Learning America's Foundational Principles; TEMPE, Ariz. [Derived Headline]

By Will, George F. | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 12, 2017 | Go to article overview

Learning America's Foundational Principles; TEMPE, Ariz. [Derived Headline]


Will, George F., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


TEMPE, Ariz.

Encouraging developments are as welcome as they are rare in colleges and universities that cultivate diversity in everything but thought. Fortunately, state legislatures, alumni and philanthropists are planting little academic platoons that will make campuses less intellectually monochrome.

One such, just launched, is Arizona State University's School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

A primary mission of institutions of higher education should be the transmission of civilization's intellectual patrimony. With the permeation of academia by progressivism, however, the mission increasingly is liberation from this patrimony in order to further progress, understood as movement away from the principles of the American founding. One notable progressive knew better. Something Woodrow Wilson actually got right was that a university should be a "seat of vital memory" and an "organ of recollection," lest we risk "becoming infantile in every generation."

During the national fragmentation of 1861, Abraham Lincoln said that "the better angels of our nature" would be summoned by "the mystic chords of memory." But democratic nations, which rest on the shiftable sand of opinion, are forgetful, so memory needs to be nurtured.

One thing we know is that what America's Founders considered self-evident truths should be studied by future leaders because, as historian Daniel Boorstin said, "Trying to plan for the future without knowing the past is like trying to plant cut flowers." It is not necessary that everyone read The Federalist Papers and "The Wealth of Nations" (published in 1776) but someone should, and students in ASU's new school will.

Learning about the Founders

Schools like this can counter what worried Ronald Knox. The English priest and author said that in the modern age, "you do not believe what your grandfathers believed, and have no reason to hope that your grandsons will believe what you do." If so, America's national identity will become attenuated. Students in ASU's new school will understand what the nation's Founders believed and why they did.

Because education increasingly stratifies society, so it should diligently transmit commonalities conducive to social cohesion. …

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