Last weekend, April 4 to 7, more than 100 participants from
around the world attended the 8th Annual Conference of the Association
for Core Texts and Courses, which was hosted by Concordias Liberal
Arts College (LAC).
There were a couple of dimensions to the conference, said
Professor Harvey Shulman, principal of the LAC. Theres the
institutional, the generating of an association of likeminded institutions,
and then theres the sharing of conversations about books themselves.
Colleges such as the LAC are structured around close, rigorous readings
of the great books from antiquity to the present works
which were well-represented at the conference by papers such as Charles
Williams Descent into Hell as a Doorway to Dantes Inferno
and Persuasive Evidence and Persuasion in The Gorgias.
But, Inferno notwithstanding, it was what Shulman calls the institutional
subjects which were the real hot topics.
Titled Re(-)forming Liberal Education, the conference addressed
many of the challenges core-text programs currently face. Of particular
note was the difficulty in finding new faculty possessing the appropriate
backgrounds to teach in such wide-ranging programs, a problem exacerbated
by the academys increasing emphasis on specialization.
There used to be a tradition in education that people came through
this type of curriculum normally, Shulman said, but in the
1960s, a lot of people broke away and instituted programs where groups
could choose what they like. Eventually, the next generation didnt
produce the intellectuals and the academics who were trained to teach
in the these programs.
Other topics included ways to assess the effectiveness of core-text programs,
and the pros/cons of expanding Western-centric curricula to include Eastern
thought. The ACTC membership is certainly not of one mind on many of these
subjects, Shulman said, but the overall environment was such that delegates
came away brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm.
Were trying to retrieve what we consider a significant part
of what educations always been, he explained. In some
cases, its the teaching of judgment.
How do you teach people to care about making judgments between what
is better, what is worse, what is higher, what is lower, what is not beautiful,
what is beautiful? Its not that we have one answer, but [we want
to stress] the idea there is such a thing as judgment and taste.
He added, The most important thing is not whether you remember this
or that particular book, but that, cumulatively, over time, you develop
curiosity, and you continue to read and think.
What I always tell people is, When you use your mind, you
dont use it up. The more you use your mind, the more youre
capable of using it for other things. Its the beginning of an education
Fred Krantz, a founding professor of the Liberal Arts College, echoed
Shulmans sentiment during a panel on creating and sustaining a core
curriculum by quoting the Wallace Stevens line, Things as they are
/ Are changed upon the blue guitar.
Thats what were talking about here, he said. A
core text curriculum really is a kind of blue guitar. It changes you.