In an all-too-typical move for an American university, Princeton recently decided that classics students would no longer be required to study Latin and Greek. Of course, this was done to “eliminate barriers” and make the classics “more accessible” for everyone. For doing so, Princeton deserves praise, right?
Harvard history professor James Hankins disagrees. In this Law & Liberty essay, he argues that Princeton has made a bad move, another instance of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
It’s natural that activists like Anika Prather, who has started her own private classical school for black children, and educators that teach Latin in charter schools serving minorities, see Princeton’s lowering of standards in a far different light from the one cast by the glow of self-approval among elite classicists. Already discouraged by the losing fight to keep classics at Howard, they see Princeton’s “reform” as yet another blow for the cause of black classical education. To loosen language requirements so that more African-American students will feel “comfortable” shows a lack of respect for black potential. It implies that black students and the teachers that train them are incapable of leaping over the “barriers” that separate them from the highest achievement.
I’m reminded here of what the late Walter Williams used to say: “Thank God I got my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people.”
I recommend reading the whole essay.