Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

A Distraction–Or Maybe Not

with 4 comments

This was on Arts and Letters Daily this morning–


Be sure to click on the link to the full Bard freshman seminar reading llist.

And remember that Bard was always considered to be a hotbet of faculty leftism when I went to college…

And before bitching about what is or isn’t on the reading list–remember, the purpose of the course is to have students read what they think they ALREADY know, but that they don’t.

Written by janeh

June 14th, 2010 at 9:24 am

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4 Responses to 'A Distraction–Or Maybe Not'

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  1. I might have said it still was, though this shows some respect for the Canon.

    I will make the customary observation, because you’d be disappointed if I didn’t. With a “Great Books” program the Devil really is in the details–how it’s taught, and the supplemental material. A LOT of ideas look wonderful if you can just stifle those pesky critics. Every book with a proposed worldview or political program should be approached with critics close at hand, and an effort made to double-check facts and sources of knowledge. Otherwise, you pass from study to advocacy–or worship.

    Take Marx & Engles there. Of course neither Adam Smith–explaining capitalism–nor Kropotkin–questioning the consequences of communism–are on the reading list. Will the professor point out the size factories Marx had seen? (Worker ownership and operation looks pretty feasible when you’ve never seen a factory as large as 30 laborers.) Will he mention that Marx’s economic history is pretty much made up on the spot, there being no such discipline in 1844? Will he point out that Marx was prone to burying facts not consonnant with his predictions? All this needs to be done for many–perhaps most– of the books listed: Will it be done? One hopes so, but there is no guarantee.

    I am not picking on Marx. The same technique should be used on Adam Smith, Locke, or Aristotle–but none of them made the list.


    14 Jun 10 at 6:00 pm

  2. Okay.

    I mean, for God’s sake.

    First, that’s not a “great books program.”

    It’s ONE COURSE.

    Just one. It lasts two semesters, but it’s a single course.

    And to get on that very short reading list, a book had to be a) something students ALREADY thought they knew everything about and b) connected to all the other books.

    Those books are a good fit, with the exception, I think, of the Virginia Woolf, which sort of seems to be there pro forma.

    My guess is that most students wouldn’t even recognize the name John Locke when they first graduate from high school–remember that course is for freshmen–never mind think they already knew what he said.

    Smith, you might get more takers, but probably less than you’d think. When I do the literacy quiz, I get about ten percent who’ve heard of him.

    The point of that course is to take books students ALREADY THINK THEY KNOW and show them they don’t.

    And as for the “we should point out where Marx had his head up his ass and fudged his facts”–why?

    I can see it in, say, a course in economics or political history, where you’re dealing with real events in the real world.

    But there are dozens of books outlining theories of politics, of government, of human life written by men whose facts may have been right, or may have been wrong, and we’ll never know, because the evidence is no longer available to us.

    We still read them, and their ideas still have merit–AS IDEAS.

    As an introduction to college work, that’s one kick ass course reading list.

    And it’s even got Frankenstein.

    And look around Bard’s course list, and you’ll find other courses meant to introduce students to works they know nothing about.

    But this is not that.


    14 Jun 10 at 6:56 pm

  3. Ok, I give up.

    Where’s the list?

    Under “Departments” every link takes me to some different section of “From our Essays”, “Publications” doesn’t get me any list, and going to “Links” is also fruitless.

    So just where is “the list” hidden?


    14 Jun 10 at 9:52 pm

  4. The URL in Jane’s blog leads to an essay. The essay contains a paragraph ending

    In the second semester, readings include Rousseau’s “Second Discourse,” Frankenstein, and Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents as well as Levi’s The Periodic Table. A full description of the First-Year Seminar and complete list of readings can be accessed here.

    The word “here” is the link!


    14 Jun 10 at 10:13 pm

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