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01/07/2013

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Susan Henking

Hmmm on the foreign language point -- worth discussing?

Sam

That Lyman quote really gets to the heart of things, doesn't it? I'm in no position to even attempt to address the question as stated, but I have been pondering some related thoughts in connection to Shimer's own history. I guess I may as well post them here...

For most of the Mount Carroll period, Shimer was basically a very small LAC following a (somewhat modified version of a) curriculum designed for a very large and well-resourced university. (Mark Benney, who was of the opinion that even the U of C could barely manage to pull off the Hutchins curriculum, has some harsh words for this aspect of Shimer in _Almost a Gentleman_). Most students speak very well of the resulting experience, but *providing* that experience was an enormous strain on the school even in the best of times. Financial and other pressures ultimately forced Shimer to adopt the curricular reforms of the late 70s and early 80s, leading to the Shimer curriculum of the Waukegan/Chicago period -- thus, a student from today will find remarkably little that is unfamiliar in a catalog from 1985, but much that is unexpected in a catalog from 1975. This "Waukegan curriculum" (for lack of a better term) was a triumph of design, but IMO it no longer speaks very well to Shimer's situation.

I might put it like this: in the early Great Books decades Shimer was taking a curriculum designed for abundance and applying it to a context of scarcity; but now we are applying a curriculum designed for scarcity to a context of (in some respects) abundance. To take a relatively minor example, the old foreign language requirements were unsustainable in the Waukegan years, but in the context of Chicago there is no longer any shortage of qualified language instruction providers within an easy commute (even leaving out distance learning).

I think it may be time to consider how some of the older "general education" ideals that were partially or entirely jettisoned in the Waukegan curriculum may be able to be readopted/adapted in Shimer's new context. This also creates the opportunity for Shimer to once again leapfrog the competition -- *while* remaining true to its "traditional" identity -- rather than getting sucked into a reactionary eddy as happened in the 1940s and very nearly in the late 2000s.

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