Reclaiming Our Heritage: An Alpha College to Face the Future

Posted on October 11, 2011


Not too long ago we went through the cumbersome exercise of reviewing faculty files for retention, tenure and promotion in my area at the university.

At the center of this painful activity was the preparation of immense binders that could double as weights at the student recreation center.

These are filled with proof that the young and probationary faculty were adequately engaged with their students in a “learning centered” environment promoting “active and collaborative learning.”

“Teaching” is no longer a legitimate word in higher education, and presumably in K-12 either.

However I can only write knowledgeably about the world I inhabit.

Let me be perfectly clear here. Our curriculum no longer demands the classic liberal arts education, things we all used to think important, like heavy doses of math, history, English, foreign languages, even the elementary sciences.

The curriculum, and consequent demands, and even more consequent results, are dismal as students flow through a politically correct system devised to please everyone, threaten no one, and pander to the lowest common denominator.

I know all of the above is going to offend and incense many who have a stake in the new system.

But I have a stake in something more important: preserving and extending the world that gave us standards and strengths to build the world we all inhabit.

What I see is a rapid erosion of that world. But, at least in one area, I know where to stop the erosion and begin the process of rebuilding.

We need to reexamine closely the values and ethics which gave this country its distinctive character. And then, before the collective memory of those attributes fades away into some corner of our memory, a footnote—like the fall of the Roman Empire—to appear occasionally on history tests, then we need to recapture that spirit and bring it alive into the twenty-first century.

I propose establishing an Alpha College as the most challenging forum for teaching students the values and substance that are synonymous with a quality education.

For, with some notable exceptions, today we are but a tattered memory of what we were.

Does any doubt that we need Alpha Colleges across the country?

As I see it, the world is taking us. The signs are all around us. Most everything we buy seems to be made in China.

Our unparalleled lead in technology is eroding.

Cheating in schools is rampant. There is in fact a culture of entitlement and mediocrity where there once was excellence and pride in one’s work.

We spent like profligates during the last generation. Not so long ago we saved and invested for the long haul, not for the short term gain.

We are the “evil empire” in wars in the Middle East and South Asia that contradict our history and national values.

To change our culture we begin by changing ourselves, one by one. I am not offering a solution for all people, for all time. Here’s the way we begin.

Establish an “Alpha College” at any university wishing to take the lead. The curriculum of the Alpha College will be decided by faculty and people in society whose values and accomplishments we admire.

The Alpha College will emphasize learning the fundamentals of our civilization just as in times past, and how to apply them, justly and wisely.

It will not be a replica of any one curriculum from the past.

The first Alpha College Dean faces three different tasks: one, identify those core values which make a successful civilization; two, study past educational tracks and institutions to see which ones encouraged and inculcated those values; three, create a modern track for the Alpha College, one for the 21st century incorporating not only the best of the past but also the best of today into a package for the future.

For that, I think, is what we are lacking, a vision of the future.

We need a plan and a vision that lifts us up from simply existing (a job, a home, financial security) and accumulating (wealth, power, acclaim, fame) to one that looks with hope to a future that truly lights our eyes with wisdom and pulls us forward with excitement and wonder and high expectations.

Discipline, hard work, and accountability will be cornerstones of the new Colleges.

For that we need to reach back to the values that allowed us—a free people living under republican institutions—to realize our potential as human beings, and, two, to fashion the new frontier before us, invoking the best from the past, and the promise of the future.

We need both tradition and the future, Shakespeare and computers, history and nanotechnology, and we need to teach these with conviction and high expectations.

What will be the Alpha College curriculum? That will be for others to determine. The Alpha College will foster true critical thinking and a deep appreciation for the Western tradition (recognizing its flaws as well as its merits), but with a knowledge and respect for the other great traditions and civilizations of the world.

When—if—you get your diploma you will come away with two major accomplishments.

One, you will be an educated person.

Two, you will be prepared to compete in the global marketplace of ideas, economies, ideologies, religions, and politics. You will know that you have passed the most rigorous and demanding curriculum in the U. S.

The challenge is for some institution—great or great-in-the-making, national or regional, large or small—to make a reality of the Alpha College and set the model in place.

Or, perhaps, an aspiring candidate for President could absorb and reflect the vision in his or her platform.

The old King James version of Proverbs 29:18 shows us the way:  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Published Sunday October 9, 2011 in The Tuscaloosa News.