Exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford said, “I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.” Poor Henry was born too soon. Today, hardly anybody cares about history unless it’s as a useful stone on which to grind an axe.
Now this: Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed reports that Lincoln University, a historically black college, founded by African-American Civil War veterans in 1866, is shutting down its history department. Pause for a moment and reflect on that bit of news. If it makes your head spin, welcome to the club. Flaherty quotes Kevin D. Rome, university president, as explaining that “Our students deserve academic offerings that allow them to be competitive with their peers as they move from our campus into a career.”
Calling his decision “difficult,” he explains that “we can better use the resources … to strengthen those degrees with a higher demand from the student and global standpoint. … We must make decisions like these as we look toward the future and the needs of the changing workforce.”
What a frothy meringue of management edu-babble; Henry Ford expressed the same philistine thinking in 1916 with much greater clarity.
Certainly, the academic left weaponized history a long time ago as an ideological delivery system (one bank officer of my acquaintance complained of having to read communist Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States in six different classes at the local state college). As George Orwell said, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” To that end, it was Marx and Engels (and Zinn) who reduced all of history to an endless conga line of class struggle, oppressors vs. oppressed, the creation myth of today’s multiculturalist gripe-a-palooza.
But President Rome takes it one step further. Why not just eliminate history altogether! Tabula rasa! One recalls the Maoist desire to slaughter the past and start over. Goodbye Confucius, goodbye scrolls and paintings, goodbye Ming vase, goodbye all unbearable historical baggage.
Today the same impulse rides under the flag of CTE and STEM. The global standpoint! The future! The workforce! The … career! Art, music, drama, literature, history—bunk. Useless, time-wasting impediments.
What a mistake.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last week, progressive bête noire Charles Koch nailed it, concluding that “Education in America, and particularly higher education, has become increasingly hostile to the free exchange of ideas. On many campuses, a climate of intellectual conformity has replaced open debate and inquiry, stifling discussion on a host of topics ranging from history to science to economics. Dissenters are demonized, ostracized or otherwise treated with scorn and derision. This disrupts the process of discovery and challenge that is at the root of human progress.”