To the editor:
Druids memorized all essential knowledge of their civilization. What is written, they argued, is forgotten. The point is that all knowledge must be in the mind. That it is written somewhere is meaningless. To be of use, what is known must be in the individual mind. Association and correlation are essential to thought, to thinking, and are the source of all creativity. Da Vinci, Newton, Washington, and Einstein (picking an arbitrary few) were taught the Western Canon, the core knowledge, our cultural memory.
Before Einstein was Einstein, he was a college student. He did not choose to learn the Canon; it was required. What if he had not been required to learn the Great Books? Would we have his theory of relativity?
The argument for doing away with the Western Civ requirement at Kansas University is that students will continue to be required to take humanities courses but will now have the opportunity to better orient what they learn to their specialized course of study. But is such specialization really good? Computers operate on a binary code that needs only a 0 or a 1. Should we allow computer science majors to limit their study of numbers to the two digits they will most frequently use?
While teaching Western Civ for 20 years, I never deluded myself that my students came voluntarily. But I know, in the end, they were glad of the experience. I also know the Great Books made them better doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and managers — and, more importantly, better citizens.