Fairfax County is planning an experiment in ninth-grade education that could hardly be as simpleminded as its advocates make it sound. But one never knows these days.

Beginning next year, Fairfax County ninth-graders will study, in lieu of Western history and geography, what is described as a "new course emphasizing Asian, African and other non-Western cultures."

The Fairfax schools' coordinator of social studies explained to The Post that while Western insularity might have been pardonable a century ago, the world is growing smaller. "As important as it is to learn about the Civil War," said Frank Taylor, "it's more important to understand why people fight and what the effects of war are."

If Fairfax teenagers learn those secrets in a year's sampling of exotic cultures, will they please let the rest of us in on the secret? Or better still, hasten to the United Nations, where their services are desperately needed?

Putting aside penny-ante sarcasms, the fact is that Fairfax County, like so many other school systems, universities and colleges, seems to be feeling an irresistible and self-spiting urge (all in the name of broader horizons, of course) to discard the possibilities of historical self-understanding for shallow dabbling in the culturally exotic.

It is more of the flight from history, and unfortunately, there is abundant evidence of the typical result. Diane Ravitch has described it with depressing clarity in her essay, "The Plight of History in American Schools." It is, essentially, a vacuum where basic historical information and rudimentary grasp of historical cause and effect, ought to be.

Naomi Miller, chairman of the history department at Hunter College, in New York City, told Diane Ravitch that her freshman students come to her with "no historical knowledge ... no point of reference for understanding World War I, the Treaty of Versailles or the Holocaust. They think that everything is subjective. They have plenty of attitudes and opinions, but they lack the knowledge to analyze a problem." They are, she says, "a generation without historical memory ... a dangerous situation."

Is there any reason to think that the Fairfax youngsters soon to be swept off on a cross-cultural, consciousness-raising, broadening tour of African and Asian cultures are the exception? It would be nice, but probably unrealistic, to think so. The Fairfax County schools are hardly alone in the urge to dispense with Western history and geography for the sake of cultural sensitization. But in A.D. 1990, they have picked a particularly odd time to follow this pied piper.

We happen to be living in one of the triumphant hours of Western ideas and ideals -- not, surely, an occasion for hollow boasting or triumphalism. Still, the fact that much of the world, now unshackled, seems to be clamoring for the intellectual, political and material benefits of the West might suggest even to the most guilt-stricken among us that we, even we, have something to learn from and about it.

Before they take this anti-historical plunge, the architects of the Fairfax County experiment (and others like it) need to read one of the most fascinating utterances of this or any year -- the distinguished writer V. S. Naipaul's recent Wriston Lecture on "Universal Civilization," parts of which appeared in The New York Times on Nov. 5.

Naipaul is a walking instance of cross-cultural experience. He grew up in post-colonial Trinidad, the son of immigrant Indian laborers, was educated in England and has traveled everywhere writing undeceived travel books. He is probably the most astute living observer of varied cultures and subcultures, West and East, and in his Wriston Lecture he contrasts some of the static, inward-looking, insular, backsliding "non-Western" cultures with that spreading "universal civilization" that he finds to be based, above all, on Jefferson's idea of the pursuit of happiness.

This civilization, in which every human being ought to be able to be a participant if he wishes, Naipaul characterizes as follows: "The ideal of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system {nor} generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist, and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away."

It is truly odd that at the advent of this "universal civilization," whose features and benefits to the human spirit are almost altogether Western in origin, our own schools and colleges and teachers are turning away from it to immerse themselves -- inches deep, in all probability -- in others afar.