Our ignorant kids don’t know how history got us to where we are today. Here’s a remedy

Can you answer the following questions?

Who fought in the Peloponnesian War?

Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach?

Who was Saul of Tarsus?

Why does the Magna Carta matter?

What are one or two of the arguments made in Federalist 10?

Hard questions, right? Maybe not. Maybe you learned some or all of the answers in school, or you knew them at one time, but have now forgotten the details. Or perhaps you are devoted to a few events that you have internalized and helped form you into the person you are today.

But knowing the answers in great detail may be less important than recognizing the importance of the questions.

Today's students don't know what liberty costs. They can't identify between good and right. They have no sense of what "exceptionalism" means. They don't know how history got us to where we are today, and why its bloody path was worth it.

Unfortunately, Stanford University students may never realize how significant and meaningful these questions are because the student government earlier this week voted overwhelmingly against requiring students to complete a two-quarter course on Western civilization.

That's right. Instead, the student leadership, validated by its Pravda-esque mouthpiece, The Stanford Daily, concluded that supporting Western civilization basically equated to "upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations."

Apparently no one taught this up-and-coming generation that Western civilization is full of the theoretical underpinnings for things like democracy, equality, freedom, liberty, is the source of many of those sticky philosophical foundations for arguments in support of ending human oppression and slavery, and developed the economic principles responsible for pulling billions out of poverty.

For students who are interested in upholding those old-school priniciples, perhaps they should attend the University of Notre Dame, or at least the classes taught there by Professor of Political Theory Patrick J. Deneen.

In a recent essay, Deneen laid out the questions above — and others — and issued a clarion call that will no doubt land with a compelling thud on the heads of today's Stanford students as well as the educational leadership that failed to teach the answers to these questions, much less acknowledge their importance.

His article, Res Idiotica, is worth reading both for its inspiration and lamentation. In it, he notes that most of today's youth are just what generations of parents taught their children to be: polite, respectful, well-behaved, and tolerant.

Just one problem with them: They don't know what liberty costs. They can't identify between good and right. They have no sense of what "exceptionalism" means. They don't know how history got us to where we are today, and why its bloody path was worth it.

This is no fault of their own, Deneen notes. They are trained to not care.

"They are not to be blamed for their pervasive ignorance of western and American history, civilization, politics, art and literature.  It is the hallmark of their education.  They have learned exactly what we have asked of them – to be like mayflies, alive by happenstance in a fleeting present.

"Our students' ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide.  The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West."

In other words, our educational system has deliberately and with malice aforethought undertaken to produce "cultural amnesia" and "a wholesale lack of curiosity" that is disguised under claims of "critical thinking, diversity, ways of knowing, social justice, and cultural competence." Yet these buzz words merely result in the development of individuals who have no history, no country, no purpose, and no unity, except in the unified belief that everyone is an independent creature full of self-worth whose motivations and intentions cannot be questioned.

Is this an accident? No, Deneen concludes.  It is a deliberate effort to "sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments." Instead, there is a "commitment to mutual indifference," which would be undercut if the next era of adults acknowledged their own set of chosen and particular devotions.

What is the outcome of such effort? Sadly, it is a generation of automatons unable to distinguish complaint from blame or to differentiate expression from value.

We've reached a place in time where liberty is confused with choice, and history's battles are treated as anachronistic and unworthy of acclaim. The rising generation has forgotten that enduring freedom has been attained through millennia of challenges, upheavals, and competitions whose victories — and defeats — have ushered in generations of progress for humankind.

Perhaps today's university students are suffering from some sort of PTSD. They are unwilling to partake even in intellectual battle while they silently seek to erase the seeming cause of their unnamed trauma.

For those who refuse to allow the impending collapse of Western civilization or dismiss it merely as the evolution of history, Deneen's essay embodies courage and inspires  encouragement. The moral and ethical boundaries that serve as the roots of the struggle for liberty and freedom are indeed the very foundation of modern civilization, and today's students should not be taught to forget it.

Answers to Deneen's Questions (Short answers to encourage readers to investigate the history and impact of each event):

Who fought in the Peloponnesian War? 

Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC). Athens' ultimate defeat crippled Greece's military strength and brought the most culturally advanced Greek state to final ruin.

What was at stake at the Battle of Salamis?

The Battle of Salamis in 480 BC saved Greece from the Persian Empire led by Xerxes and ensured the rise of Western civilization in the world.

Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach?

Socrates taught Plato. Plato taught Aristotle (Aristotle became tutor to Alexander the Great).

How did Socrates die?

Socrates was executed with poison, allegedly for corrupting the youth, but really because he insulted many of the distinguished households of the time.

Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?

No? Well, here are the authors and what they're about:

Greek poet Homer, believed to have lived in the 8th century BC, authored the Iliad and Odyssey, great adventures and the most famous of the Greek tragedies.

The Canterbury Tales was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, and is cited for its satirical wit and multiple narrators. He died before the tales were finished.

Paradise Lost, written by John Milton in the 17th century, is an epic poem about the fall of man and his relationship to God.

The Inferno (also known as Dante's Inferno) was written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri's in the 14th-century.  It is an allegory about bringing the soul closer to God.

Who was Saul of Tarsus?

Paul the Apostle, who lived from 10 BC-63 AD, and wrote much of the New Testament.

What were the 95 theses, who wrote them, and what was their effect?

Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses in 1517 attacking the Catholic Church's practice of selling "indulgences" to absolve sin. It sparked the Protestant Reformation.

Why does the Magna Carta matter?

Written in 1215, the Magna Carta is a cornerstone of the birth of individual liberties and the ongoing challenge to arbitrary rule. A keystone of American democracy, it declared equality under the law and the right to due process.

How and where did Thomas Becket die?

The Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered on the alter of his church in 1170, his death blamed on four knights who tried to appease King Henry II and took it upon themselves to kill Becket. Henry was enraged that his longtime friend would not absolve bishops who had sided with the authority of the king over the authority of the church.

What happened to Charles I?

King Charles I was executed for treason in 1649 after he sparked the first English civil war when he dissolved Parliament. He was defeated by Oliver Cromwell and the Ironsides, and the monarchy was briefly abolished.

Who was Guy Fawkes, and why is there a day named after him?

The 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Day, marks the day of the failed Gunpowder Plot, an attempt in 1605 by Fawkes and his Catholic allies to blow up King James I during a meeting at Parliament.

What happened at Yorktown in 1781?

The most important battle of the Revolutionary War when General George Washington, with 17,000 French and Continental forces, began the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia, against British General Lord Charles Cornwallis and 9,000 British troops. In a matter of three weeks, Cornwallis surrendered and the fighting ended in the American colonies.

What did Lincoln say in his second Inaugural? His first Inaugural? How about his third Inaugural?

As the Civil War neared end, President Abraham Lincoln used his second Inaugural address to call for the nation to bind up its wounds and achieve a just and lasting peace, and to care for the veterans, widows, and orphans of the war.

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln pleaded with the southern states to remain in the union and suggested he would not try to pursue taking away their "property," e.g. the slaves. He said the matter of a union had been settled by the Constitution and it would set a terrible precedent for future states if any state tried to withdraw.

Third inaugural? Lincoln was assassinated six weeks after his second inauguration. Andrew Johnson, who ran with Lincoln on a National Unity Ticket though he was a Democrat while Lincoln was a Republican, was sworn in as president. Johnson was later impeached by the House of Representatives, but survived the impeachment by one vote in the Senate.

Who can tell me one or two of the arguments that are made in Federalist 10? Who has read Federalist 10? What are the Federalist Papers?

Federalist 10, considered the most influential of the 85 Federalist papers, was written by James Madison and argued for a united republic under a central authority, saying it would be better suited to manage the various factions and their tendencies to favor their own interests over the interests of the whole.

The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Madison under the pseudonym Publius. They are written in defense of ratification of the Constitution and the role of a strong central government to guide the states. The papers were published in newspapers around the country and eventually compiled into one volume.