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Are dead white dudes making a comeback? At this Bronx-based college, they are

Back in the 1980s, Jesse Jackson led 500 Stanford students in a chant of “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go.” And it’s continued to be mostly downhill for Western Civ at colleges since.

The idea of learning important things from so-called “dead white dudes” has become a siren call for social progressives who argue that the skin color of the author they’re reading matters more than content.

A small but brave group of independent-minded thinkers who recently tried to re-champion Western Civ at Stanford failed in their effort. That’s not unique.

Today’s student protesters — backed by like-minded faculty — clamor for authors who “look like them.” Curriculums, unfortunately, acquiesced to that demand.

Yet at one college, the narrative has flipped — for the better. In November, The College Fix reported on the Bronx-based Hostos Community College, where Western Civ is taught at a school in a low-income neighborhood that enrolls mostly students of color.

And they’re loving it. Now The Wall Street Journal has picked up the story in a powerful piece that paints a picture on just how much:

On her first day of English class at Hostos Community College during the fall 2017 semester, Maria Diaz glared at the reading handout, a Plato excerpt on the trial of Socrates. “I used to be like, ‘Prof, why are we reading this? It’s so boring and confusing,” she recalls. But only months later, Ms. Diaz would gush about the merits of the Western canon, quoting Socrates’ claim that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

While much of academia continues its progressive and postmodern lurch, these courses at Hostos, first offered in 2016, represent a move in the opposite direction. One of the classes even was designed especially for students who score a “high fail” on their literacy tests. Profs. Andrea Fabrizio and Gregory Marks, along with their colleagues in the English Department, created the courses in collaboration with Columbia University. They borrowed heavily from the Ivy League school’s core curriculum for liberal-arts undergraduates.

So far about 1,300 students at Hostos, which is part of the City University of New York, have taken these Western Civ classes. “We’re trying to make them good writers, good thinkers and ultimately good citizens by talking about these deeply humane questions,” Mr. Marks says. …

“These students’ interest in rights and equality is just burning,” Mr. Marks says. He and Ms. Fabrizio draw on that interest with readings like the Declaration of Independence and excerpts from the Federalist Papers. Students also are given Frederick Douglass’s 1852 Fourth of July oration, which venerates America’s founding principles but notes that they are “flagrantly inconsistent” with slavery.

Students at other schools often cite this mismatch as a reason to reject the Western canon wholesale. Mr. Marks and Ms. Fabrizio say one of their goals is to cultivate critical thinking, so they encourage classroom debate—as long as students first demonstrate they’ve understood the writings and have weighed the merits of the author’s arguments.

After that, “when we see students ripping apart a classical text, we’re like, ‘Great,’ ” Mr. Marks says. But Ms. Fabrizio adds that by the end of the semester, “I think the students appreciate how revolutionary these texts actually are.”

So often we read about higher education’s regression, but programs such as this show there’s hope.

Read the full Wall Street Journal article.

MORE: Seattle University students protest ‘dead white dudes’ curriculum

MORE: Yale ‘decolonizes’ English dept. after complaints studying white authors ‘actively harms’ students

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix. She previously worked as a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for a decade in Southern California, and prior to that held editorial positions at The Weekly Standard, Washington Times and FrontPageMagazine. She is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient and has contributed to National Review.

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