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1619? 1776? Try 490 B.C. Americans Need to Know Our Classical Heritage

The Acropolis of Athens, Photo credit Dias12, Pixabay.

Last month, President Donald Trump announced he would create a 1776 Commission to counter the anti-American Marxist critical race theory of The New York Times‘ “1619 Project,” which arguably has inspired the violent and deadly riots across America. According to a new report from the Independent Institute, however, America also needs a 490 B.C. Project — a return to teaching the classical heritage of modern freedom and representative government.

“American ideas of republican, representative government, the checks and balances of a constitution, and the dangers of dictatorship, not to mention the tensions between a republic and an empire, all come directly from the actual experience of Republican Rome. Our ideas about democracy, the idea that there is a natural law for all human beings, the question of whether slavery is natural, all come from the ideas and politics of the Greek poleis,” wrote three prominent scholars in the “490 B.C. Project,” a report from the Independent Institute.

Victor Davis Hanson, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor emeritus of classics, joined with Morgan E. Hunter, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Independent Institute, and Williamson E. Evers, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education from 2007-2009. Their project focuses on 490 B.C., the year the Athenians defeated the Persians in the surprise victory of Marathon.

“Both Greece and Rome wrestled more than two thousand years ago with what citizenship meant, what freedom meant, what justice meant—just as we wrestle with them today,” Hanson, Hunter, and Evers wrote. “Studying them and what they wrote gives us a different perspective on those problems and can help us as educated citizens to find our own solutions.”

This classical foundation undergirds much of the great works of Western civilization, from William Shakespeare to Eugene O’Neill. “If the humanities are to continue in college, the classical world must be taught in high-level courses at American high schools. These classical foundations are just as important to the humanities as algebra and analytic geometry or high school chemistry and physics are to STEM,” the scholars argued.

Hanson and his fellows addressed a key question many naysayers pose. “Why not begin with Middle Eastern civilization, or Indian or Chinese civilization of the same era?” While these civilizations are fascinating and dealt with many of the same issues, “of the four Axial Age cultures, the Greco-Roman one is by far the best documented, the most accessible in English translation, and of course the most directly ancestral to our own civilization. For those reasons, it must surely be the subject of the most general interest and study.”

Tragically, “the classical world is taught quite poorly in American schools,” the scholars lamented. In California, for instance, “it is confined to the sixth grade and squeezed into a single course with early Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mesoamerican civilizations.” The textbooks are also hardly winsome.

The scholars suggested making the material more engaging and expanding students’ exposure to the classics throughout middle and high school.

Unfortunately, Marxist critical race theory has made such powerful strides in academia and American education that it is difficult to advance a “1776 Commission,” much less a “490 B.C. Project,” necessary though they both are.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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