[This essay was originally published on my Blogger site on 12 October 2009.]
My brother Jeff, who is a professor of finance, had the good fortune a few years back to have an astrophysicist take one of his MBA classes. Whenever this student expressed confusion over any part of the course’s content, Jeff could shoot back, “Come on, this isn’t rocket science!”
Sometimes I feel like saying the same thing to naysayers who complain that it is unrealistic to expect today’s students (of whatever age) to comprehend, much less embrace, the classical and Christian heritage of our civilization. One gets the impression from these folks that any event that transpired before the 1960s is completely inaccessible to the fragile minds of today’s youth. (Exceptions to this rule are the lessons that Germans are wicked because they killed Jews, and that Southerners are wicked because they owned slaves.)
Evidence to the contrary can be found in my house at the moment. My six-year-old son approached me the other day and said, “Daddy, I think I would rather live in Athens than Sparta.” After I nearly choked in surprise, I asked him why he preferred Athens, and he said that voting on things would be fun, but that he didn’t want to be a soldier.
What led to this impromptu discussion? It was simple: I gave him a solid, age-appropriate book (Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World) to read, and let him take it at his own pace. He seems to be retaining the information; just yesterday, while he was trying to explain to his four-year-old brother why an hour is longer than a minute, I asked him who were the first people to divide an hour into sixty minutes, and he said without hesitation, “The Babylonians.” I’m pretty sure he hadn’t read that part of the book in weeks.
Essentially, my six-year-old is already more culturally literate than a great many high school and college students, all because of one book. He’s bright, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he’s any sort of genius. You’re going to have a hard time convincing me that my college students don’t have the capacity to learn who won the Punic Wars or the differences between Romanticism and Realism.