One Country’s Trash, Another Country’s Treasure…

Posted on April 27th, 2011 by

Okay, that’s putting it a little dramatically.  But, given the precarious status of classics programs across the country, most recently at Michigan State University and University of Maine, and the fact that  people are constantly having to argue for the cost-effectiveness of the humanities and the value of a small-liberal arts education, it’s safe to say that Classics, along with the humanities in general, is under-valued and under siege.

America has always had a somewhat conflicted attitude toward higher education.  On the one hand, education is viewed as a gateway to opportunity.  On the other, intellectuals are regularly excoriated in popular discourse as being elitist and out of touch with “real Americans” (as though “real Americans” and people who care about ideas are mutually exclusive groups).

Well, if we’re going to budget-cut and drop-kick our humanities programs to the curb, at least someone out there can put it to good use: China.

China promoting Latin, Greek & Liberal Arts

At the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in San Francisco this week, the strongest defense of a liberal arts education–came from, of all places, China.

The Chinese are rediscovering the importance of what many American educators and institutions have forgotten: that a broad liberal arts education is essential to what it means to be a “well educated person.” The Chinese now realize that technical training and industrial specialization alone are ultimately culturally limiting.  Unlike many American universities, the Chinese are promoting the classical liberal arts because they are foundational for any society’s long-term political, economic, technological, and cultural health and future.

According to Yang Gan, dean of liberal arts at China’s Sun Yat-sen University, his institution is part of a growing movement in China to promote general education — which includes Western philosophy and culture, including Latin and Greek.

Boya College, Sun Yat-sen’s liberal arts program, offers an intense general education sequence in the first two years that includes Chinese culture (classical literature, calligraphy, history) and also considerable study of Western civilization, with every student taking not only English, but also Latin, Greek, and courses focused on specific authors (Homer, Herodotus, Dante) and periods (such as ancient Hebrew civilization). Courses also focus on such topics as political philosophy and musicology.

I love that the curriculum places an emphasis on both Eastern and Western civilization.  It’s nothing short of inspiring to hear upper level administrators not only talk about supporting the liberal arts, but actually do it.  If only some of that could bounce back here.  Read the rest here.


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