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Is it Time for a “490 B.C. Project”?


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The Independent Institute

High Schoolers Need to Know Our Classical Heritage

Morgan E. Hunter, Williamson M. Evers, and Victor Davis Hanson

Sept. 2020



Part 1: The Classical World in American Education

Part 2: The Ancient World under the Common Core

Part 3: Conclusions and Recommendations

Appendix: Errors in Another Common-Core-Inspired TextbookNotes


When Americans knew classical history, they could reach beyond partisan differences by drawing on the shared roots of our civilization. American stu-dents once learned, for example, about the Greek victory at Marathon in 490 B.C. This kept Greece from being swallowed up by the Persian Empire and ushered in the Golden Age of Athenian democracy which, for all its shortcomings, was a pathbreaking achievement. Democratic Athens, counterbalanced by Sparta’s tripartite system, led to broad-based polities and ultimately the Roman Republic. From there we trace a clear line to Magna Carta and the Renaissance republics, to the Enlightenment, and ultimately to the American Founding in the years around 1776.

Without classical knowledge, Americans are likely to misconstrue the achievements of 1776—not to mention other significant historical moments (as evidenced in recent inconclusive con-tentions over the events of 1619). Unfortunately, contemporary school curricula leave students with major gaps in their knowledge of classical history and the humanities more broadly.


This report argues that instruction in the foun-dation of the humanities is an essential and coequal complement to teaching the foundations of STEM and that the foundation of the humanities in the West is the history, literature, and philosophy of Classical Greece and Rome. (This, of course, is not to denigrate the other civilizations of roughly that same era—Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern—that have also profoundly influenced the world, but rather that Greco-Roman civilization was directly ancestral to our own and the antecedent that eluci-dates many of our current political, economic, and cultural traditions. Just as a biography starts with the childhood of its subject, so does the study of a civilization.




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