What makes for a good education? What do we mean by a well-educated person? Using Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind as a starting place, we'll probe and ponder what constitutes a liberal arts education as well as the politics inherent in such a question.
Ever since the idea of a dead, white men's canon was articulated, studying the "Great Books" (GBs) has been a political act. Deconstructionism, postcolonialism, feminism, multiculturalism, and Marxism have introduced a degree of self-consciousness into an activity that one hundred years ago was accepted without much debate. Now, unfortunately, the battlelines between those in favor of the Canon and those against are equally unquestioned. This class will consider the relationship between political life and reading beyond the terms of the Culture Wars.
Each of the first three books present very different frameworks in which to gauge the value of reading the GBs. The final two books highlight current problems in public education: testing, bilingual education. Our job will be to connect the wisdom of the GBs to current educational controversies. It is my assumption that these books are great because they offer solutions to human society's enduring problems. My hope is that, having read Bloom, Denby, and Shorris, we may be in a better position to address the problems raised in Ovando and Sacks.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
David Denby, Great Books
Earl Shorris, Riches for the Poor
Peter Sacks, Standardized Minds
Carlos J. Ovando and Peter McLaren, The Politics of Multiculturalism & Bilingual Education
Each and every week, for the first seven weeks of the semester, you'll be writing a short (500 word) essay that engages with the reading. A short essay is not a journal entry. It is a brief, disciplined piece of writing that focuses on one idea and then takes it for an overnight visit. In other words, you'll need to be focused and concrete.
The final project (6 to 8 pages) will be your political argument in favor of a Great Book. For instance, how can Machiavelli help us educate a population whose first language is not necessarily English? What can Nietzche teach us about social promotion? How might the your GB speak to the issues raised by social science?
Attendance is critical. Reading is essential. Contributing to Knowledge Forum is necessary. Writing clear and lucid prose is the stuff of the whole affair. Staying on top of the assignments makes the whole thing run smoothly.