Paul Greenberg

Dear Sir,

It was wholly a pleasure to get your email about the recent changes in the core curriculum at the University of Arkansas' campus at Fayetteville -- and expressing honest puzzlement about why a newspaper editor should care about such academic matters.

What's the big deal, you want to know, about requiring, say, 35 credit hours in the arts and sciences for an undergraduate degree instead of 65 as in the past? Why all the fuss?

Because what's happening at the university is part of national trend to dumb down the curriculum.

Because if we're going to train our undergraduates in a specialty, rather than require a well-rounded liberal education, we'll succeed in watering down not just the curriculum but a heritage. And a heritage, if not tended and even added to, erodes. Like any field that is not cared for. Weeds sprout, the soil crumbles and dries, and even the most fertile land will soon lie fallow. It's happened before. It was called the Dark Ages.

All it takes is one generation to neglect a heritage, while it may require many to revive it. Just as it took Europe ages to emerge from the loss of the classical civilization the Romans spread throughout the known world.

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What happens when a student specializes too early? The state of American journalism provides many a case study. I've met many an aspiring young columnist fresh out of J-school. They're an impressive bunch. They seem to know everything about how to write.

Unfortunately, many have nothing to say. That's because they may have taken a full quota of journalism courses but have had only minimal exposure to history, literature, economics, philosophy, biology, math, foreign languages ... you name it.

They may never have thought about such matters in any depth, or maybe not at all. They've never had to. Not at a school that doesn't require them to. A certified, degree-bearing, newly minted journalist may have learned the latest computerized, internetted, Twittered and Facebooked tricks of the trade -- but overlooked one small detail. He hasn't been educated.

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Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.