This is somewhat a response to Meg's previous post entitled "'Great Books?' Decides who?". If you haven't read it, she talks about what some unknowing minds may have to say about a great books education and then gives thought provoking responses defending the value of our degree. I agree with all of the points Meg makes in her defense of the great books education but am going to have to take her initial problem from a different angle. Aside from her question of who decides what makes a great book, the objections she summed up from people who are against receiving a great books education are as follows:
1) It's not practical in the least.
2) Everything's outdated. I mean, who reads Newton and Fourier nowadays? Their achievements are embedded into our scientific history, but no one needs their experiments anymore.
3) They don't promote the cultural diversity that's the vogue nowadays. As mentioned above, the authors are almost all of them DWM.
4) They are difficult to approach and sometimes near impossible to wade through. I dare you to read Kant without once ranting at him.
These are all seemingly valid objections to a great books education. Point by point I'd say simply the only practical undergrad degree is one that comes before a graduate or professional degree; What stand alone bachelors will earn you six figures? (and what kind of career without six figures is worth having? [except as a professor at Shimer]) Secondly just because information is outdated doesn't mean it cant be used for research, fun, criticism or as a basis for something to be proven/disproved. Third, authors shouldn't be criticized for having personal feelings that adhere with the popular view of the times; the validity or integrity of their thought isn't necessarily jeopardized by it. In some cases it is, but not all. The fourth point is true. That's what's important though. We take these difficult, wordy and confusing texts and from them gather a greater understanding of abstract concepts and important ideas.
The content (and personal implications made by the authors) of the books isn't, in my opinion, half as important as what we do with it here at Shimer. We could be reading a playboy magazine article in place of the communist manifesto, whatever. The important part of our education is the part where we take the text and rip it apart idea by idea, implication by implication, sentence by sentence, and word by word, in a classroom filled with people who thirst for wisdom.
We might not be reading the popular opinions of modern times. We may not be reading ideas that are still accepted. We are definitely not reading textbooks written by a composite author who does nothing more than reword and write down interpretations and opinions of the ideas in the books we are already reading. I will say one thing though: bring any modern textbook studied at any "conventional" college across the country to a Shimer classroom and it will be ripped apart faster than the court case against R. Kelly; A man who was, is, and will remain my homie. One love.
There's a reason so many Shimer students thrive in graduate and professional schools, and it has nothing to do with the impracticality of our education, or the personal opinions and feelings of the authors we read or what year the books we've read were written.
Id advise you all to watch "A Christmas Story" at least once, because it's on all day on TBS. It is an absolute classic. Oh, and for all you Christmas cake fans out there, here's a simple recipe for a Shimer Christmas Cake!* :
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup milk
- Tubed Frosting
- Chocolate Shimer Tree (currently unavailable)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x9 inch pan or line a muffin pan with paper liners.
- In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven. For cupcakes, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back to the touch.
- Use tubed frosting to write "Have a Shimer Christmas" anywhere on cake. Put chocolate Shimer tree (currently unavailable) somewhere on or around the cake.
*Non-denominational recipes available upon request.
Merry Christmas everyone!
This is Justin Lockwood, and, here's lookin' at you, America.