Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Good Books are Back

David Clemens teaches at a community college, and he may be a bit overly excited, yet an article in favor of great books in the The Chronicle that uses phrases like the "sclerotic academy" and "Old ideas become stale--perennial questions do not" means something. And suggesting things like a "certificate" in great books is not so silly in an academy that gives degrees is fashion design, hospitality, gerontology, etc. Do students like "perennial questions"? Or do they like the latest academic fad? They get quickly bored by the latter, while they fall in love--and stay in love--with the perennial questions, the great conversations, the great books. At a time when the higher education bubble may be bursting, maybe folks should start talking about giving people their money’s worth. I think students (and parents) are ready for it. A friend who comments on NLT (Tony Williams) recently said he was "swept away by Xenophon’s Persian Expedition." That’s what happens to all of us students when something fine is placed in front of us. You should see our freshmen getting swept up by Xenophon’s "Education of Cyrus" and the perennial questions raised by it. It’s a sight to behold, human souls enlivened. What is that worth?

Discussions - 3 Comments

Very few college professors are trying to educate students in great books. Too many of those great books were written by racists, or White people, or even evil businessmen. Those books rarely talk about diversity, or empathy, or change, or hope, and so are bad books. The purpose of college is to indoctrinate the elite into worshipping liberal idols.

While what you say is roughly true, you should know that students know this and are bored, deeply bored, by it all. They yearn for something serious. Human nature reasserts itself. That is our opening.

Maybe those of us who are not professorial can fill the gap. Since I don't know what I am supposed to teach, being untrained by the Academy in my subject and without liberal idols, I can only teach what I know, which is the old stuff. My students are, oddly, happy. Maybe PWS is right and that is only natural.

Community college is a bargain bin education, so it makes sense for us to use the bargain of "outdated" literature in our English courses. Not that everyone does at my college. For my students, one of the good things about my course's book list is that they can find the books to purchase cheaply at used book stores, or for free at any library or even on the Internet. I try to persuade my colleagues that this is a good reason to talk about old ideas, the resources are cheap. Too many of them would have to do too much reading; their own educations lack this. Very few students complain about reading great old literature, especially after they begin and then can talk about what they read. They tell me my class is "cool", like real college. Those Great Ideas are what they think college is all about. I wish that were always true.

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