Hillsdale’s M. Spalding on the Importance of History Pt. II

Hillsdale College Dr. Matt Spalding continues his conversation with us about American History, and the theory of education in 20th century America.

If you haven’t listened to Part I of the episode, listen here.

  • 3:28: Schools are trying to do too much in their study of History.
    • APs and other similar courses and curricula force us to cover too much ground in a superficial way.
    • The most important task for parents and teachers is to give students an imagination. Otherwise, history becomes flat and dry.
    • We should be more simple in our approach; students can find data on their own with ease if they have basic skills.
    • We have to break through the idea that there are no absolute truths.
  • 8:28: American education shifted in the Progressive Era due to the influence of, among others, John Dewey.
    • Classical and Medieval thought had a shared understanding of reality, which is why Shakespeare, Aristotle and Aquinas could all talk about the same things.
    • In the modern world, there is a shift beginning with Machiavelli, and running through Hegel.
    • This thought enters the American context through the Progressive Era. There were two key assumptions to this line of thinking. (1) There are no permanent things, and everything is relative; thus the pursuit of truth and knowledge makes no sense. (2) All things change with time; they are historical. According to this view, past thinkers, including the Founders, did not have a historical sense. This view sees all things as relative to their time.
    • Progressivism yielded an education system that is not about transferring knowledge, but about discovering ourselves through a deconstructive process. This is a departure from the world of Churchill, the Founders, and the Ancients, in which education served the process of “liberating” the mind to know timeless truths.
    • Progressive history is summed up in a quote by Carl Becker, “Whether the Declaration of Independence is true is a meaningless question.” To the contrary, that is the question. It was what Washington and Lincoln grappled with, as do we today.
  • 17:19: What are colleges looking for in a high school graduate?
    • The student who will flourish in college is the one who can do the basic human things as the “rational animal.” The great gift is the gift of speech–articulating, communicating, reading.  Additionally, students should have the capacity to discuss concepts and ideas that others have communicated.
    • Students must have a basic framework of history, along with the main aspects of character and human nature.
    • College should be a time when you continue your thinking, with other people learning to think, guided by someone with years of experience guiding, such that one liberates his mind using the wisdom of the past.  College is an organized experiment in thinking well about the true things.
    • A young man’s capacity to flourish and succeed is seen, more than anywhere else, in his character.
    • High school should provide a good education:  knowledge, yes, but also habits of thinking and doing that are rooted in more than mere technical knowledge.

Dr. Spalding’s most recent book is We Still Hold These Truths.

Matthew Spalding

About the guest:

Matthew Spalding


Matthew Spalding is Associate Vice President and Dean of Educational Programs for Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C. As such he oversees the operations of the Kirby Center and the various academic and educational programs of Hillsdale in the nation’s capital.