By Dr. Harold A. Black
I just celebrated my 76th birthday and as a lifelong academic I am appalled by the continuing dumbing down of academic standards. Princeton University’s announcement that Latin and Greek will no longer be required for a major in Classics has been seen by some a further evidence of the “wokeness” of white liberals intent on denigrating their own culture. Supposedly such a move is intended to encourage more minority students to major in the “classics” and bring more equity and diversity into the major. This is interesting since Princeton’s classics faculty is rather diverse. I don’t view the move as “wokeness” but rather trying to increase enrollment in a subject that likely has more faculty than students. The department is probably in danger of being discontinued for lack of students and this is an attempt to save itself. Once Latin was a requirement for all students at Ivy League universities. Its removal did not signal a desire to diversify its student bodies but rather was part of the dumbing down of American education. Times have changed. I took Latin in high school and enjoyed it. My mother who went to an all-black high school in Macon, Ga during the 1930s had both Latin and Greek.
In full disclosure, I am a guilty party. I taught at the University of Tennessee long enough to be teaching second generations. One student came to me and said that when she showed her mother my syllabus her mother said that my standards had eroded. When she took my class in 1988 I had readings in the library, required a short essay on current issues every two weeks and required a term paper. In 2010, I required none of these. I told her that if I had the same requirements that I would be run out of the university. Still I tested using essays, short answers and problems and refused to use multiple-choice true-false exams. Today one would be hard pressed to find a course that did not evaluate using multiple-choice true-false questions. I gave the students a list of words in finance that they had to learn how to spell (principal not principle, capital not capitol). Every time they used the incorrect spelling I took off a point. Students complained but I never caved. Asked why I was retiring when I loved what I did, it was because I grew tired of the undergraduate students who were intellectually lazy.
School systems are ditching advanced courses and are revising standards downward. All parents should be mortified. The school systems say these actions are to increase diversity implying that black and Hispanic kids are too dumb to achieve at a high level. However, many charter schools demonstrate otherwise, which minorities achieving in advanced math and learning Latin. There are well documented methods of instruction that can dramatically raise the reading levels of low achieving students. Such have met resistance in the public education industrial complex. Instead of adopting these methods the schools are instead moving to teach to the lowest possible denominator. Parents must oppose such a change. They should wage campaigns to replace the school boards and administrators who favor the erosion of academic standards. One of the school systems that has been prominently in the news is Loudoun County, Virginia where the system is considering lowering standards in addition to teaching Critical Race. The parents there are fighting back. I wish them success for if they fail, Virginia needs to change its tourism motto from “Virginia is for Lovers” to “Virginia is for Dummies.”