Domestic Bliss Report

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Correct, but not politically so

You regular readers know that we're going with the classical homeschooling model. When I first checked out Kolbe Academy online, I thought, "This is the education I wish I'd had!"
What does classical mean? It's based on our ancient Greco-Roman roots, with democracy's base in there. History starts with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. I'm pretty sure the first is there for the Biblical context. There's an emphasis on the Judeo-Christian, Western civilization. All cultures are not taught as equally influential on the modern world.
Now, that's not politically correct. It seems contrary to something as basic as the Catholic faith, where everyone is a child of God, imbued by our Creator with certain inalienable rights regardless of color, age, ethnic group, sex, socioeconomic status, et cetera. Then again, an individual has inherent value, but each culture... not so much.

But when I read this post, I had a knee-jerk reaction of, But isn't that racism, or prejudice, or something? Specifically, this quote: "today’s students cannot distinguish the role of Plato, Aristotle, or Cicero in the later development of political thought from the general irrelevance of Native American councils or indigenous African tribal meetings."

Ouch. Irrelevant seems kind of harsh, doesn't it? But then a more important question came to mind. Is it true? Is the study of Plato more important than those tribal meetings? Really?

I've posted "incorrect" opinions before. [Like that all kids can't learn everything. I'm pretty sure I could have learned calculus, under the right circumstances. It would have taken an inspired teacher, two hours a day of tutoring, and lots of drill. It would have bumped out the other three classes I had and I'd have spent a disproportionate amount of time, money, and energy to master it. I could have learned it. But at what cost?] So why is it so hard?
I'm going to mention another cultural example. The Aztecs were still performing human sacrifice when Cortez showed up. Should those Spaniards have simply let those folks have their little religious ritual for the sake of ethnic diversity, or did they do the right thing and put the kibosh on that tout de suite? [Another un-PC-ism: my dad said, "I have a hard time respecting a group of people that's been around for thousands of years and still hadn't invented the wheel."]

So I'm realizing another example of where politically correct doesn't mean correct. I reread this post and it's kind of disjointed but I'm wondering what anyone else's thoughts are.

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At 10:31 AM, Blogger Melanie B said...

"Is it true? Is the study of Plato more important than those tribal meetings? Really?"

Well, I suppose that it depends on whether you think we should be teaching truth or platitudes. (And whether you think there is such a thing as truth and whether we can know it.)

Is it true that native tribal governments were just as influential when the founding fathers were writing the US Constitution? (Yeah, I've seen textbooks that make it sound as if they were.) Or does that just make people feel better? To really understand the roots of Western democracy, one must understand Western history, not world history.

Not that world history is useless or unimportant. I wouldn't say that we shouldn't learn about other cultures, I think it is valuable that we do. But we can't even begin to understand them and their history until we first understand ourselves and our own history.

But then truth has become a four-letter word, hasn't it?

I suppose to me the question as to which is more important is: more important in what context? What is the goal of education? If it's understanding a broad variety of cultures and inculcating a sense that no culture is better or more important than another, then by that measure I suppose Plato isn't more important than native American and African tribes. But if you want to prioritize, if you think some things are more important, then your first goal is to understand our own culture, history and traditions. And then no native Americans' tribal governments were not half as influential as a couple of dozen other sources I can name. They were certainly not irrelevant to those people but they are irrelevant to an understanding of the development of ideas. They were not influential in the grand sweep of history and to pretend otherwise is to distort our understanding of history. That is to create a lie.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Kasia said...


I would first of all say that in terms of value before God, it's hard to assign values to cultures. Almost as hard as it would be to assign values to people. Which may be part of why we tend to look to cultural influence as the benchmark of what priority a particular culture should be assigned.

And academically, it does make a certain amount of sense to prioritize what you study. Otherwise there's just too much.

I guess it depends on what you're studying and why. You could certainly make the argument that, as we continue to incorporate more and more people from non-Western traditions into the US, that it makes sense to study other traditions and cultures.

However, whether studying Plato trumps studying tribal councils gets into a deeper question and issue, namely whether we think that the Western tradition we have inherited is worth passing on. Should the expectation be that moving to the U.S. means that the immigrant will change him or herself to fit the culture? Or, as we get immigrants from a wider and wider variety of places and cultures, should we expect that our culture will gradually change to fit the immigrants?

I'm rambling - never mind. I'm not even sure I should post this, because it probably doesn't make much sense, but otherwise I've wasted the time it took to compose it...

At 5:32 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Melanie--I think we agree. It's just it's not politically correct to say the Greeks are more important to Western/European/modern American civilization than the Navajo tribal councils.

It's that it feels wrong, or arrogant, or something like that. Even though it's true. Which is why I put in that bit about "being imbued..."

Kasia, I'm with you on the rambling part. This is so important a topic and I can't quite articulate my own sentiments clearly on it, is all.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger cheyan said...

If you don't have animals that will drag something behind them, you don't have any incentive to make it easier to drag loads behind animals, and that's enough of a reason not to have the wheel. So showing how a culture-without-wheels transported stuff vs how a culture-with-wheels transported stuff is a good thing to spend equal time on (if anything, we generally know how wheels work, so spending more time on the former shows how people can think of solutions in all kinds of situations.)

But there's no similar reason behind one culture having persistent government and developing political philosophy and another staying at the level of small bands loosely linked into a tribe, and even if there were, the one is going to have more of an influence on modern culture than the other. Saying that is not racist - neither is concentrating on the one's contributions over the other's, because the one made more lasting contributions than the other!

I think that's why a lot of politically correct texts tend towards the weird, because they don't distinguish between the two types of situations, so you barely spend any time at all on why a culture has no wheels ("they just didn't and that's perfectly ok and no one should say otherwise!"), but you spend equal amounts of time on cultures that didn't have equal influence on the student's own culture ("they didn't have influence because the icky conquerors went and ickily conquered them!").


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