“Traditional Values”

One North Carolina college, Belmont Abbey College, is introducing a new curriculum that it says reveals universal truths and a traditional liberal arts education.

This reflects the general focus of education conservatives who say that today’s liberal arts colleges offer too many silly electives and too closely mirror education fads. Except a closer look shows that Belmont Abbey’s “new curriculum that’s really old” is also pretty reflective of education trends.

Writing for the conservative John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, Belmont Abbey’s director of marketing, Ed Jones, writes that:

Belmont Abbey College’s new core curriculum has been carefully structured to nourish and strengthen our students’ inner core with… traditional values….

The required courses that comprise the new core curriculum (constituting 50 to 53 of the 120 hours needed to graduate) are the following:

First-Year Symposium

Rhetoric I & II

Introduction to Scripture

Introduction to Theology

Classic Texts in Political Philosophy I & II

Western Civilization I & II

Literary Classics of the Western Tradition I & II

The U. S. Constitution

Mathematics

Two science courses with labs

An introductory course in psychology, sociology, or economics

Fine Arts

To defend this new idea Jones uses a quotation, explaining that,

[C.S.] Lewis said that the paramount duty of educators is not to subject students to all that is trendy, “progressive,” or “new” in education, but rather to pass on to them that which is transcendent and time-proven; that is to say, the hard-won, shared system of traditional values that has been handed down through the centuries.

Ah yes, the traditional values that have been handed down through the centuries are certainly valuable. There’s no doubt some truth to the value of traditional courses but Jones is being a little liberal with the idea of traditional values. Such a course of study is reasonable and valuable but it’s not entirely transcendent and time-proven.

At the time of the American Revolution, for instance, the average academic course load consisted of Latin, Greek, mathematics, astronomy, composition, philosophy (metaphysical, moral, and political), theology, and either Hebrew or French.

But were these subjects universal and good for all time? Some of them sure were, but Belmont Abbey is now making students take two science courses with labs. And why is the school including a course in some social science like psychology? That’s because what students, even liberal arts students, need in order to be educated for their society changes. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer