In Opposition to a Multicultural Curricular Proposal

The faculty of the University of Texas will soon consider a proposal on multicultural education that would require the study of minority, non-dominant, third-world, and non-Western cultures. The proposal should be rejected because it may further reduce the access our students have to a good education.

The fundamental questions and great ideas developed within Western culture are transcultural. Everyone understands that there is nothing Western about a mathematical proof or the inverse square law of gravity. It is not so widely agreed, but it is nevertheless true, that there is nothing Western about the categorical imperative, the cardinal virtues, or constitutional democracy; these are great ideas for all rational beings, not just Western humans. The fundamental questions and great ideas, whose study is the only foundation of a good university education, are well expressed in the classics of Western art, history, literature, philosophy, and science. Many university students have astonishingly limited opportunity to study these classics because of onerous, specialized degree requirements. Consequently, many students are graduated poorly educated, even if professionally skilled. The multicultural proposal will further reduce their scant opportunity to study these classics. In some highly regimented degree programs, e.g., engineering, the proposal will all but eliminate the opportunity. For every student, the proposal will reduce the opportunity to take courses such as:

The way to justify a curricular requirement is to defend the specific questions, ideas, and works to be taught. Would the required multicultural courses explore fundamental questions and great ideas via classic works about minority, non-dominant, third-world, and non-Western cultures? This is impossible to tell because the multicultural proposal names no specific questions, ideas, or works to be taught. None. Does this haunting omission, in both the proposal and in its fifty pages of supporting material, indicate that the multiculturalists are afraid to test what they would teach in the refiner's fire of public debate? We should wait to see what the multiculturalists propose to teach before we require the students to learn it. As an example of the sort of concreteness we need, let me nominate Martin Luther King's ``Letter from Birmingham Jail'' and its idea of loving passive resistance, whose greatness was proved in the American civil rights movement. I have taught this great work for years, needing no multicultural requirement.

The proposal will be considered by the General Faculty of the University of Texas at Austin on Friday, December 6, at 2 P.M. in the auditorium of the LBJ Presidential Library.