Shannon Watkins writes for the Martin Center about the essential nature of classics education.

Countless students begin and graduate from college with an impoverished humanities education, a reality that should disturb any proponent of the liberal arts.

According to a recent report by the Independent Institute entitled Is it Time for a “490 B.C. Project”? High Schoolers Need to Know Our Classical Heritage, “schools are undermining the humanities” by failing to adequately teach its classical foundations. In the report, authors Morgan E. Hunter, Williamson M. Evers, and Victor Davis Hanson argue that instruction in Greco-Roman history and literature is foundational to studying the humanities.

The authors argue, for example, that one really cannot read any European and American philosopher of the last 400 years without knowing Plato and Aristotle, the Pre-Socratics, and the Stoics. …

… Although the report focuses on how classical education can be improved at the K-12 level, much of its analysis and recommendations can be applied to higher education.

According to the authors, students in many states receive an extremely bare-bones introduction to the classical world. In California, the only course that touches on the topic is “confined to the sixth grade and squeezed into a single course with early Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mesoamerican civilizations.”

Instruction in the classics doesn’t seem to get any better in high school. In a podcast interview, report author Morgan Hunter noted that it’s difficult to know what California students learn in high school. She explains: “The state has these extremely vague curriculum goals. Districts are completely free to choose their own textbooks and set their own reading lists and curriculum.”

Consequently, by the time many students reach college, they are ill-prepared for college-level reading and writing in the humanities. “College level reading in the humanities almost always requires a good understanding of ancient history and its authors,” the authors explain. “These classical foundations are just as important to the humanities as algebra and analytic geometry or high school chemistry and physics are to STEM.”

To make matters worse, colleges and universities frequently provide students with an equally bankrupt humanities education.