The Dartmouth Observer

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005
The Review's Western Culture Survey

The Review surveyed 242 Dartmouth students and found them to be "generally unfamiliar with Western culture," or so says Nat at Dartlog. At Armavirumque, Stefan reveals a few of the funnier answers to the survey questions. Meanwhile, a loony right-winger by the name of Thomas Brewton has decided, based on the survey, that "Dartmouth apparently is failing to impart an understanding of the culture and tradition that constitute our unwritten constitution." This same person believes that "socialism was unconstitutionally established as the official national religion of the United States in 1933" and that our understanding of Western culture since 1960 has been 'nailed tightly the forces of the liberal-socialist jihad." Of course!

Just a few thoughts:
  • I suppose the Liberal Democrats are part of Western culture, broadly defined. But does not being able to identify them really compare with believing that Dante's guide through Hell was Satan?
  • How seriously did the students take the survey? Were they aware that it was the Review doing the surveying? If so, I can imagine some of them answering wrongly just to piss off the Review.
  • 242 students is not representative of Dartmouth as a whole.
  • Wouldn't it have been better to survey seniors only instead? It's entirely conceivable that the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors surveyed might pick up a bit more knowledge of Western culture before graduating. I mean, had I been asked those questions in my freshman spring, I'd have done badly too.
  • I do actually think that our understanding of Western culture has diminished. But contrary to what Thomas Brewton might say, it isn't solely the left's fault. What the right calls "multiculturalism" is, when in excess, part of the problem, but he corporatization of the American university -- a consequence of capitalism -- has been an equally if not more significant factor. Discuss away!
  • Confession: I haven't read The Federalist, the Merchant of Venice, "A Modest Proposal," all of Democracy in America, all of Don Quixote, Faust, and The Brothers Karamazov, but I know all their authors. In other words, while not knowing the authors suggests that you probably do lack knowledge of Western culture, knowing them doesn't mean that you're Jacques Barzun. You could simply have a good memory for names. A more accurate measure of one's knowledge would have to involve more than just "Name that Author." But surveys are far easier to conduct, and are more effective as rhetorical devices (broadly defined).