Phi Beta Cons

The Liberal Arts Have No Party

That’s the conclusion of Mike Petrilli over at Fordham Foundation’s blog, Flypaper.

The dismaying judgment points at Republicans and Democrats both. First, Petrilli goes back to a column by David Brooks:

As David Brooks wrote last fall, “Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. . . . Conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.” These conservatives also stood up for the idea of a liberally educated populace.

Yet, explains Brooks, over the past fifteen years, Republican politicians, pundits, and talk show hosts have split the country between “wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland” and “the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.” In doing so, they repudiated some of the best aspects of modern conservatism, and paved the way for populist candidates like Palin.

The anti-intellectualism should make an opening for the Dems when it comes to education policy, Petrilli continues, and ”argue for a broad, rich, full curriculum, and to ensure that the next version of No Child Left Behind makes such a reality more likely in our nation’s schools.”

Not so. Our Ivy League president has never even mentioned “history,” “literature,” and “geography” in his major policy addresses. And our Secretary of Education talks a lot about “structural changes,” but stays away from the “stuff” of education.

“This is because,” Petrilli explains, “the left remains uncomfortable saying that there is a body of knowledge that all young people need to master in order to be prepared for life in our democracy. They fear getting pulled into debates about which books students should read, which countries’ histories are worth putting it the curriculum. Look what’s happened to E. D. Hirsch. Here’s a bona fide liberal arguing that poor kids need to gain ‘cultural literacy’ through exposure to the liberal arts, and he lives with charges of racism as a result.”


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