Karl Arnold Belser
22 May 2016
| I went to the Stanford+Connects
alumnus day on May 21. There were a series of lectures about
achievements at Stanford. There was also good food, drinks, and many
intelligent people to talk with. Jackie and I really enjoyed the
As a sidebar, my immediate impressions of the people was captured in the the first sentences of the commencement talk This is Water by David Foster Wallace:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
What is water today?
There are these two students walking along and they happen to meet an old alum walking the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's Western Civ.?" And the two students walk on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is Western Civ.?"
My visit to Stanford reinforces the conclusion given in my post Humanities Education in Decline. So, at a break in the lectures i asked the Stanford President John Hennessy about what happened to The History of Western Civilization, that used to be the core university requirement 50 years ago. He simply said "It's been replaced by other courses". Then he abruptly turned and left after I pointed out that Stanford has become the Get Rich U. Clearly, I had offended him.
My guilty feelings nagged at me until I read the following article in National Review: Restore Western Civilization at Stanford. There had been extreme controversy over restoring Western Civilization just one month ago, and I am now pretty sure that Hennessy was hypersensitive over this issue.
The article's sentiment, which I totally agree with, is given by this quote:
Higher education must return to the study of those universal victories and defeats of the human spirit that Western civilization has faced over the millennia. Stanford students now (should) have an opportunity to ensure that they receive a cohesive education that prepares them for 21st-century leadership. Restoring the study of Western civilization in their curriculum can spark in higher education the renaissance that our nation so desperately needs.
Other articles on why it is important to study The History of Western Civilization are given in the Stanford Daily , Daily Caller and Value Walk. See also Universities Abandon Western Civilization and In the Matter of History.
Now for a few more comments on the Stanford+Connects day.
The most important observation was about how young, multi cultural and multiracial the attendees were. Everyone attending had to pay $50, so it is certain that most of these people were wealthy. Remember that about half of the US population doesn't have $400 to pay for a medical emergency. I know that IBM, where I worked for 30 years after receiving my PhD from Stanford, today has changed to have the same kind of diversity as does Stanford. So, this is how the water is, and Stanford has changed to accommodate this new class of people.
Next the only humanities-like talk was about how data mining could be used to show how correspondence in the past could be tracked. They used an example of the letters to and from Benjamin Franklin in Europe. Big data is a great resource, but what are you going to learn from it if one doesn't interpret and debate the content?
Lastly, I went to the politics lecture instead of the water lecture because I am concerned about the political situation in both political parties. In my opinion, there is no good (acceptable) candidate for US president.
The talk essentially said that the white population would no longer be able to swing politics. Hence demonizing minorities by the republicans was a "career limiting move" in the professors opinions. On the other hand, the public is not behaving rationally, which has resulted in the surprise candidacy of the Republican Donald Trump. And it is by no means clear that Trumps emotional appeal will not result in him becoming president. The US government is, in my opinion, out of touch with the sentiments of most of the younger population.
I am watching with great interest the evolution of universities like Stanford and the resulting change in the government of the United States. I note that it has been some 40 years since many universities stopped teaching the history of western civilization, and many people under the age of 60 are ignorant of the fundamental issues regarding government. This ignorance may be n underlying cause of the political situation that the US has today.
Last updated May 28, 2016
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