Thursday, August 30, 2007

Educations End - Looks like an interesting read

Throughout my various college careers I have been highly opposed to the General Education requirements, mainly because outside the Math and Sciences requirement they seems to be designed to impose a political ideology on me and I hated that. In the past year or two I have slowly come to the realization that a well laid out humanities requirement can do more than tell me what to think, it can help me learn how to think.

This opinion has been bolstered by my nearly completed reading of Great Books by David Denby, which explores Columbia Universities Literature and Humanities and Contempory Civilization course and their effect on students. (Which I started reading to complement my reading list over at here)

Today at Instapundit I found I blurb regarding "Educations End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life" which looks like it might be a good follow-up.

Book Description
The question of what living is for—of what one should care about and why—is the most important question a person can ask. Yet under the influence of the modern research ideal, our colleges and universities have expelled this question from their classrooms, judging it unfit for organized study. In this eloquent and carefully considered book, Tony Kronman explores why this has happened and calls for the restoration of life’s most important question to an honored place in higher education.

The author contrasts an earlier era in American education, when the question of the meaning of life was at the center of instruction, with our own times, when this question has been largely abandoned by college and university teachers. In particular, teachers of the humanities, who once felt a special responsibility to guide their students in exploring the question of what living is for, have lost confidence in their authority to do so. And they have lost sight of the question itself in the blinding fog of political correctness that has dominated their disciplines for the past forty years.

Yet Kronman sees a readiness for change--a longing among teachers as well as students to engage questions of ultimate meaning. He urges a revival of the humanities’ lost tradition of studying the meaning of life through the careful but critical reading of great works of literary and philosophical imagination. And he offers here the charter document of that revival.


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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Teaching Company

I have mentioned the Portable Professor series from Barnes and Noble a couple of times, now via Betsy's Page and I have learned of a similar series of courses from The Teaching Company.

In the Opinion Journal article Wilfred M. McClay, a humanities professor, nails the precise reason I created this blog:

So these courses offer a constructive way to fill up the empty times of commuting, exercising and the like. But there is more to their appeal than that. As the generations of post-1960s college graduates grow older, they will come to understand that their expensive formal education, with its trendiness and lack of breadth or rigor or enduring substance, quite simply failed them--by failing to connect them to the riches of their own civilization. Not all of them will be content to leave matters at that, and so the market for the Teaching Company's products will only continue to expand.

but beyond that courses like this are just enjoyable, in the same way that the history channel is enjoyable. I am going to have to acquire one or two of these courses and report back on the quality.

Just a note that this would fit in perfectly with my Open University idea.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Civilization" by Roger Osborne - Chapter 1

Chapter One of "Civilization" looks at the development of underlying culture of Western Civilization.

Starting in pre-history with the migration of ancient Homo Sapiens into Europe Osborne follows the development of the underlying cultures of western civilization from hunter gatherer to semi-nomadic to fixed (sedentary) communities. In many ways he echoes Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, especially his admiration of hunter-gatherers over "sedentary" communities.

Interestingly Osborne argues that the main influence on western society is Germanic or Celtic and not the Romans or the Greeks. At the same time he dismisses the popular history of the Anglo-Saxon influence in Britain and France. Arguing that it was individuals who settled in areas that spread that culture rather than repeated armed invasions that overcame the dominant Celtic cultures. This occured partially beacuse the Celts would foster superior individuals into "royal" families and inheritance was not dependent on primogeniture. I wonder how this is going to square with the arguments that are apparently presented in "A Farewell to Alms" by Gregory Clark?

Up to this point "Civilization" has only dealt with pre-literate societies, and Osbornes admiration for them is evident. At one point he argues that customary law is superior to written law because it draws communities together while written laws separate them. He makes the same argument regarding storytelling as the main imparter of information versus written histories. This presages chapter two in which hes says he will explore the development of writing and it's (destructive) influence.

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