The Death of Learning: The Atlas Society Asks John Agresto

April 24, 2024 01:00:37
The Death of Learning: The Atlas Society Asks John Agresto
The Atlas Society Presents - The Atlas Society Asks
The Death of Learning: The Atlas Society Asks John Agresto

Apr 24 2024 | 01:00:37

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Show Notes

Join CEO Jennifer Grossman for the 201st episode of The Atlas Society Asks, in which she interviews Professor John Agresto about his book "The Death of Learning: How American Education Has Failed Our Students and What to Do About It."

Author of several books, including "Rediscovering America," "Mugged By Reality," and his latest, "The Death of Learning: How American Education Has Failed Our Students and What to Do About It," John Agresto is the former President of St. John’s College. Professor Agresto formerly served as a senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the 201st episode of the Atlas Society asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. As you know, I go by Jag. I'm the CEO of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit introducing young people to the literature and philosophy of Ayn Rand in a variety of ways, including graphic novels and animated videos, even music videos. Today, we are joined by John Agresto. I'm very excited for this guest, which is a good thing, because I just got back from Australia, and I have been looking forward to interviewing this author before I'm going to introduce him. However, I want to remind all of you, if you are joining us on Zoom, Instagram x, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, you know what to do. Use the comment section to type in your questions, and we will get to as many of them as we can. So, Professor John Agresto is author of several books, including Rediscovering America, mugged by Reality, and his latest, which we will be discussing today, the depth of learning how american education has failed our students and what to do about it. For nearly a dozen years, professor agresto served as president of St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He's joining us from there today. He's taught at several universities, including Duke University, Kenyon College, University of Toronto, and others. Professor Agresto has held several government appointments, including being tasked with the responsibility of helping to rebuild Iraq's 21 universities and technical schools as an advisor to the coalition provisional authority after the Gulf War. John, thank you for joining us. [00:02:00] Speaker B: Thank you for that wonderful introduction. Thank you very much. [00:02:04] Speaker A: So you have had quite the atypical path to becoming a champion of the humanities. We were just chatting as a kid from growing up in Brooklyn, and. [00:02:21] Speaker B: Given. [00:02:22] Speaker A: That you are now an esteemed academic with various academic exploits and having published books, your father instead had advised you to learn how to work the docs. So tell us a bit about your childhood and how you came to instead pursue an academic career. [00:02:47] Speaker B: My father never went to high school. My mother did not finish grade school. We did not have any books in the house except a big set of the book of knowledge that my cousin Judy, who lived in Pennsylvania, got tired of and gave to me. And I think we also had a funk and wagnolds encyclopedia that you got from going to the store. And after you spent so much money, they give you the next volume and the next, however it happened. But I also had pigeons. I'm that kind of a kid from Brooklyn. I had pigeons on the roof. I flew pigeons. My father raced them. I didn't care about racing. I just wanted beautiful birds. What that meant, I had to really read books, read books about pigeons. And so I found this. I went to the library. You couldn't take the book out because it was a reserved book. So every week I'd go to the library, public library, to read this book about pigeons. And maybe I read other things as well. But I looked around, I said, who reads all this stuff? And I'm the only one who wants the pidgin book. This is great. So. Oh, also a book on stamp collecting. I read that, and then I went to catholic school, and then I had a nun, Sister Mary Gerald, in 8th grade, who said, john, do you do any reading outside of what we do in class? I said, yeah, I got a pigeon book. I read a book on tropical fish once in a while. That's it. She said, any literature? I said, no. So she pulled out from under her habit a book called Booth Tarkington's book. Penrod. It was actually Penrod and Sam. The second volume. She said, here, read this. We'll talk about it. I thought, why am I being tortured like this? But I read it, and it was a fabulous book. It's not a great book, as you understand. Great. It's not the odyssey or the Iliad or Shakespeare, but it taught me all kinds of things about using your imagination and what you could do with other kids to annoy grownups. So that was good. And then I went to a jesuit high school where we had to read all kinds of things. Oh, just. And I loved it. I just loved it. And I loved Latin. I loved Shakespeare. I was in Shakespeare plays. And so my father said, what do you want to do all this for? You get a job on the docks, you stop running sandwiches for the guys, you join the union, you work your way up, and you make some money. You can have a nice family. And my father never made much money. He's probably the only person I know who owned a bar that failed. It's hard in Brooklyn to fail at bar ownership, you know? But he didn't do well at that, so he became a day laborer. And his proudest accomplishment was he told me that he poured some of the cement that the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano bridge sits on. [00:06:09] Speaker A: Well, and then somewhere along the path, probably not at a jesuit high school, but maybe I'm wrong. You discovered Ayn Rand as well. [00:06:20] Speaker B: Well, no, it was at a jesuit high school because I was a dutiful student and I did all my homework at home at night. But I got a copy, I think it was a paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged. And I read it on the bus going to school and coming back. That's 800 pages or something like that. And I read it. I took my dutiful. I read it and I read it and read it. And I think I got the gist of it. I remember being impressed with John Galt's speech in there. Very impressed with that. But the rest, I don't know. What I was getting from it was, you got to be your own man. You got to think for yourself. You have to not follow the crowd. You have to be imaginative. You have to be, you have to exercise the will to do what you can be and do what you can. So I said, I think I was like 80 pages from the end. I said, by an act of the will, I'm not finishing this book. And I put it down and never went back. I read Fadino, intellectual, and I read some other things, but I was very proud of myself. I thought I got the gist of the book, at least one of the themes of the book. By not finishing the book. [00:07:35] Speaker A: Well, you definitely got the main takeaways of independent thinking and the fact that you can be right even when the whole world thinks that you're wrong. Certainly another strong theme from the fountainhead. Now, I spent about a dozen years in Washington, DC. I was a speechwriter for the first Bush administration. So I did notice on your amazing resume that you at some point came to work for Bill Bennett, former secretary of education and chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Reagan. So how did that come about? [00:08:20] Speaker B: Well, I was. You mentioned all the places I've taught. I've been. I've been kicked out of some of the best universities and colleges in America. And so I was a rather obstreperous young faculty member. Maybe I got that from Atlas Shrugged and the fountainhead as well. And so I had, you know, they didn't. I was not granted tenure where I was, although later on they repented and invited me back to get an honorary degree. I'll never figure that one out. So I. I applied to something called the National Humanities center in North Carolina. A guy named Charles Frankel was the head of it, and Bill Bennett was the deputy head. He and I became close friends. Reagan picked Bennett to be head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and he asked me to tag along. So I became assistant and deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Then when Bill went to secretary of education, I became the acting chairman. I was acting chairman for 15 months, and it was an adventure. I found myself now people started listening to me, whereas before they never did. And I sort of enjoyed that. So that led me into academic administration. [00:09:54] Speaker A: So another adventure or maybe a misadventure, certainly, I would think would have been your most daunting government post was your assignment to assist Iraqis in rebuilding their once very distinguished system of colleges, universities, vocational schools. You write about that experience and what you learned in your book mugged by reality, the liberation of Iraq, and the failure of good intentions. And I thought that the description of the book was rather arresting. Quote, the sober truth is that we have been thwarted not simply by our failure to understand the culture of the Middle east, but by failures of Americans interact to understand their own culture and what America really stands for. So if you could unpack that a bit for us. [00:10:50] Speaker B: First, I want to say you've read the debt of learning. You've read love by reality. You know, like my sordid past in academia. You want to be my biographer. [00:11:00] Speaker A: You know, if this job doesn't work out, I might take you up on that. [00:11:03] Speaker B: Yeah, I don't pay well, but that's okay. [00:11:05] Speaker A: Well, believe me, I'm not taking a big salary here either. That's. Want the money to all go for our student programming. [00:11:13] Speaker B: Okay, now I forgot what the question was, but how did it. [00:11:17] Speaker A: Yeah, but the mug by reality book, your time in Iraq, maybe what you were expecting to find there and how that experience changed you and changed your outlook on the whole project of kind of nation building, nation rebuilding, and what it says about how we understand the building of our own nation and the preservation of its values. [00:11:45] Speaker B: Well, what you said was pivotal for my writing the book. I kept getting bombarded, bombarded with, oh, you got to understand this culture. You have to understand. And I did pretty much understand a lot. Not knowing much to begin with, I learned pretty fast. What I found out was they really wanted, they didn't want me to be their teacher. Well, they did in a way. They wanted to know about America. Half of the people that we were with there, in fact, more than half when we first got there, you say, well, what do you want to do? I want Iraq to be the 51st state. But little by little, for various reasons, they became disenchanted with America. And it was because we, yes, we went there to be honest, we went there to help. We went there to help them lead a free life, not be tyrannized over. Saddam's tyranny was as bad as what's going on in Ukraine with the Russians right now, just rapes and murders and real torture. Not Abu Ghraib kind of torture, where people put people in cold rooms, but real drills to the back, electric drills. I mean, horrible things. And we can talk about Abu Ghraib later because it's something else I wrote about. But we thought we made this stupid mistake, and we do it all the time as Americans. We think democracy is easy. You want to establish a democratic government, you write a constitution, you have elections, you show your purple thumb that you want to vote, and voila. Democracy. Democracy is the hardest thing in the world to build. I mean, think of the founders. They had to study all about confederacies, all about democracies in the past. They had to learn what the, what Madison calls the diseases of popular government. They had to figure out what those diseases were, what the defects of republican or democratic rule were, and they had to figure out how to make institutions that would be both responsive to the popular will, but not be tyrannical. Be steady, be firm, be intelligent. Now, you wouldn't know that that was the project they set out when you look at politics these days in America. But the reason we have the longest lasting democratic constitution in the world is because they did a pretty good to damn good job for the longest time. But we thought it was easy. You just go in and they vote. [00:14:39] Speaker A: Right? Like pop up country. [00:14:43] Speaker B: A pop up country. Yeah. Yeah. [00:14:45] Speaker A: Not like that. [00:14:46] Speaker B: It's like, even when I went, they wanted me. They had heard that there are universities in a box that I could import, right? Are you crazy? Yeah. We have to talk about. About teaching and learning what you have, what your. What the situation is, what your country's needs are, what your students want us wanted. I mean, any number to. Of ingredients. There is no box that you take. But, but they, uh. And, uh. And that was our fault. It was also the Iraqis fault. They really thought, as one dean of. Dean of, uh, at the University of Baghdad said, we thought you Americans had the wand of Moses in your hand. [00:15:29] Speaker A: Well, there, there is none. But by studying Moses, by studying our founders, by studying the great literature of the past, we can get a window not just on the past, but our present and our own potential. And that is a lot of what you write about in your latest book, the Death of Learning, how american education has failed our students and what to do about it. So in this book, you describe how the humanities and liberal arts educations has fallen out of favor, perhaps, since there seems to be a lot of confusion about terms these days, even what we once originally understood to be the liberal arts education. Perhaps if we can start with your definition of liberal arts education as opposed to technical or trade education. [00:16:25] Speaker B: Well, that's the beginning right there. Liberal education is not technical, it's not trade, it's not vocational. It's not even professional education. It may be the ground of the better things in those. There are lots of kinds of education. You could have civic education, religious education, technical education, vocational. But the liberal arts cut for themselves something that they, in their haughty way, say is foundational to all of the kinds of learning and also of value in itself. Namely, you're going to find out, you're going to ask, discuss, study, read. How do we approach the most important issues of human life, not the important technical issues, but how do we approach what is justice? How could we set up a political system? How can we set up an economic system? Does God exist? Should we? If he exists, what does he want of me? In other words, it is a philosophic, literary, historical education, not an education in agronomy or in computers. Or it may include computer science, but it doesn't include computer technology, particularly, particularly examines the sort of the important questions. And in odd ways, my more conservative friends get mad at me when I say Martin Luther King, a person who was an absolutely great rhetorician and leader of his people and our people, the whole people. What did he study? He studied philosophy, american history, and theology. Okay, good ground. The other person I get in trouble for talking about is Anthony Fauci. What did he study to become the person who basically learned how to cure AIdS? He studied greek and latin classics. I mean, he could probably write papers in Greek or in classical Greek or in Latin, even today. But he then went to medical school, and then he learned so much good that could be applied. So what is it? You mentioned a few subjects. It's the study of what we used to think of as very basic subjects, history, literature, philosophy, classics, and art, I. [00:19:16] Speaker A: Would say as well, Ayn Rand talks about art as the indispensable medium for the communication of a moral ideal. And so studying whether it's history, art, and other subjects that help individuals to form a philosophy of life and that all of us need some kind of operating system to be able to orient ourselves in the world, I probably would push back on Anthony Fauci. [00:19:50] Speaker B: I know you would. [00:19:54] Speaker A: Just let him to a philosophy that involved really, rather than letting people as individuals use their own independent judgment, but to actually implement noble lies in order to manipulate people, but we'll leave that aside for the second. [00:20:15] Speaker B: Leave it aside. But let me add one thing. You rightly added art. Let's also add the liberal arts always were the study of science and mathematics as well. So it's all those things that the human mind and imagination have put together over the years that we can't imagine. We're the first people who ever thought right. [00:20:41] Speaker A: Well, you know, that was another thing that I really thought was so fascinating in reading about your description of the liberal arts education pursued not just by Martin Luther King, but by Jefferson, Madison, Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps you could give some examples of that or summarize what our founding fathers were studying and what they were trying to achieve, trying to gain in that particular approach of study. [00:21:17] Speaker B: Let's start with Abraham Lincoln and work backwards. Abraham Lincoln said that Jefferson was the person who taught him what it meant to see America clearly. And he doesn't mention much about Madison or Hamilton, but Jefferson was there, and he tried to unpack. What could it possibly mean to say all men are created equal? What does being created equal have to do with a country founded on individual rights? It seems to push it. He worked that through. The other person was Shakespeare. And I even mentioned one thing I wrote once, that when he heard of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, he gathered the cabinet together and he read to them from the fall of Macbeth. He wanted them to see what it was like for great, but still wrong men, maybe even evil men, to go under. And he had. The humanity that he had, that Abraham Lincoln had was from reading Jefferson and Shakespeare. He read the Bible. But I dare say, and I'm going to get in trouble for this, too, that he read the Bible mostly for images and metaphors and rhetoric and cadence. And luckily, it was the King James Version, which. Which taught him how to give a speech that had meter to it, that had cadence, that had a kind of. Kind of rise and fall to the flow of the prose. As far as I know, he never wrote poetry, but Peshawar could have if he wanted. Okay, back up. What did the federalist papers know? What the family. Well, let's say Hamilton, Madison, J. They. Before they could start this country, they had to know what confederacies looked like. The failure of confederacies. In the past, democracy was a very bad name. Republics was what they called them. But even those, the only one that really lasted for the longest time was the roman republic. And that had a certain configuration that was not available to us. We had to figure out from reading what we have to do, what are the preconditions for democratic life? What's the preconditions for republican life? What's human nature like? Is Hobbes right? That all men, that life is poor, nasty, brutus and short? Or are others correct that as Madison says, while most people look out for themselves, there's also a, a desire to better the condition of your neighbors, to look out for your country. And without that kind of virtue, you can't start a republic. You can't start a democracy. This is the stuff we didn't know. I mean, I guess maybe I did, but we thought we, in Iraq, we didn't know how to set up university systems and we didn't know how to set up a, a republic or a democracy there. A free country. And so. [00:24:43] Speaker A: Yeah, yeah, so let me just also, I mean, I think, I don't want our conversation to take for granted that everyone knows that the liberal arts have fallen out of favor. Many people watching. I know myself, I've had the opportunity to take western civilization. I'm sure some of our older viewers also have the experience of having studied philosophy, studied history, studied literature in college. So how do you measure the decline of the humanities? Rather than just taking it for granted, does it show up in which kinds of degrees people are pursuing? It's graduate degrees. People are now favoring business, for example, as opposed to literature. How do we, how do we measure it? [00:25:43] Speaker B: Well, we can, you could measure it by what people major in and nobody majors. It used to be when you went to college. Certainly when I went to college, the most popular major was English. [00:25:59] Speaker A: People would. [00:26:01] Speaker B: I remember when I was at National Endowment for the Humanities, we did a, a real high class survey, namely we got the phone book out. Actually, we went to the Forbes 500 and we did what you, a good researcher does. We called every CEO, secretary that we could get a hold of. What did your boss major in in college? And the answer universally was history, English, philosophy, some major in classics, I don't think, except for one or two. One, I think, majored in agronomy and another person majored in business. That is so changed now. Try doing it. Try finding out what the heads of all Fortune 500 companies studied in college. And my guess is it's not going to be what it was then. Okay, so one way to measure the decline of humanities is what students are studying, what they're majoring. In another way is just see what's being taught even in the humanities. I mean, I just talked to someone again, another Zoom call yesterday or the day before. What's the greatest threat to collegiate education? Graduate school. You go to graduate school and you learn, you learn that teaching scholarship, narrow. It's tiny. It doesn't. [00:27:30] Speaker A: Very specialized. [00:27:31] Speaker B: Very specialized. Kids don't go to school to, I had one kid say to me, a high school kid, it's so good. I'm learning how to think like a historian. I said, are you learning any history? No, no. I learned how to do research. I mean, I said, do you know war of the Roses? Do you know what the, the battle of Midway or Bataan? I don't know what you're talking about. So you don't know any history, but you know how to do research. Okay. And so we've, in some ways, we, we've even made, made a liberal education into a trade school. The trade of humanism. [00:28:12] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:28:13] Speaker B: And then the other thing is just to, just to watch the politicization of higher education. And I don't want to blame students altogether that everybody wants to make enough money to have a nice family, to raise good kids. Nobody wants to go to school to be propagandized, to go to someplace that looks like either a left wing or sometimes even a right wing madras. They want to go to get there. They don't want to go and have their minds captured. They want to go to have their minds opened. [00:28:50] Speaker A: Right. Right. All right. Well, we have a lot of people that are watching us that want to have their minds open captured because I've got a whole bunch of questions and we're about halfway through, even though I have still quite a few, many of my own. As I mentioned, I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the audio version, and I recommend both. So we've got the link to the book in the chats, and I hope that you are going to take advantage of it. So let's see here. Candice Morena on Facebook asks, how do you respond to people who repeat the saying, quote those who don't work, teach or some variation on it? She says, it seems to demean the importance of education. So I guess if I could kind of paraphrase or put it take on that question, is the idea that people want to have practical skills and isn't that a good thing? And I guess what you're saying is that you're also missing out if you don't take advantage of the opportunity to ground yourself in the humanities. [00:30:11] Speaker B: Yeah. This is an odd thing to say, but I think the best education I had was in high school. We had people who were, they wanted us to learn. They didn't want us to imitate them. It was not political in any way. They really wanted us to learn and to think and to read and. And it was a perfect mix of freeing our minds and giving us a tradition that we could ground ourselves in. So, american history, I remember even in high school, reading all of democracy in America. Now, it was a separate class from a required class, but we'd get together in the cafeteria with Mister Lwongo. If you're listening to Mister Luango, you're the best person in the world. And we would go through democracy in America chapter by chapter by chapter. What an education that was. So long as you know that teaching is exposing students to the best that's been thought and said rather than having them become little ewes and parrot. You, that's deadly. [00:31:38] Speaker A: All right. On Facebook again, Georgie Alexopoulos asks, do you think the removal of Greek and Latin from the humanities signaled the decline in the current state of education? [00:31:53] Speaker B: Well, it's part and parcel of a wider story. Yeah. And I actually never myself studied Greek. I mean, I know some, but not. But I've studied five years of Latin. Wouldn't have traded it for the world. Studied Latin, French. I spoke Italian natively. And just, you know, we talk an awful lot about diversity and multiculturalism and people think that you got, well, you got this, we got this Latin, you got this Hebrew, you got this Greek. That's all western. It is so far away from what we are to read about, to read Cicero, to read about Catiline, to look at Caesar, to learn a language that's been inflected and non inflected languages. It's an. The reason for studying Latin is because it's not English. The reason for studying Rome is because it's not the United States. It's an alternative way, still within a sort of understandable historical sweep, but a way of saying they had something. We don't have it. Let's compare. [00:33:17] Speaker A: Okay. Alan Moore on Facebook asks, which colleges, if any, do you think still offer a proper humanities education? [00:33:31] Speaker B: That's a hard question, but it's a very important one. [00:33:40] Speaker A: Maybe talk a little bit about the experience at Stanford with removing their western civilization. [00:33:46] Speaker B: Okay, we can do that. We can start there. To make an admission contrary to interest, Bill Bennett and I funded the Stanford attack on the western Civ curriculum. We didn't know we were doing that. We were snookered, but we should have known. They said, we want to do a little expansion of the curriculum. We said, okay, a little expand. We knew that there were black authors who would be wonderful to have maybe they'd want to read a little Ayn Rand in there too. That would be fine to have, maybe they wanted to expand so that we could read some latin american literature. That'd be fine. We didn't know that would be transmogrified into hey, hey, ho ho, western Civ has got to go. We thought we were expanding the curriculum and we gave him thousands upon hundreds of thousands of dollars and then they chopped it and threw the best part of it away and they truncated it and then they got rid of what was truncated. So. Maya Culpa. [00:35:10] Speaker A: Well, it's always refreshing, and I'll have to say it's maybe reflective of a good liberal arts grounding to be able to recognize one's previous mistakes and choose to change course. I'm going to take one more because I know towards the end we're going to talk a little bit about your proposals for reversing and reforming the situation. But we do have a question from x here. Carl Magnussen asking about school choice. Do you think it would increase or decrease the quality of american education and the quality of students that are showing up on college campuses ready to learn? [00:35:56] Speaker B: I tend to think so. I've never, in fact, I've always thought so. I could be proven otherwise, but I think school choice really does. Not to say that parents always know what's best for their kids and teachers don't. But, but let's start with their parents usually know what's best for the kids, except for my father who wanted me to work on the docks. So I. But you did ask before and I sort of didn't hit it directly. Colleges that are worth going to for a good liberal arts education. There are a few. They tend, some of them actually are break. My general rule is if a university has a good reputation, stay away from. But the University of Chicago still has a good solid framework where you can get an extraordinarily good education. Small liberal arts colleges, they tend to be often religious colleges, but often they're just private colleges. I think you can get a good education, a good education, superb education at, where I was president at St. John's, both in Santa Fe and Indianapolis. I'm an advisor off and on to assumption college in Worcester, Massachusetts, that has a great, great ideas and great books program that is now a major there and it's well funded and it's really making a difference. There are other places like that. The thing I would give you as a hint, if you have a kid who wants to go to college, don't go by the college's reputation. Don't go by glossy pictures in the catalog. Read the catalog. Catalogs are amazingly candid. I mean, they will tell you everything you need to know about the place, about the academic life. A lot of times they cover it up. But you could look carefully and then ask questions if you don't understand most of the time. [00:38:10] Speaker A: Good place to start. Another thing I might add, Alan, it's also take a look at the rankings, the free speech rankings by our friends at fhir. And I think that is something, it might be kind of a proxy to understand the values of institution. If they are like my alma mater, Harvard, at the very bottom of the free speech ranking, then might not tell you about the humanities program, but at least it can give you a little bit of an inclination in terms of is their intent to indoctrinate or liberate? Is it to kind of create activists or is it to help young people thing for themselves? Another thing that I recently saw in the free press that you might want to check out, I think it was either this morning or yesterday. It was about a lot of young people choosing southern universities. And it was in particular some of the students that they were looking at were jewish high school students that are looking at what is happening at Columbia and other universities. And also who remember the horrible restrictions and unnecessary, very destructive, very, you know, potentially unhealthy health risk oriented policies during COVID And remembering that they knew some kids that had gone to a southern university and that they had a better time. We can just put it that way. So those are a few, few ideas to check out. We just put the fires rankings right there in the chat. I'll take one more question from Tamara on x. And she's asking what advice would you give to students about to graduate high school and trying to look at potential colleges? I guess we just did that, didn't we? [00:40:23] Speaker B: Yeah, but one, one little thing here. The world is bigger than you know it is than you think it is. Don't say I know what I want to do. You may, don't typecast yourself. Don't put yourself into a box where I think I will be an aerospace engineer. Well, it's a wonderful profession. It really is. But at 17, at 18, at 16, you don't know the world yet. And a liberal education will open the world to you. It will make you see. And not that it'll teach you what. Oh, well, maybe I'll be historian or I'll write novels. No, but through all the studies of the liberal arts, you'll find out more about yourself, find out more about what other people like, what you'll find out, even though they might not call it psychology. You'll know about human nature, human psychology, about what to expect, and you'll not be so easily conned in this world if you get a good education. [00:41:35] Speaker A: Excellent. Let's talk about the rise of multiculturalism and how that played into undermining of the liberal arts. I think you kind of alluded to it tangentially with the experience at Stanford and how you and Bill Bennett, without understanding what the denouement would be, played a role in that. But talk about multiculturalism again. Isn't it just, isn't it great to learn about other cultures? How has this focus on multiculturalism and this moving away from this melting pot type approach to society, how has that undermined liberal arts and humanities education? [00:42:25] Speaker B: My favorite professor ever, Werner Danhauser, some of your interlocutors there may even know he's now dead. But he was a wonderful professor, and he says there are only two things you really have to know. You have to know what's yours and you have to know what's not yours. And that if that's the ground of multiculturalism, then multiculturalism is a wonderful thing. I will learn about my, I'll learn about western civilization. I'll learn about american history, about american politics, or I'll learn, I'll learn Shakespeare. And if you could add to that, rather than to subtract from that, if you could add to that knowledge of chinese history, latin american literature, if you could add to that some other thing that you may want to know, certainly, if we want to add to that the study of foreign languages, which has now seemed to gone totally Kaplooey, if you could add to that, well, I think I'll learn Chinese. I think I'll learn Japanese. I may learn Russian. Certainly we'll learn French. I think I may learn Latin or Greek. That's all good. But what happened to the multicultural movement was it stopped adding and started subtracting. It siloed people into, oh, we're multicultural. You will take, you're black, you should study african american history and literature. Oh, you're now Latinx. Whatever. You have to study Spanish, whatever. Or the barrio or the remnants of colonialism in Jamaica. Instead of expanding people's minds, once you silo them, once you narrow them, it's doing no more than if you said, all you're going to learn here is this one thing, how to be an accountant. That's what you're going to learn. So I don't know, I thought it was. I think looking back on it, Stanford and all the others were con jobs. They talked about multiculturalism, but they didn't mean it. They meant monoculturalism for you. And you know what? The culture of the west, the culture of America, that can't be taught. Yes, you could take latin american poetry, yes, you could take history of Burma, but that you will take seriously your own culture. I'm sorry, that's the culture of oppression and we're not going to teach it. [00:45:14] Speaker A: Horrible how much of this is connected to this kind of shift from liberating minds to capturing minds. Another of our recent guests talking about education was John M. Ellis. And he used some statistics to talk about just even the makeup of the professors that, you know, going back to the sixties, maybe it was three to two, liberal to conservative, and then you move to the seventies and the eighties, and then it's, you know, seven to three and then it's eight to two. And to the situation that you have now where, you know, self identified conservative or republican professors or administrators are virtually non existent. How does that play into this, this process? Is it just that there's just no countervailing balance and so that there's no pushback or no moderation on this impulse? Again, you know, I think this way, I think this is important. I want others to think it, to think it as well. And then doing that with a group of young people whose minds are still being made up and giving into the temptation to indoctrinate rather than provide a foundation. [00:46:43] Speaker B: Everything you said is true. Everything Mister Ellis says is true and has happened. I don't want to go overboard on that for the following reason. I don't care what your politics is. You could be a communist if you are teaching french grammar. I don't care it's french grammar. Try to politicize it. I mean, maybe you can. Maybe I just don't have enough imagination. But you want to learn the third law of thermodynamics. I don't care if you voted for Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. You could still teach me Galileo, Newton and the laws of physics. However, when we get to the humanities and the social sciences, the problem is that people think teaching is preaching. And they, I mean, they. I remember one of my favorite teachers in college who, again, all my betters are dying. He just died. Had us read a book. It was a class on, again, the foundations of american political philosophy. And we were studying Paine and Jefferson and Burke. A good mix. People who had their disagreements and he gave us a book to read, and we read it, and he said, well, what did you think? I was okay. He says, well, I think he's wrong. I said, you assigned a book that's wrong. He said, yes, I want someone here to say who thought it was right, and let's talk. He was the same professor who, when I would say foolish things, and believe me, I said foolish things as a student, who would say, you know, I used to think the same way myself. And then I thought about this. Let's talk about it. Let's talk about what you said and what this other person says in this book and see if we could figure it out. It was not preaching. It was not indoctrination, even though he had. I know he had strong views, but it didn't come in. Even in things like philosophy, you could rise above it. You could rise above you. I mean, I've taught political economy, and I remember a class where I mentioned John Galt's speech to you before, and Edmund Burke, Karl Marx and John Locke, and what else was in there? And Adam Smith. I mean, that's a course you could put together where they are talking, maybe even fighting with each other. And it's up to the student to say, you know, I think he has a better argument over him. That's teaching. As opposed to say, here's the communist manifesto study. It will be a cuisina tomorrow. That's ridiculous. That's not teaching. [00:49:50] Speaker A: So one of my favorite chapters in your book was denigration of the high. And you write that there's this impulse that goes beyond just an egalitarian desire to. [00:50:08] Speaker B: Bring. [00:50:09] Speaker A: People have equality, but that goes to actually wanting to tear down the great books. The idea that America is so thoroughly evil and its institutions and cultural icons must be brought low. So where is this coming from? Is this kind of nihilistic or postmodern? [00:50:36] Speaker B: Well, the simple answer, but the non answer is it comes from human nature. They resist it. Folks out there resist it. You don't want to be that way. It comes from a belief that humanity, human intellect, and human life started with us. There can't be anything before that's worth reading or knowing. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and then we kick them in the butt when they disagree with us. And it is an egalitarian difficulty. Democracies have this problem. We don't like people who are better than we are. We don't like. We call them nasty things. We call them elitists. It used to be thought that to be elite might be actually a good thing. But. [00:51:32] Speaker A: Yeah, I like, personally, I like people who are better than me. I have a hard time finding them. But no, I mean, when there are people that are better than me, that are smarter than me, that are more successful than me, that are more learned than me, my impulse isn't, gosh, I want to tear them down, but what can I learn from them? Maybe I can find a way to trade with them. Maybe they'll invest in my idea, I can provide value and we can find a win win situation. And also, gosh, they achieved that. It's possible. I didn't even think it was possible any before. So I do think that there is this very ugly impulse among some people that hate the good for being good and that want to tear down the successful. But I think that there's also a really almost innocent impulse to say, wow, this is why we have art. We can look up, we can see that other things are possible. So it just seems that art culture right now is very much swamped by this baser instinct and less of this higher one. And, you know, we talk a lot about where that comes from. And in many ways, it's this kind of hegelian dynamic of, you know, there's always going to be oppressors and the oppressed, and now just approaching the world through the lens of power dynamics and seeing anything that is higher or that is better, as oppressive. [00:53:20] Speaker B: When I was at St. John's, when I was president there, and I would teach there as well, the interesting thing was that we never called ourselves professors. We went by the old name tutors, meaning that we're just, we're not here to tell you, to profess to you. We're here to be on a search with you. And it really does work. Every class begins with an interesting question about the text, and then it goes on to, well, okay, why do you say that? Okay, Miss Jones or Mister Smith, how can you defend that? Can you support that? What would make you support that? I have never written a book that didn't begin in the classroom with conversation with other, other professors or with students. If you don't, if you don't think that you can rise up by listening to others, and the best people to listen to are people who are better than you, smarter than you, then you're not the be all and end all. You may become to be all and end all, but you got to listen to other people. Oh, you got to listen to them for 40 years before you can say that. [00:54:38] Speaker A: Well, as someone that has spent a lot of time, not just within academia, but also in thinking about where it has gone wrong. You also spend a good part of your book with some recommendations. You are not one of these people that says the situation is beyond repair, that we've reached a tipping point. So why do you think it can be salvaged? And what might be some primary recommendations, or at least ways to start thinking about how to turn the ship around before it completely sinks? [00:55:21] Speaker B: There are some things out of our control, and I just want to strangle every college president and board of trustees that raises tuition. Unbelievable. No wonder people are studying things that they might not want to study because they have to pay back their loans. They have invested so much of their and their parents, their time and their parents money that they need a return on those investments. And so I understand fully why somebody doesn't want to study philosophy or literature or. Or poetry or history. It's not okay. So that said, there are places that are. No, I think they know. I hope they know that this constant raising of tuition is partly what's killing the humanities. It just can't. It can't survive when a person majoring in business administration or computer science has to pay the same tuition as a person who wants to read Shakespeare. Besides, all the books that are really important in our field don't have copyrights anymore. They're in the public domain. You just give me a break. And so we've crowded them out of the marketplace. But there are places that sense the loss. Who had people who had a good education, even if they did go to graduate school and get a PhD at St. John's, it was said to me, I don't know if it was true that the catalog at St. John's said before my time, that while we understand that most of our tutors will have a PhD, we hope they will rise above it. And they do rise above it, put into a place where conversations with others, conversations in class, great books, and the sweep of history is ever present, they learn how to teach, how to listen, how to communicate, how to listen. I'll say listen five times if I have to. That's. And so the pendulum does swing. I mentioned the assumption college before that has a good program in basic texts and enduring questions that came about because that was lost for the longest time. And one or two people plus of a wonderful family of donors said, can we go back to what we had a long time ago that was lost after Stanford and so on? And the university said, let's try it. And now they're working money in a way, while we're blaming money for the loss of the humanities, money might be a way to get it back. You got donors out there who can find professors who can put together programs that will work. And. [00:58:48] Speaker A: Yeah, and I think also on the flip side of that is withholding money, withholding this action of the victim. If you are seeing a university that has become a complete indoctrination camp and even though you went there and maybe your dad went there and grandfathered went there, just not to go into a default mode and fund these institutions because you've done it before and consider doing some research and funding those organizations out there that are fighting for your values and where you will see a return on your investment. And while you're doing that, go out and by the death of learning how american education has failed our students and what to do about it. John, thank you so much for this fantastic interview and for all that you have done and continue to do. Really appreciate having this time with you. [00:59:55] Speaker B: This was fun. This was all thank you. Really just thank you. [01:00:00] Speaker A: And thanks to all of our viewers. Thanks for all of you who typed in great questions. Apologies. I couldn't get to all as many of them as I would have liked. Again, I'm a little blurry eyed after a 24 hours flight back from Australia, but I promise I will be bright eyed and bushy tailed if you join me next week when I'll be speaking to Nuala Walsh, who joins us to just discuss her new book, Tune in how to make smarter decisions in a noisy world. So we will see you then.

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