Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Harvard’s new new gen ed plan

Harvard University has yet another general education plan, this one not (yet?) available on the web, because many of us took potshots at last year’s version.

Bad news: it’s still a cafeteria plan, in which faculty pander to students’ desire for lots of choices.

Good news (well, perhaps): students have to study the U.S. and take courses on reason and faith, as well as on "the ethical life."

Of course, as long as a wide variety of relatively specialized courses fit into these capacious categories, it’s hard to claim that students are thereby prepared to be, among other things, "citizens of a democracy within a global society.”

Update: Any minuscule hope I might have had about Harvard’s proposed reform (and, trust me, it was minuscule) has been further diminished by this story, containing this, from Louis Menand:

``No general education should be timeless," he said. "There’s no question it’s a response to the world we live in now."

Now, all of what he said may have been more nuanced than that, but taken by itself this is a full embrace of trendiness. Hat tip: Stanley Kurtz.

Discussions - 5 Comments

When you look carefully, the apparent attempt to inculcate students in a common knowledge and cultural literacy breaks down into the same kind of junk they’re already taking.

Instead of reading great literature
for the ages from the world, students
could take, "Representations of the Other." Instead of studying American history or classic American literature or the American mind, they can take a course on "Health Care in the US: A
Comparative Perspective." And, so on and so on.

This doesn’t look like much of a classical core curriculum in which students wrestle with big thoughts. It looks like the specialized research of a few post-modern professors who hate teaching undergrads. My kids are still going to Hillsdale, Ashland, or St. John’s where they might actually
study Lincoln and Twain.

If the Harvard folks really wanted their students to study "representations of the other," they could simply require of them a junior year abroad. At Hillsdale, Ashland, or St. John’s.

That’s right, Will. They might actually be exposed to new ideas at those institutions rather than the tired old hegemonic views of those horrible elites and study something besides wacko cultural history. It’s too bad that so much of this is trickling into the high schools where teachers "in the know" and fresh from Education departments share the "other side" of history, elevating Tupac to the par of Lincoln and ebonics with Shakespeare.

Is the hubris of modern man that we have all the questions and a few answers that have not already been raised by Tocqueville, Thucydides, Homer, Socrates, Lincoln, Locke, the Founders, major religious thinkers, etc., etc. Rather we settle for an education mired in "global studies," "Transgender blah blah blah" and the like - and spend $140000 for it instead of (to quote Good Will Hunting) $3 in overdue fees at the library (or $200 at a decent used book store).

Tony, As to your $200 at a used book store, I have been writing an essay to my sons on my autodidactic experience. Used books and the public library (They know me so well there, I used to send the librarians birth announcements. They even increased the number of books one could keep out at a time to accomodate my habits.) were my education. After 30 some years, I conclude I had a great time, but had a sloppy education. For example, I read
The Federalist Papers because I of the mention of them in a biography of Madison, but I took it as a whole not knowing what was important or maybe just not knowing what was influential. I was reading for fun, not for profit, and read it less seriously than I have subsequently, with instruction. Maybe in a cost/benefit analysis we would say I was better off because I avoided "global studies" and the multi-cultural mess, but it was not ideal.

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