Slow Minds at Ridgemont High
I want to take this opportunity to applaud Max Hocutt's analysis of the ills of the humanities ("Humanities' Ills," October). The article is a valuable step forward in the discussion of a growing problem. I teach in an institution with a required core in the humanities and have not found it effective in raising the declining interest among students in the humanities. The required core does, however, serve the PR purpose of differentiating us from other state schools in the area and in appealing to parents. This leads me to my only point of disagreement with Hocutt.
The decline of the humanities is not due, in my opinion, primarily to the colleges and universities that fail to teach something useful. Rather it is due to the public school system's failure to educate at those levels that precede college. Notice that the rich (as Hocutt points out) still have an interest in the humanities, at least in part, because they do not attend public schools. Given this premise, the problem cannot be rectified by teaching students how to read and write when they get to college. Here's why.
The humanities at the college level presuppose some literacy and competency in verbal expression. The task then becomes to teach literacy and competency within the various humanistic disciplines themselves (e.g., philosophy, theology, English, economics, etc.). Now suppose that the presupposition is denied. Suppose people arrive at colleges unable to read and write at the needed level. Colleges and universities then have to do what should have been done in high school.
And that is not the worst of the matter. Take an individual who has studied hard to earn a Ph.D. and wishes to actively use that training in class and in research. He takes a job with a college or university in the idealistic hope that he or she will be able to do just that. But instead the individual is now told that he or she will have to do what high school teachers should have been doing. The current glut of Ph.D.s in the humanities may hide the result for a time, but cynicism and a push to get into wholly research institutions are bound to result.
Although colleges and universities can and should do some of the things Hocutt mentions, they cannot ultimately solve the problem (nor, obviously, can the government). To paraphrase Hocutt, if primary and secondary schools can teach students how to read and write, they will know what to take and the value of it when they get to college.
Douglas J. Den Uyl
Et Tu, Max
In reference to the article "Humanities' Ills," written by Prof. Max Hocutt, in the October issue of REASON, I would like to point out what I consider to be a rather glaring faux pas.
For the chairman of the Philosophy Department (philosophy certainly being one of the humanities) to call Cicero an Emperor of the Roman Empire is to classify himself with those students whom he ridicules for their lack of ability or desire to read the classics. Perhaps he himself, in his student days, was one of those who were assigned "very simply written textbooks" that included only summaries of the ideas contained in the classics, and never got around to reading even a short history of the era of Cicero.
Cicero was many things, including orator, statesman, philosopher, praetor, consul (even assassinated!), but was never an Emperor. In fact, the empire, as such, began in 27 B.C., some 16 years after the death of Cicero.
I am wondering if Professor Hocutt isn't part of the problem rather than being qualified to tell us the answers as to the ills of the humanities?
Charles J. Warren
No doubt, you have by now received a hundred letters pointing out that I erred in describing Cicero as a Roman emperor. (Actually, he was a Persian emperor.) Very embarrassing, but I have done worse. Once, I described Plato as Aristotle's pupil. (What I clearly meant in both cases was that he should have been.) Now you see why I went into philosophy rather than history.
University of Alabama
Doing Vigilante Justice
REASON is to be commended for publishing Richard Vigilante's superbly reasoned article on the Strategic Defense Initiative ("A Down-to-Earth Guide to Star Wars," September). He captured the essence of the SDI debate simply and effectively.
The key question in the debate is not to be found in technological reports, but in a determination of whether SDI will enhance deterrence and thereby make nuclear war less likely. Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, the director of the SDI program, has said that in many ways the strategy and politics of SDI are as difficult as the technology. Mr. Vigilante's article demonstrates that, to the layman, the strategy is actually the most important element. Moreover, he explains that strategy in the layman's terms—and thereby does a great service for his readers.
I agree strongly with Mr. Vigilante that we must do more than research SDI. Defensive systems cannot stop anything unless they are deployed. We must avoid technological filibuster by moving ahead with the very good defenses we can build now, and not wait for the better defenses which will certainly be possible in the future.
Mr. Vigilante has performed a valuable function by bringing the SDI debate to the reader's level. Those readers must now be convinced of what some of us have been saying for some time: Strategic defense is both feasible and desirable. Common sense will soon make it inevitable as well.
Daniel O. Graham
Lt. Gen., USA (Ret.)
Director, High Frontier
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".