The UK’s David Cameron has followed in Angela Merkel’s footstops and condemned the policy of multiculturalism which has led to the failure of many immigrants in Britain to adopt the culture and values of their new homeland. His words were clear and concise—and, of course, controversial among many Islamic groups and the left.
A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.
A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them.
This glaringly obvious truth hardly bears mentioning, but our Western societies have become so timid about their own heritage and strengths, and the philosophical foundations on which they rest, that even such simple truths have become occasion for heated debate and even outrage.
The entire episode got me to thinking about an educational transition that was occurring around the time I went to college. Until then, it long had been standard to require a college course in what was then called “Western Civ.” But beginning in the 60s and 70s there was a fairly successful movement to make that curriculum elective.
I went to a supposedly excellent college. There I not only managed to successfully avoid taking a Western Civ course, but there were no required history courses whatsoever. This made me happy, because at the time I was under the impression that I hated the study of history.
Fortunately, I had been educated in the New York City school system at a time when the history foundation there was quite stringent. The following courses were required in order to receive an academic diploma: one semester each of Civics and Economics, and a year each of American History and World History (the latter included a fair amount of ancient history as well). So by the time I got to college, the gaps in my education were not too glaring.
I love history now; can’t get enough of it. But it’s no puzzle to me as to why I hated it back then, and why I cheered when I discovered I wouldn’t ever have to enroll in the dread Western Civ. Almost all the courses I had taken in high school had involved dry facts disconnected by any overarching vision of history or any context in which I could figure out how most of it mattered to me any more.
I don’t think that correcting this omission would have been an insurmountable difficulty for the school system. After all, history is rife with such connections, and patterns of great significance; I see them all the time now. But for some reason (and I don’t think it was PC thought, which hadn’t taken hold much back then, especially among my teachers most of whom were quite old) that was not done in my school, or at least very rarely done. Perhaps it was considered too difficult. Perhaps the NY schools were so focused on cramming all the information into us that they thought we would need to do well in the Regents exams that the broad picture went by the wayside.
Whatever the reason, it was a monumental failing, and not just because it failed to interest me in the study of history. My guess is that it failed the majority of my fellow students as well.
And the problem has only gotten worse over time. Now those omissions have all too often been replaced by a certain political agenda, which is to downplay the achievements of Western Civ and emphasize the multicultural oneness of humankind, with special emphasis on the third world.
I’m all for studying other cultures, but not to the neglect of our own. And I’m all for respecting others, but not when we fail to respect ourselves, and to be justly proud of the gifts Western Civilization (let’s use its full name) has given the world.