The Problem of Dead White Guys

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And these are the notes from my workshop presentation at ACCS yesterday.

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The fact that we are seeking to reestablish a curriculum that was at the center of Western culture for centuries is either a huge disaster, or an enormous opportunity, depending on why you got involved in our movement in the first place. When ACCS first started, cancel culture was not yet a thing, and having received a classical education was going to be quite a feather in the cap of your graduates. But now that is no longer the case, and so we need to anticipate a time of winnowing. I will explain that further in just a bit.

Honor Your Mother

I have been involved in the recovery of classical Christian education for about four decades now. At the heart of this educational approach, we have emphasized the importance of honoring and defending the cultural heritage of the West. We do this unapologetically and without embarrassment. Naturally, however, a common question concerns whether this is too ethnocentric. What do we think about the need for multiculturalism and diversity? In recent years this has morphed into what might be called the demand for multiculturalism and diversity, and so we really need to be clear in how we respond to it.

Here is something I have said in response to this question for virtually this entire time. But one time, relatively recently, I said it and to my surprise it was a spontaneous applause line. It frankly needs to become even more of an applause line—now more than ever. Here it is:

You cannot teach children to honor and respect the heritage and culture of other nations by teaching them to despise their own.

Being grateful for your own heritage is something that falls under the heading of the fifth commandment. Honor your father and mother, it says, and as Paul points out, it is the first commandment with a promise. The reason our life “in the land” is heading for years of tumult and tempest is precisely because we have refused to honor father and mother. The promise is sure, but the results of the promise are coming apart in our hands precisely because we have given way to the idea that contempt is humility, and that the arrogance of the libertarian self is somehow liberating.

So if I honor my mother, this does not make me sneer at another man who honors his mother. In fact, this is what enables me to understand him, and to respect what he is doing.
Why do I honor the West? Why do I fight to protect her? The answer is simple. She is my mother.

Our Mother and Others

The demand for diversity and multiculturalism is being driven, not by an understanding of honor and respect—with an intense desire to multiply that respect. No, it is quite the opposite. This is a movement being driven by rage and crackling envy. The goal is not to get us to respect the cultures of others, but rather to denigrate our own. This is not a movement that says “the East has something to say,” but rather a movement that says “the West must die.”

“Multiculturalism was conceived by the Western elites not to celebrate all cultures but to deny their own: it is, thus, the real suicide bomb.”

Mark Steyn, America Alone, p. 194

This is not a celebration of other civilizations, but rather a war on civilization as such.

“What multiculturalism in the curriculum assuredly does not mean is a renewed emphasis upon the mastery of foreign languages or the close study of complex civilizations . . . the campaign to impose ‘multiculturalism’ amounts to nothing less than a war on Western civilization and, beyond it, a war on the very idea of civilization.”

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese in the Foreword to Sacks and Thiel, The Diversity Myth, xii-xiii).

Consider what Fox-Genovese sees here. You classical Christian educators are laboring in a movement that is restoring academic standards in our schools, and central to that work is the teaching of another language, Latin, starting in third grade. Remember that the circulatory system for every culture is their language. In addition, we have our students read works that were written across millennia, and from countries—as Herodotus might put it—that are from all over tarnation. If there is any system of education out there that is taking kids out of a narrow and truncated provincialism, it would seem that it would be what we are doing. If any system of education could claim the mantle of multiculturalism, it would seem to be ours.

But that would be pressing the etymology of the word a bit too hard. Multiculturalism ought to mean appreciation for many cultures, and that is what you thought it was—trapped as you were in lexical meanings and Aristotelean categories. But multiculturalism does not mean appreciation for many cultures, but rather hatred of one culture. The object of that hatred is the Christian West.

This is how I put it in my book, Black & Tan:

“Our current obsession with multiculturalism is a prime example of this. This obsession is not an educated desire to ‘modify the emphasis,’ gently reminding us that the Chinese had a great civilization while our Anglo ancestors were still killing their meat with rocks. If the desire of the multiculturalists were simply a well-taken insistence that white people are not the only people in history who ever did anything, there would be no argument. But modern ‘multiculturalism’ is relativistic and thus is not an attack on ‘white history.’ It is an attack on the very idea of objective history itself.”

Black and Tan, pp. 71-72

Gut-Sobbing for a Testimony

We live in a time that is obsessed with class, race, and gender. And so—you guessed it—our evangelical thought-leaders have come to believe that our authentic testimony to a troubled generation that does not know the Lord depends on us coming up with a few gut sobs of our own with regard to class, race, and gender. And it is not enough for the gut sobs to be perfunctory, but rather they have to be the kind that arise from the chthonic regions. Everybody hates dilatory gut sobs.

The brakes are out on the progressivist bus, and they are hightailing it down the progressivist grade to the Bad Place, which is apparently not too scary if the grade is less than 7%, and we are running after them, our fat little evangelical thighs pumping away, in our very best wait-up-guys mode. Oh, how we want on their bus, and we are a mere three exegetical insights in Romans 1 away from it.

If there is any attitude that must be kept entirely away from your teaching staff, curriculum committee, administration, or board it is this one—anything woke, or anything that rhymes with woke, like joke.

When Your Curriculum is a Hate Crime

I want to conclude with a thought that I included in my plenary address, because it bears repeating. When ACCS started out in the early nineties, we were reacting to a substandard school system that at least still retained the idea of “doing a good job teaching.” They weren’t doing it, but there were still voices out there that would point out the failure, and people were concerned about the failures. When you came along with your school, once you had proven yourself and were established in your community, your high standards were the selling point. Your Latin program in elementary was a selling point. Your test scores were a selling point. The fact that the students read the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Aeneid was a selling point. In a sane world, it would still be a selling point.

Over the last few years, there has been a real turn, and this will be the testing point. Was your pursuit of classical Christian education back then a shrewdly cloaked pursuit of popularity? Chasing the honor student vibe? How many of your students were touted in your brochures as having been accepted into the Honors Program at Leviathan U?

Or was it a pursuit of a real education?

If it was a pursuit of real education for your students, then you will keep at it, even though your curriculum is now considered to be a hate crime.

“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62 (KJV)