere (if you suspect him of false humility, for instance), then that's one thing.

    That's the very thing.


  31. Victoria Simmons said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 1:29 am

    Kagan may be floating far, far above the field where contemporary university issues are being fought out, but I don't know that he is wrong in seeing curricula as far too diffuse to produce a coherently educated graduate. That's not to say that his solution is the answer (even though I myself did do Latin and Greek in school), but now the problem is complicated by defunding, the taking over of universities by the business model, and an increasing emphasis on online offerings, not to mention a massive identity crisis about what a college education is actually supposed to do: make us better-rounded people? better critical thinkers? more employable? better citizens?

    In the midst of all that, the turf wars in which Classicists lobby for how we neeeeeeeed a classical education, or in which medievalists are having a collective plotz over the MLA proposal to collapse Old English and Middle English into one section, may seem the equivalent of demanding an especially flattering chapeau for a trip to the guillotine.

  32. Robert E. Harris said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 1:30 am

    Old folks making suggestions about education has a long history.

    I recall someone (Lewis Thomas?) suggesting that the undergraduate education for premed students might better be a full course of classical Greek and its texts rather than the big concentration on sciences, as it is now. He gave some reasons.

    My view, as a chemist, is that a better start for a liberal education might be a course of elementary abstract mathematics, such as group theory or number theory, as these do not require much ability to do simple arithmetic. Then study the history of our common language. Perhaps a dose of Old English, say Beowulf followed by the Anglo Saxon Chronicle could better replace Latin. I'd also have some sort of course in elementary engineering, say how and why bridges stay up or fall down.

    Now that I am retired, I am reading some Latin and studying elementary number theory. Maybe Beowulf is next. Definitely not classical Greek.

  33. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    May 9, 2013 @ 12:47 am

    If we could just twist Hutchins' words to mean that all students should be required to study linguistics (which, after all, is the true formal study of grammar), then we might claim a very eminent and conservative supporter of compulsory linguistics in the core curriculum.

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