Thursday, September 20, 2007

Selection 12 - Book of Isaiah


References: Book of Isaiah Wikipedia entry

Source: Online at Bible Gateway

Discussion: I actually started this selection back in May and rapidly became bored wit it. I started it again about a month ago and have struggled to complete this reading. I was working on the version in the King James bible and just could not make any progress. I would make it through a page and my head would feel like it was going to explode. A couple of weeks ago I thought well maybe it will make more sense if I hear this instead of read it so I got an audio version and have been listening to it also. No help. I just drift off and lose track of what is going on. Finally tonight I tried the New American Bible and what a difference. I am up to chapter 10 after an hour of reading and I am actually able to take some notes and understand what is going on. The only problem is I feel like I am cheating. I don't know why it's not like God personally blessed the King James version but still it is the traditionally accepted version in America so I feel guilty.

So anyway on to the story.

From what I have read so far the Book of Isaiah is the story of the destruction and redemption of the people of Israel after they have turned away from their covenant with God. So far in chapters 1 through 9 God has declared his anger against the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their wickedness, including idol worship. He has also shown his power by preserving them in the face of attack by Assyria and Ephraim. He has offered chances for redemption bust so far they have been rejected.

[An interesting aside (at least it is to me) I did a blogsearch to see if others were having the same problems with the Book of Isaiah that I have been having. No one else is claiming too but I found out that a copy of the Book of Isaiah was recovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. It dated from 125 BC and is essentially the same as the version in the current Bible.]

Updated 11 Oct 2007

Finished the King James version but all I really gathered from it was that God was pissed so he killed almost everybody, then after letting people suffer awhile he forgave then survivors. I don't quite think that is what I am supposed to be gathering here. I am continuing with the New American Bible version up to chapter 25 there. but I am also starting with Aristophanes.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Robert Jordan -author of the "Wheel of Time" series dead at 58

James Oliver Rigney Jr. (aka Robert Jordan) author of the "Wheel of Time" series, died on 16 Sep of Amlyiodosis at age 58.

Rigney was a pretty incredible author with an amazing gift for detail in his work and it's too bad his series will go unfinished.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Who Won the Canon Wars?

In this weeks New York Times Sunday Book Review Rachel Donadio has written an Essay entitled "Revisiting the Canon Wars".

Interesting piece.

Ms. Donadio outlines the battle over the teaching of the Western Canon that culminated in the late 1980's / early 1990's with the publication of "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom, along with a number of other works including "Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, "Tenured Radicals" by Roger Kimball and "Illiberal Education" by Dinesh D'Souza, and the effect the publication of those works had on academic thought in this country.

She thinks the impact of Bloom's book was, at least at that time, minimal. Multiculturalism replaced the core curriculum in most universities and students fragmented into interest groups, while teachers concentrated only on their narrow (and in Bloom's opinion worthless) specialty.

This led to a loss, among students, of a common basis for communication and the commodification of education. The university was no longer a place to examine and expand your knowledge of the world. It has become a ticket punch for people entering the job market. Examining the big questions of life has been replaced by the mundane task of learning the intricacies of Sorbanes-Oxley or how do generate a Gantt Chart in Microsoft Project. (Interestingly you can see this theme repeated in the movie "Accepted" at least when you aren't looking at Diora Baird's boobs)

At present there doesn't seem to be a huge groundswell of opinion to change things, but does that mean the battle is lost?

I don't know. Five years ago I would have been one of those calling for the removal of a core curriculum, now I have a blog devoted to it and since I didn't get the exposure in High School and my various college experiences I am working my way through it on my own. Slowly to be sure but I am slugging away. But I'm a nobody more some academics are starting to realize the importance also:

For John Guillory, an English professor at New York University and the author of “Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation” (1993), “The major fact that the discipline is confronting today is global English, which is a cultural corollary of economic globalization.” At the same time, postcolonial Anglophone culture is only half a century old. “I’m often impressed by this scholarship, but I’m also concerned that this new field seems to be so disconnected from the history of literature and scholarship that goes before it,” Guillory said. “I see too many scholars in the field who know very little about anything before the 20th century, and that concerns me.”

Elaine Showalter, a feminist literary scholar and a former president of the Modern Language Association, who retired from Princeton in 2003, today urges a reconsideration of some of the changes made in past decades. “This period of discovery and recovery (for example, of women writers) has been stimulating, exciting and renewing,” Showalter wrote in an e-mail message. “But now it’s time for a period of evaluation and consolidation.”

To some, another question is how to get students to read critically in the first place. “What does it profit progressives to get minority writers like Walker and Black Elk into the syllabus if many students need the Cliffs Notes to gain an articulate grasp of either?” asked Gerald Graff, an English professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has written on the canon wars.

Of course this all leads to the question of what are Colleges and Universities there for?

Are they supposed to make better people and better citizens? If so then a common basis for understanding is necessary. Especially in a country as diverse as America where almost no two people have the same background.

If it is technical education (and by that I mean merely concentrating on the students major / minor) then lets drop all pretense and do away with all the general education requirements entirely.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Colleges and "Liberal" Education

Recently I wrote about Educations End by Tom Kronman. According to it's blurb this book explores the failure of colleges and universities to provide a well rounded education which would allow a student to explore the "meaning of life".

Today via instapundit I came a cross this piece in the Wall Street Journal:

Our Compassless Colleges

At universities and colleges throughout the land, undergraduates and their parents pay large sums of money for -- and federal and state governments contribute sizeable tax exemptions to support -- "liberal" education. This despite administrators and faculty lacking, or failing to honor, a coherent concept of what constitutes an educated human being.


Harvard's general education reform will allow students to graduate without ever having read the same book or studied the same material. Students may take away much of interest, but it is the little in common they learn that will be of lasting significance. For they will absorb the implicit teaching of the new college curriculum -- same as the old one -- that there is nothing in particular that an educated person need know.


The reason to worry is that university education can cause lasting harm. The mental habits that students form and the ideas they absorb in college consolidate the framework through which as adults they interpret experience, and judge matters to be true or false, fair or inequitable, honorable or dishonorable. A university that fails to teach students sound mental habits and to acquaint them with enduring ideas handicaps its graduates for public and private life.

Moreover, properly conceived, a liberal education provides invaluable benefits for students and the nation. For most students, it offers the last chance, perhaps until retirement, to read widely and deeply, to acquire knowledge of the opinions and events that formed them and the nation in which they live, and to study other peoples and cultures. A proper liberal education liberalizes in the old-fashioned and still most relevant sense: It forms individuals fit for freedom.

The nation benefits as well, because a liberal democracy presupposes an informed citizenry capable of distinguishing the public interest from private interest, evaluating consequences, and discerning the claims of justice and the opportunities for -- and limits to -- realizing it in politics. Indeed, a sprawling liberal democracy whose citizens practice different religions and no religion at all, in which individuals have family heritages that can be traced to every continent, and in which the nation's foreign affairs are increasingly bound up with local politics in countries around the world is particularly dependent on citizens acquiring a liberal education.

As I have written before as few as five (maybe ten) years ago I would have disagreed with Mr. Berkowitz. I hate general education or core curriculum classes but as I get older I realize both that they have value and that the reason I hated them is in most of the I felt a particular idea was being imposed on me and that I wasn't being allowed to develop my own opinion about things.

Now I am more inclined to agree with the ideas that a standard reference point is important for society to function and with the idea that in order for people to make informed decisions about public policy the need to be able to adequately evaluate that policy in the light of the principles that have brought America to this point in history.

I like Mr. Berkowitz's suggested core:

Greek and Roman History
European History
American History

European Literature
American Literature

American Government
Political Science


Comparative Religion (Christianity, Judaism, Islam)
History, Literature, and Religion of a non-western culture

Demonstrate Foreign Language proficiency

If it was up to me I would also add a Math Requirement (which could be met by testing) of College Algebra and a course on minorities in America (the need for a standard reference point goes both ways).

As Berkowitz says:

Citizens today are called on to analyze a formidable array of hard questions concerning war and peace, liberty and security, markets and morals, marriage and family, science and technology, poverty and public responsibility, and much more. No citizen can be expected to master all the issues. But liberal democracies count on more than a small minority acquiring the ability to reason responsibly about the many sides of these many-sided questions. For this reason, we must teach our universities to appreciate the aims of a liberal education. And we must impress upon our universities their obligation to pursue them responsibly.

or more practically as Robert Heinlein says:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert Heinlein (as spoken by Lazarus Long in Time Enough For Love)

This curriculum doesn't meet all those requirements but it pushes towards them.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Great Books by David Denby

Finished "Great Books" by David Denby which is one of those books I throw in my bag and read when I have to go offsite for testing.

Overall it was ok but the cover blurb makes it look more interesting that it actually is. In short Denby, a Columbia undergrad in the early 60's returns to Columbia in the 90's to revisit the Contemporary Civilizations and Literature and Humanities courses which make up a part of the core curriculum. During the course of the year Denby rediscovers his love of movies (he's a movie critic so I would hope he loves them) and literature and watches his late teen early twenties classmates "learn how to think".

That part was ok and even very interesting at times; like when two students almost come to blows over "Heart of Darkness", and when he discusses the philosophy of helplessness and fear in the "Take Back The Night" movement.

Other areas where Denby veers into politics I don't agree with so much. He is about as liberal as they come, at least in this book which was originally published in 1996.

One other useful thing I found in this book was this quote by John Mill in "On Liberty" :

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good and no one may have been able to refute them. But, if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are , he has no grounds for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them, who defend them in earnest and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject hos to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition, even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions.

(pg. 354)

Last year I posted about why I am working my way through this reading list - At that time I said it was mainly because it was a challenge to myself, and in main it is. I also told someone recently that part of it was because I find these lists and I get mad that I haven't read these books. That is part of it too. But so is the opinion that John Mill expressed in the quote above. In order to think for yourself you have to be willing to be challenged by ideas. Of the three that is probably the best reason but honestly it only occurs to me as a philosophy occasionally. Usually I am much more about the other two.

At the same time I posted about women I was waiting on marriage proposals from (Pamela Anderson, Katherine Bell, Traci Lords, Juliet Huddy, Angie Harmon, Elizabeth Rohm, Jill Hennessy, Grace Park, Charlize Theron, Sabine Ehrenfeld). I haven't heard from any of them but I am still available if any of them should happen to read this.

BTW after burning out on Isaiah I am back to working on the list again. Expect to see some progress over the next couple weeks.

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