Tuesday, May 07, 2013

From toast to waffles UPDATED

-"Into The Gloss" has a Top Shelf on Garance Doré. Like you're not going to drop what you're doing (in my case, eating a Montreal-style bagel imported from Philadelphia) to look at it. The takeaway: all things equal, find a partner who lets you eat what you'd like for breakfast. On switching to oatmeal because Mr. Sartorialist vetoed toast: "My mornings used to be a celebration of life and now it’s like, ‘Ok…" Remember that (the already-slim) Doré has, in the past, referred to her boyfriend as her "weight-loss coach." I mean, eh, to each her own. I just ask that we not nod along when Doré refers to this as an American thing, when it's quite obviously a that relationship thing.

-While I personally have nothing against handlebar mustaches, I sure enjoyed Marc Maron's description of them.

-David Schraub endorses my definition of what anti-Semitism consists of. And, inadvertently I'm sure, reminds me of a certain conundrum that happens when a woman changes her last name.

-Miss Self-Important takes on the traditional conservative task of lamenting the decline of Western Civilization. Not the civilization itself - the UChicago Core course. There's now a Gender Studies option, which is a problem a) because Gender Studies means the teacher lectures while gesturing with a dildo and shows clips of "Real Housewives" during class because what canon? (inferred* from MSI's post title), and b) more to the point, because a civilization class needs to be rooted in a particular time-and-place, about a particular civilization, and therefore can't be about Gender and Sexuality across all of human history. (Foucault might disagree, but wouldn't he though.)

I know it's a tradition for conservative critics of academia to see Gender Studies as a proxy for a perceived decline in rigor, but my own experience of gender-as-a-lens is that it's really about introducing an integral part of the study of history that had been ignored. It's neither as sexy nor as 'oppression studies' as it's made out to be.

I'm more sympathetic to the need for a class called "X Civilization" to cover a particular area, but my guess is that they would. Which area will just depend on who's teaching the class, and because there will be multiple instructors, it won't be in the more general course description. And I think it's worth remembering (although conservatives might disagree) that even a course called Western Civ, even taught by the tweediest of instructors is going to have been edited, texts selected not according to some eternal canon, but the instructor's (or department's) interests and knowledge, which are themselves products of their own time, i.e. the time in which the class is being taught.

-If I ever have the time to spare - which I never will - I will make these.

*UPDATE - and only inferred - MSI said nothing about either of these things, merely used the word "sexy," thereby linking her critique, in my mind, to the broader conservative critique of Gender Studies.

38 comments:

David Schraub said...

Oh my goodness -- I'm so sorry. I was on complete auto-pilot.

Phoebe said...

No worries! I figured as much.

Helen said...

Scott Schuman is a toad. Every single piece Garance Dore has written since she started dating him has been about her weight, and what she can and can't eat now because America! makes you fat. And also how nice it is to have a man who tells you to do things, basically.

Phoebe said...

Helen,

Agreed. And it's definitely about control more than weight - if what Schuman wanted was to be with an emaciated-looking woman (as opposed to a regular-thin woman with above-average insecurities), he might have gone with any of the many women no doubt available to someone of his (no pun intended) stature in the fashion world.

Nicholas said...

Re: the Core, your last point is spot-on. Classics of Social and Political Thought is probably on the conservative, canon-y end, and there are still pretty vociferous arguments every term about what should be included and what dropped (3 of the 6 authors for spring term were on the chopping block at one point), which is always and only a product of what the instructors in the room decide at that point in time, and a lot of personal variation amongst instructors. And this is leaving aside issues like "no one would have thought Tocqueville was important enough to read 30 years ago." You can have a fixed canon or a Great Conversation, but not both.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, for one thing, no, I never said anything about dildos or Real Housewives; I was just playing with the wording of a Sex and Gender Civ. I do think Gender Studies is more inherently intertwined with political advocacy than, say, Ancient Mediterranean History, but that's not my point here.

My point is that Gender Studies is not a civilization, there is no way it can be reasonably construed as a civilization, and this move seems to be largely motivated by the logic, "My class is popular, ergo let's make it a Core class" so that it can get more students and more faculty. But that's not how the Core should work, or it would be just Gen Ed requirements. Civ is conceived as a broad historical survey based on primary texts. Those texts can deal with gender within a civilization if we have sufficient material to assign - in American Civ, for example, we read the Seneca Falls Convention speeches, Gilman, Addams, the Redstocking Manifesto, etc. But free-floating "gender" in "the world" is not the history of any civilization. You can read Jane Addams and compare her to Third World feminists, but if you're not also studying American Progressivism and post-colonial Indian history, which "thematic clusters" suggests you will not be, there is no historical context, it's not Civ. Sosc works more like this - you read texts w/o historical context - so Gender Studies can make a bid to be a Sosc course, which may not work so well when it's pointed out that its material already makes up part of Power, Identity, and Resistance.

The fact of curating a reading list is entirely tangential to what I'm saying. I never said anything about eternal canons. The Core readings in Civ, Sosc, and Hum are fairly standardized across sections, and they're generated by the committee that runs that sequence, I believe. Obviously given the time constraints, they must cut and paste, and I think the dispute over whether any given author merits a piece of the limited space is actually a useful one to have and re-have. But it doesn't have much to do with whether gender is a civilization. The point of the Core is not to cater to profs' specific research interests - again, that's Gen Ed - but to give students a broad grounding in the history of political thought, the history of a civilization, gen chem, so the courses are not designed to vary much by section.

The description of the Gender Civ that I linked suggested that it would be intentionally non-place specific: it will "address the fundamental place of gender and sexuality in the social, political, and cultural creations of different civilizations" in "thematic clusters" like "kinship" and "creativity and cultural knowledge." "The “Kinship” cluster includes readings on such topics as marriage, sex and anti-sex, love and anti-love, and reproduction. The “Creativity and Cultural Knowledge” cluster addresses the themes of authorship and authority, fighting and constructing the canon, and the debates over the influence of “difference” on cultural forms." Not only does that sound pretty internally incoherent; it's clearly not a history course. Even the previous efforts to do thematic civ courses like music or science ended up being grounded in particular civilizations so that they became the history of science or music in Western Civ. This is just an atemporal cultural studies mishmash.

On the other end of conservative critiques of academia, there is reflexive liberal defense of pet political interests without any consideration for whether any particular incarnation of them makes any sense. Gender studies already exists as a course at Chicago; the validity of its existence is not at stake. The question is, is it a good candidate for a Civ sequence? You're an historian; does it look like history to you?

Phoebe said...

MSI,

Agreed that you did not say anything about dildos or Real Housewives, and my apologies if it came out that way. My point was that you did react to this being not merely a new kind of Civ, but a gender kind of Civ, in the post, but especially in the title. I've updated the post to make sure all will see this clarification.

And, in the interest of further clarification, I'm not a historian. I'm not quite sure what I am, which might be its own critique of interdisciplinarity (or maybe just our lack of terminology for those-who-study-literature - if you say you study French, people think you just repeat French 101 year after year, not quite getting the hang of it), but that could send us down another path entirely.

But that said, I'm looking at these descriptions, and nowhere does it say that each course will cover all of the planet across all time. I'm not sure why (or how!) they wouldn't cover the time-and-place the prof happens to have expertise in. If the course titles are not too specific, it's because they're leaving this open to instructors with different specializations area-wise. Especially the class to be taught by "Staff."

Anyway, I don't see anything about gender being a civilization. To me, these do indeed look like history classes. And like useful ones for students who a) want to go on to graduate study of history, or b) what to know what the field of history looks like at the present time. This could surely work in conjunction with offering up primary texts.

Finally, in terms of the examples you give of which sort of texts, studying gender doesn't mean just looking at female authors or authors writing about women's rights. It can mean looking at questions of gender, sexuality, reproduction, etc. in any text in which these questions arise. It's more a way of looking at texts than a limitation on what can be assigned.

Miss Self-Important said...

In principle, the courses are not supposed to vary much by instructor. American Civ, for example, had about 10 sections when I took it, all with the same reading list. The main differences were in paper assignments. The idea that instructors teach their own particular specialty within some broad topical framework - one section on women in India, one on sexuality in 20th C. America, one on intermarriage in 19th C. France, all interchangeably fulfilling the requirement - is the premise of distribution requirements or gen eds, not the core. Obviously each of the readings will have to be from some place b/c they can't be from outer space, but there is not even a basic historical approach on display here - no chronological progression, no attention to any specific place's development over time, just a some topical "clusters" and theories. What in this course description strikes you as historical?

That's fine; there can be non-woman texts. I was just picking examples that I've at some point read to show that gender or sexuality-themed texts do not, when paired, clearly constitute a history of anything. My point is not that there are no texts related to gender and sexuality to read - as I said, I read plenty of them in non-gender studies courses - but that gender studies is not a justifiable civilization core course. Even the faculty responsible for this haven't come up with more than a half-baked justification for including their course among Civ courses: “We decided to go with Civilizations because of the very interdisciplinary and diverse nature of gender and sexuality...They are a fundamental part of existence, and without them, there would be no civilization whatsoever.” As I wrote in my post, lots of things are fundamental parts of existence to which we would never dedicate a course on the history of a civilization. I don't see how claiming that something is "interdisciplinary" or "diverse" qualifies it to be a Civ course either.

I think what you're mainly taking issue with is the view that Gender Studies is not a legitimate academic discipline, whereas what I'm arguing is that the Core should not be a series of arbitrary distribution requirements, and that trying to force a random popular course like Intro to Gender Studies (which is what this course self-professedly is) under the aegis of one of the existing Core requirements without any concern for what that requirement aims to teach and whether your academic sub-specialty can fulfill those aims is a way of turning the Core into just that.

Phoebe said...

"The idea that instructors teach their own particular specialty within some broad topical framework - one section on women in India, one on sexuality in 20th C. America, one on intermarriage in 19th C. France, all interchangeably fulfilling the requirement - is the premise of distribution requirements or gen eds, not the core."

I think I see the distinction between a "gen ed" history class and a "core" one (many different reading lists vs. just the one across all sections), but to me, these do sound like history classes, or at least potentially history classes. Why do you think they wouldn't move chronologically, and teach something about what changed and didn't change over time?

I mean, I see that there's a lot that isn't spelled out. The justification you cite as being given for this Civ isn't going to convince the Gender-Studies-skeptical. But if we take a "civilization" class to be a history class, and the study of history today includes a good bit of gender-studies, it seems almost bizarre not to introduce students to this. To me, it comes down to, is this course requirement about introducing undergrads to the academic study of history, or is it about initiating them in the tradition of UChicago's specific, quirky way of teaching Civ?

Miss Self-Important said...

The justification you cite as being given for this Civ isn't going to convince the Gender-Studies-skeptical.
Does that justification even convince you that it belongs among courses that "provide an in-depth examination of the development and accomplishments of one of the world's great civilizations through direct encounters with significant and exemplary documents and monuments...Their approach stresses the grounding of events and ideas in historical context and the interplay of events, institutions, ideas, and cultural expressions in social change"?

What, specifically, is historical about this course description? It doesn't mention any specific place or time, and the sequence progresses thus: intro to gender and queer theory concepts, "kinship," "creativity," "politics," "economics." Is there a chronology implied in that? Critical theory is first conceived in the sixth century BC, and then the family is created around the world, followed by a Middle Ages of creativity, then the early modern inception of politics, and finally economics arrives on the world scene in the 20th century?

Gender studies is not in itself a history of gender and doesn't profess to be, and this course is not a history of gender either. It's just a "studies" that doesn't apparently fit into any Core sequence. You can incorporate gender questions into a history course, but that's not what this seems to be after, because again, the other Civs already do that and this would be redundant. Civ is also not a methods course in how to do historical research or in various "lenses" you could apply to historical research; it's supposed to be a course in the actual content of history. All the rest is topical stuff that comes later in individual, non-Core courses, such as Intro to Gender Studies. The Core is also not supposed to be prep for graduate study; that's what your major is for, should you desire it to be. You should complete the Civ course being able to answer the question, "What was happening and being thought in Civilization X during Epoch Y? What caused this to happen? What was the effect of this happening?" I can more or less answer these sorts of questions about American history and ancient Greek and Roman history, in which I took Civ courses. Even the topical Civs like music and science follow this kind of chronological, cause-and-effect progression. How will this Gender Studies Civ teach answers to these questions?

Phoebe said...

"Civ is also not a methods course in how to do historical research or in various "lenses" you could apply to historical research; it's supposed to be a course in the actual content of history."

OK, I think I see where our disagreement stems from. I don't think it's possible for there to be an objective, apolitical content-of-history course, one that doesn't make some kind of argument, however much between-the-lines.

Or even if there were, it couldn't be a Civ course, because those are explicitly not survey courses, this war happened that year now cram for the test courses. The courses teach you how to read a primary-source document as a historian would, for its historical content. So yes, this is kind of method-ish, lens-ish, even if it doesn't go as far as such a course aimed at future historians would.

And I agree with you that the specifics aren't laid out. But I can only repeat that these would probably just fall into place within the course itself, given the instructor's area of interest. What you're interpreting as wishy-washy, I'm interpreting as, they're keeping options open.

Miss Self-Important said...

I took a couple of Civs and I also majored in history, and there was a definite difference in their approaches and methodological assumptions. Civ was not about historical research; it was about textual analysis, of the assigned set of texts, in a historical context. For example, Locke's Second Treatise, which I read for both Civ and Sosc, was in the first case read as "How does this relate to the political arguments of Jefferson and Adams?" and in the second as, "What does this say about rights?" The former approach is I think clearly more historically contextualized than the latter, but it's still not really the method of academic history. In history courses, we wrote research papers requiring us to select our own sources and review the secondary lit, which is clearly more like academic history than having five texts selected for you to analyze.

As for apolitical and objective or cramming for tests, I'm not sure any of those are relevant distinctions. There are no tests in Civ, the papers are all textual analysis, and the courses cover political history, so they're political in that sense. I don't really know what you mean by objectivity, except as an arcane 19th C. German dispute. There was no message between the lines that I detected in American Civ, Western Civ, or Ancient Mediterranean Civ - these were all just presentations of the intellectual and political development of these civilizations.

You're right that Civ is not supposed to be a survey course, but that doesn't mean it has no historical content. It means that it doesn't use textbooks, have lectures, or focus on the memorization of a series of facts. But it's not as though you don't learn about the facts of the American Revolution by reading primary source accounts of it. Moreover, they assume prerequisite survey course-type knowledge (from something like AP US or AP Euro) so that the primary sources aren't being stacked on a foundation-less building. (This would seem to be a problem for anything claiming to be a "World Civ" course - how many students can have sufficient survey knowledge of the history of the world on which to ground these various thematic readings?) So even without being surveys, they're still courses about the chronological history of a civilization.

I still fail to see how gender studies can fit this paradigm. So far, you've defended its merit on the grounds that gender is a possible lens for studying history that trendy historians go in for. But would you say that Sociology in World Civilization would make a good Civ sequence b/c demography and social analysis are possible methodological approaches to the study of history? Or, if we're interested in lenses through which to view history - the Economy in World Civilization, or Land Use in World Civilization? Is any or every methodological approach to history worthy of a Civ sequence? Is there any reason that it's insufficient to simply offer Gender Studies courses in the College, or to study gender in the context of existing civilization courses, and instead Gender Studies needs to be a Civ sequence in its own right?

If they have to keep their options so open that they can't explain how their course is a history of anything, or relates to any civilization, or maybe they haven't even thought that part through yet, isn't that kind of a troubling basis for calling this a foundational course worth requiring of potentially every undergraduate in the College?

Phoebe said...

In no particular order (chronological or otherwise):

I'm sure you're better-trained in history than I am, and more to the point, that you've been more attentive to pedagogy than I have been. If you asked me what we were supposed to get out of reading [insert classic text here] in Sosc as vs. Civ, I would draw a blank. And I must admit to being a bit bogged down now in sorting out how the fact that Civ, but not a historian-training grad course, hones in just in the primary texts would change matters. Presumably the prof, in these cases, serves as the 'secondary source,' and helps the students produce papers that are themselves 'secondary sources,' albeit without the whole conversation-with-other-scholarship aspect.

"isn't that kind of a troubling basis for calling this a foundational course worth requiring of potentially every undergraduate in the College?"

Isn't it, rather, that this is one option, among many, that can be used to fulfill a requirement? And - I may repeat myself - I really do think the reason no progression is spelled out is, it might be a Western Civ, or some other kind of Civ, but it's designed to be able to work for different areas.

"There was no message between the lines that I detected in American Civ, Western Civ, or Ancient Mediterranean Civ - these were all just presentations of the intellectual and political development of these civilizations."

That, or you agreed with the politics. As in, whoever designs the course decides what to include and what not to include. In anything that isn't a survey course (and arguably even in such a course, although that's a tougher case to make, if it really is something like, when was WWII, etc.), there's some... editorializing. Deciding what is and isn't important. I mean, you brought in the word "trendy," which I wouldn't have used. I don't see this as, there was some optimal way of teaching history, from whichever preferred back-in-the-day, and however it's done at present is faddish. Whatever it was in 1955 was equally the 1950s fad. And - and this is the bit I think is most important - if a textual-analysis approach that barely touches on gender, or race, class, etc. is now passé among historians, a course that stubbornly sticks to that is just going to be confusing for anyone who goes on to study history, and isn't by any means needed in order to convey whichever basic what-happened-when information (information that, as you say, students in principle got in high school).

Finally, re: a sociology-themed Civ... this may well already be out there, if the prof happens to be a sociologist. Some Civ profs are literature profs (I believe I even took a course from one of the profs teaching the Gender class we're discussing, but don't remember much about her/the class, only that it was very technical/grammatical and had nothing to do with gender studies.) But I almost think the better analogy would be something like a 'race' Civ, with a focus on how race was constructed in whichever time-and-place. (I thought of 'Jewish Civ,' but that could actually be a history of one of the Jewish civilizations - not entirely geographically stable, but civilizations all the same, not lenses.) As for whether these are valid history courses, I'd think they could be. But no, they might not meet a traditional ideal of what a Core Curriculum Civ should consist of.

Miss Self-Important said...

The prof serves as a secondary source insofar as you can ask him questions, but the class is a seminar discussion of the texts, like in Hum and Sosc, except historically rather than as philosophy or literature. Nor is textual analysis offered up as a methodology for history, old or new, or as something exclusive of content; it's just the approach that distinguishes the courses from surveys. As I said in the first comment, the existing Civ sequences already include texts on gender, so that's not clearly the problem. (And if it were, then I'd ask again, wouldn't it be solved by incorporating them into existing Civs rather than inventing a new one just for gender?) Textual analysis is always present in historical research but it's also not unique to historical research, so there is no intended link b/w reading primary texts and history grad school one way or the other.

"As for whether these are valid history courses, I'd think they could be. But no, they might not meet a traditional ideal of what a Core Curriculum Civ should consist of."
So race history, economic history, land use history, and gender history already are history courses, and what's in question is not whether the academic study of gender or race should be permitted somewhere, but whether it should be made into a Core Civ requirement. (And yes, there is a Jewish Civ.) I guess I'm a little curious at this point about what you believe the purpose of the Core is in the first place? Is there any reason to have a Civ requirement at all instead of a history distribution requirement? Civ does not seem particularly distinct in your account from a generic social science intro course, which may as well be made into a literature course if it happens to be taught by an English prof. If that's the case, why argue for a Gender Civ? Why not Gender Hum? Or Gender Sosc? Or just Gender, a new requirement all its own? Isn't it pretty indifferent what gets offered where so long as all the lenses are offered somewhere?

"That, or you agreed with the politics."
Maybe, but you'd have to tell me what the politics were first. How would you diagnose the implicit politics of a 19th C. American Civ syllabus that contained readings from, Jefferson, Jackson, Calhoun, Tocqueville, the Seneca Falls speeches, Douglass, and Lincoln (to trim a bit and stop halfway)?

"Isn't it, rather, that this is one option, among many, that can be used to fulfill a requirement?"
Right, one option among a few, and the idea is that all the options have been designed to offer an equally "in-depth examination of the development and accomplishments of one of the world's great civilizations," so this Gender Civ has just forgotten to hone in on which civilization it's going to deal with, but everything is in place to make it comparable to East Asian Civ or Euro Civ, etc. Pretending for a second that this is not laughable, does that judgment depend at all on what they finally decide on? Can they make a bad choice here? Or should we be confident that, whatever the content ends up being, it will be sufficient for a Civ course because it's the gender studies that's important, and the precise civilization at hand or historical context is of secondary importance?

Britta said...

In terms of the pedagogical function of the core courses, content is fairly far back. No one expects freshmen to be experts in Marx or the Ancient Mediterranean from a first year survey course. The goal of the core is to foster critical thinking and writing abilities through an engagement with famous texts.

I share the skepticism that this is a good civ topic in particular, but it seems like your argument relies on "XX studies" are trendy pablum. None of the professors teaching it are 'gender studies' professors, but rather, belong to highly canonical disciplines (anthropology, political science, literature) with very different and often antagonistic academic traditions & approaches to the work coming out of 'gender studies' or 'cultural studies' more generally. At a "stodgy" university like UofC, this is even more the case. I know there is a gender and sexuality studies major, but there isn't a gender and sexuality studies department.

Of course, after teaching undergrads who say things like, "Why is Simone de Beauvoir so shrill?" or "Fanon should have just gotten over it" (yes, both actual direct quotes), I wouldn't be opposed to some sort of mandatory engagement with literature on gender/race some at a certain midwestern institution of higher learning.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

Jewish Civ indeed! I didn't scroll around enough I see. Also "Jewish Thought and Literature," though, which would seem to suggest these courses aren't conceived of as straight history classes. The difference with the Gender version seems to be that rather than being in Western Civilization, it's in World, which may mean it will be whichever area the prof knows or, as you speculate, that it will flutter around from topic to topic with no historical coherence.

Anyway, what occurred to me with all of this was, we're basically having an argument about Constitutional law - you prefer a strict interpretation of that first paragraph discussing what Civ consists of, one that's true to the founders' (in this case, the founders of Western Civ and the Core) intentions.

My take is that this is basically impossible from the get-go. The discipline of history has changed, the people teaching it have changed, what we think undergraduates need to know has changed. Not all that radically, but somewhat. I don't believe that straying from the original mission's most narrow parameters means a slippery slope to anything-goes, where absolutely anything can count as a history class. Also, the category is "Civilization Studies" which includes a word other than "civilization," and suggests that the Constitution has been amended.

But moving beyond textual analysis, if "civ" means an intro-level history course, aimed at non-majors, introducing the idea that history is studied through situating primary documents, not textbook-regurgitation, then all these courses we've been discussing seem about right. If there are courses on different civilizations, it's not going to be a Core in the sense of everyone reading the same books.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

"The goal of the core is to foster critical thinking and writing abilities through an engagement with famous texts."

That sounds about right. It doesn't explain how Civ differs from the other sequences, but there's probably not much consistent answer to that. At least, as a middle-of-the-road student in Hum and Sosc classes, it often felt arbitrary to me what went into one course vs. the other.

I'm curious why you're skeptical of the Gender civ, if not for the same reason as MSI.

I understand the gender-isn't-a-civilization argument, and agree with MSI that the language in which this course was introduced doesn't make the best possible case for it being taught as a history intro course. But setting that aside, if gender is a key concern in the discipline of history today, then understanding what's meant by "gender" in this context would seem as good a frame as any for what will - I can't insist on this enough, apparently - inevitably end up being a history class focused on the area the prof happens to know about.

As for "trendy," yes, gender is now important to history, and it wasn't always. But there are on the one hands shifts in a field, and on the other, topics that are "sexy" for undergraduates. I can understand objections to a course that consists of, let's watch a popular TV show and gasp when the hip professor uses bad language/makes a drug reference a high school teacher wouldn't have. But keeping up with shifts in the discipline seems like something else entirely.

Miss Self-Important said...

Britta:
I'm not too excited by "studies," but no, my argument doesn't rely on their being "trendy pablum." My argument relies on the course description and justifications given by the faculty creating Gender Civ, neither of which address the aims of a Civ course. They address the aims of some kind of course perhaps, but not Civ.

While one aim of the Core may be to develop thinking and writing skills, that's true of the aim of all distribution requirements and actually all courses generally, given that most will not be taken for the purpose of directly applying their content to a future job. So I'd ask you the same thing as Phoebe - does the Core have a different purpose than distribution requirements, or just college courses more generally? Or is it just a different name for the same?

And I too am often confronted with student ignorance and dismissiveness about what I teach, so I am fully in support of turning that into a reason for mandatory engagement with my academic interests as well. Every topic to which students might respond dismissively should be mandatory - thus, academic jobs for all!

Phoebe:
I'm using that description as a baseline understanding of what unifies the courses, not a sacred text. I don't know why there are two Jewish civs; seems redundant. Maybe Hum rejected the second one and it found a home in Civ, the catch-basin of all homeless efforts to raise course enrollment? As I also said in my post, Gender Civ is not the first questionable Civ. It's just the most recent and most blatantly unhistorical offering.

But, to repeat and rephrase: Is the Core different from distribution requirements? You refer to Civ interchangeably as an "intro history class," which suggests that the Core is a particular name for distribution requirements. Given the changes in the discipline of history you refer to, what changes should be made to the Core? Gender is a "key concept" now, but it's only one of many subfields of history, which also include economic history, historical geography, political history, social history, urban history, etc.

In order to give students an up-to-date picture of the field of history, shouldn't all these subfields claim a Civ? It's also not clear why we should frame the courses as being about civilizations at all, rather than offering a variety of topical courses in which the particular lenses or approaches will be exemplified. There can be an Urban History of Hyde Park, an Economic History of 19th C. Central Europe, a Gender History of Colonial America, etc., each fulfilling the intro history requirement. Wouldn't that be more sensible and modern than trying to wedge all these lenses, concepts, approaches, and other scholarly developments into the clunky framework of Civilization Studies?

Phoebe said...

MSI,

"And I too am often confronted with student ignorance and dismissiveness about what I teach, so I am fully in support of turning that into a reason for mandatory engagement with my academic interests as well. Every topic to which students might respond dismissively should be mandatory - thus, academic jobs for all!"

I don't think that's quite fair re: what Britta's talking about, although she can intervene if she disagrees. I took her to be saying that students are, well, openly racist and sexist, and could use some schooling-in-the-formal-and-informal-sense to stop being so insensitive.

Which, if you think about it, makes sense even from a conservative or anti-PC-contrarian perspective. Realistically, college is supposed to, among other things, prepare you for the world beyond. Somewhere along the line, your college experience has failed you if you show up at a job interview at 22, call a powerful woman "shrill," and fail to see where you went wrong there. Maybe this should be addressed in a Civ class, maybe not, but it does seem part of being educated.

As for the difference between distribution requirements and the Core... I can't imagine I've thought this through as much as you have. Best I can say, the difference is that a history elective assumes more prior college experience, whereas the Core is UChicago's particular way of describing the classes geared towards yanking you from high-school-level to college-level work.

And it's not immediately obvious to me why there'd be just one way of doing so, why a more narrowly-defined history course (with proper contextualization, so you could still cover a lot of ground) wouldn't work.

Miss Self-Important said...

"I took her to be saying that students are, well, openly racist and sexist, and could use some schooling-in-the-formal-and-informal-sense to stop being so insensitive. Which, if you think about it, makes sense even from a conservative or anti-PC-contrarian perspective. Realistically, college is supposed to, among other things, prepare you for the world beyond."
Yes, but their racism and sexism is rooted in ignorance not malice, right? Otherwise college courses couldn't cure them, since courses can only educate, not root out malice. If that's so, then we can probably agree that students are also openly ignorant of basic logic, mathematics, history, philosophy, etc., all of which could plausibly help them in situations in the "the world beyond" college. I assume you don't believe that the "world beyond" is limited to social encounters with PC strangers, or that prepping for social encounters with PC strangers is the primary purpose of a college education? If not, then, of all the possible disciplines, topics, and courses, which ones merit mandatory inclusion in the curriculum and which can be left to chance or informal absorption? I don't see a particularly compelling argument for a course on race or gender over and above a course in chemistry or poetry. I can see the logic of mandating all courses, given that we can't predict in advance what will benefit any given student in his life beyond college or what kinds of situations he'll find himself in. Furthermore, what if he interviews at 22 with a misogynist who will only hire someone who expressly insults women? Wouldn't he have been better off with an education in misogyny than sensitivity then?

And it's not immediately obvious to me why there'd be just one way of doing so, why a more narrowly-defined history course (with proper contextualization, so you could still cover a lot of ground) wouldn't work.
So, is there any reason to bother with civilizations at all? Why not just upgrade to distribution requirements more clearly in sync with contemporary academic disciplines? Do you see any positive reason to retain the Civ framework, other than inertia? I suspect that I was right several comments ago that your defense of Gender Civ is not really aimed at my objection to it at all. You're saying gender is an important thing and should be taught in college, and perhaps required, not that the course either achieves the aims of the existing Core Civ program, or that it even should, since the Civ program is itself pointless.

Britta said...

And I too am often confronted with student ignorance and dismissiveness about what I teach, so I am fully in support of turning that into a reason for mandatory engagement with my academic interests as well. Every topic to which students might respond dismissively should be mandatory - thus, academic jobs for all!

Yes, what Phoebe said. I don't study racism or sexism. I don't care if people don't know or care about my academic interests. I DO care if people are racist and sexist, particularly at elite institutions of higher learning. I file this under "basic morality," and I find it highly depressing that anyone would view combating racism and sexism as akin to knowing algebra, or as a 'boutique' academic interest irrelevant to most. (Also highly depressing is the idea that the biggest problem of being racist or sexist is that it offends PC white people.) One of the primary goals of a liberal arts education since, oh, forever, has been to inculcate moral values into students. To not do this is to fail a student in a much deeper way than failing to teach them Ancient Greek or linear algebra.

While your argument centered around this not being of the same kind as an area based civ course, a lot of the comments you made implied that this was not only different from, but lesser than, say, European civ in large part because it involved "XX studies." In actuality, this core sequence is taught by an amalgam of historians, anthropologists, political scientists, and lit. professors, just as all the other civ courses are. In fact, the professors who are teaching this new civ core also teach in other civ and sosc cores. It's not as though there are a bunch of respectable professors upholding the canon and then a bunch of overly politicized yahoos teaching this one civ core.

I don't really have a huge problem with a gender/sexuality civ course, especially if its purpose is 'historiography 101,' except that I agree that it isn't really akin to an area studies course. Gender is an analytic approach, but it's not an object of study the same way 'Ancient Greece' is. I would support more gender analysis being in already existing civ courses.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

Thanks - you conveyed what I thought but was unable, at least after that much dissertation-revision, to articulate.

Britta and MSI,

It appears - from my experience (my course was taught by two - excellent! - lit profs), from Britta's observations, and from the course catalogue - that there's already a great variety in terms of what counts as Civ. Is a literature class restricted to one area more "Civ" than a history class that deals, potentially, with more than one area?

MSI,

"I suspect that I was right several comments ago that your defense of Gender Civ is not really aimed at my objection to it at all. You're saying gender is an important thing and should be taught in college, and perhaps required, not that the course either achieves the aims of the existing Core Civ program, or that it even should, since the Civ program is itself pointless."

Interesting theory, but I will repeat what I said above: "the Core is UChicago's particular way of describing the classes geared towards yanking you from high-school-level to college-level work." It isn't, at this point, or when we were in college, a set of courses that ensure all students who graduate from UChicago will have read the same canon. The difference between Civ and a history distribution requirement is less that one deals with A Civilization, and more that Civ is above all an attempt to elicit college-level work from kids barely out of high school.

But, in the interest of peace, I'd be prepared to say something like what Britta does - that there could also just be more gender in existing Civs. (I will not, however, start protesting against the now-existing Gender Civ!) Better yet, in my view, would be for there to be a Gender track that did specify an area - Western, etc.

Miss Self-Important said...

Britta:
"One of the primary goals of a liberal arts education since, oh, forever, has been to inculcate moral values into students. To not do this is to fail a student in a much deeper way than failing to teach them Ancient Greek or linear algebra."
That's an interesting take, and in fact quite different from what Phoebe said, since she suggested that teaching anti-racism and anti-sexism had a largely instrumental purpose - helping students secure jobs, etc.. In the "forever" past, I believe what you call "inculcating moral values" was described as acting in loco parentis on the part of the college, a position that has generally been considered untenable for the past 50 years. But I'm glad to see that you're open to reviving it. However, I'm curious about which moral values you deem worthy of mandatory inculcation, and what principle should ground our decisions about that. Because, in this past from which we draw our guidance, the moral values to be inculcated by means of campus rules and courses included things like piety, sexual restraint and the complex of what we now refer to as "family values," patriotism, integrity, honesty, etc. Are you interested in reviving these particular moral values as well, or should we view morality as having evolved since this time? If so, into what has it evolved?

a lot of the comments you made implied that this was not only different from, but lesser than, say, European civ in large part because it involved "XX studies."
Yes, it is lesser than European Civ in large part b/c it is "XX studies," and not a civilization, while the point of the Civ sequence is to teach the history of a civilization through its primary texts. These texts can include literature and philosophy and buildings and big squares of dirt (Ancient Med. Civ), and the courses can be taught by anyone willing to teach in a way that addresses the historical-civilizational aim of this sequence, regardless of what her own discipline is. The fact that some of the faculty are lit profs doesn't mean that the course thereby becomes a lit course. That's precisely what the Core is trying to avoid. This isn't really that difficult to imagine; I would not teach Hum the same way as I'd teach Civ and I'd teach neither as a political science course, even though I am the same person, and "trained" as a political scientist. As I said, I'm not particularly excited about gender studies as an idea, but my point here is about preserving the Core as something more and better than distribution reqs or intro courses. That there are already other bad courses in the sequence is unfortunate, but doesn't justify offering more.

Miss Self-Important said...

Phoebe:
Is a literature class restricted to one area more "Civ" than a history class that deals, potentially, with more than one area?
No, in principle, a literature course should be restricted to Hum, on the model of Greek Thought and Lit. I'd only reiterate the point above - it's too bad that there is already a bunch of random stuff housed in Civ, but unless you think that what gets offered in Civ is a matter of indifference, then it doesn't follow that because some errors have already been made, more errors should be invited.

"the Core is UChicago's particular way of describing the classes geared towards yanking you from high-school-level to college-level work."
Are there any college classes not geared at producing college level work? What you describe sounds more like remedial courses, or at best, the aim of all distribution and gen ed courses. I just don't see where in your comments there is any real difference b/w the Core and distribution reqs, except the name, or any principle of selection for determining what the content of the yanking courses should be, and certainly not a principle that would lead to divisions like Civ, Sosc, Hum. Here, for example is Harvard's Gen Ed program, which consists of categories of courses like "Ethical Reasoning," "Culture and Belief," "Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding." Students have to take one course in each area, and the courses are topical offerings ("US Health Policy" or "Introduction to Ancient Philosophy") from w/in the departments. In your understanding of the Core, is it any different from this arrangement, except that we have different names for the course categories?

Miss Self-Important said...

I should add that while I'm glad that we have reached general agreement that gender studies does not in current form meet the precise definition of a civilization, I'm actually more puzzled to have discovered in the process that you seem to be more or less indifferent to what (in terms of concrete content) should be included in a college education, or how education should be organized, or whether it ought to even constitute a coherent whole, so long as students write and think about something at what is called a college level, which is a standard that no one has yet bothered to articulate (for which I'm not blaming you personally; the concrete meaning of "college level" just has yet to be explained by anyone). Perhaps they should also be required to eradicate their sexism and racism. And that's it? It strikes me as odd for someone who's spent many years being and teaching undergrads and has thought about many aspects of the university not to consider something so fundamental as what students should learn, or not to consider the question itself to be of much importance.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

-Your response to Britta misrepresents what I was saying re: the value of educating students not to say racist/sexist things and think that will just go unnoticed. I was saying that *even if* you're not the sort to care, you should. I'd classify myself as the sort to care.

-I'm curious what you think differentiates the Core from its equivalents elsewhere, if it has indeed strayed from the everyone reads the same texts ideal. I see how *that* would be different, and also how the Core differs from the no-requirements model. But what is it you think the Core, and the Core specifically, is there to accomplish?

-I will readily admit that I've thought less about what a college education should consist of than you have, but it doesn't seem at all fair to say that because I'm more flexible than you are about what a Civ might consist of, I have no thoughts on undergraduate education. Indeed, it would be strange if I had none, and I find it strange that's the conclusion you've come to. (Thoughts on the importance of showing students that scary-sounding primary documents or Great Books are just books that you pick up and read, on teaching students how to construct an argument, and unless this is an actual statement of teaching philosophy, I'll spare you the rest.) But honestly, the more we discuss it, the less clear I am on what Civ is, what you think it is, what its relationship to a history class is, etc.

-"Are there any college classes not geared at producing college level work?"

My point is that most colleges have some program for yanking students from one sort of learning (high school) to another (college). And that's different from what one takes later in college. It's also different from a remedial course, which is to prepare students for that level.

Chicago's Core is nobler-sounding than Freshman Comp, and not the exact same thing by any means, but yes, frankly, the idea is very much the same. It may not be called "Writing The Essay," but it's basically Read The Primary Source, then Write The Essay.

Phoebe said...

Also: I don't believe it was ever up for debate whether or not gender constituted a civilization. Did Britta think it did? Did I? At most, an imprecisely-worded course title did. Would you compromise for Gender in Western Civ?

Britta said...

The core is a special program and one that is admired by universities nationwide, but it really is primarily designed to get kids to think and write in a more sophisticated way. I teach in the core, I attend core staff meetings and pedagogical training sessions, so I feel fairly qualified to define what the university sees the goal of the core, beyond the impressions of someone who took the courses as a freshman would think.

The difference between the core and non-core classes is the core only engages with primary texts. In a core class modeled on anthropology, you'd read Levi-Strauss, Durkheim, Mauss, Sahlins, etc. The questions would be more broad: What are these texts about? How can we tell? What can we learn about ideas of culture, society, civilization, and human thought? In a non-core anthro class, you would also read a lot of more recent ethnographies and journal articles and get a sense of where the field is. The focus would be less on broader more philosophical questions and more on: what are current issues in the field today?

Beyond that the core which is a "great books" model no longer really exists. There are neuro-science directed sosc cores, like Mind, where no one is reading Marx and Adam Smith. Hum cores also range across all sorts of topics and include plenty of texts a conservative would probably get their panties in a twist knowing students had to read. Same with Civ. The core is sort of pedagogy rather than based on a particular topic of study, and no where does it say the gender studies civ core will be taught substantively differently from any other core. All I see is ad hominem and totally off-base attacks against "gender studies" in the abstract and a sense that it must be crappy scholarship that will involve random, non contextualized, overtly political comparisons, pulled out of absolutely nowhere.

That you worry this will consist of inferior scholarship not up to Chicago's "usual" standards, then you must have reservations about the professors teaching it. If so, then you ought to also worry that these professors already teach in and even run sections of the core, and indeed, already help decide the core curriculum in "mainstream" core courses like Self or PIR. If you assume that they are qualified to teach & determine curricula of other core courses, and that they were given endowed professorships for a reason, then you ought to assume that they can teach & devise curricula at a level which meets the standards of the civ core, even if it seems a little different.

Nicholas said...

Dropping in on this thread again to echo and agree with Britta. As someone who is also (if only for a year) teaching the Core, attending staff meetings, etc, this is both my impression of what I'm doing and the impression I've gathered from others about what they're doing. It's true even in Classics of Social and Political Thought, which I gather to be the 'conservative' Great Books-y SOSC option.

The thing that is really pedagogically different about the Core (as opposed to Princeton, Duke, and Michigan, the other places I know about) are that the classes run in sequence for longer, with mostly the same students; that allows you to be a little more ambitious in what you teach and how. I also think it's weird and a little counterproductive that writing instruction is still mostly outsourced to Hum, but that's another conversation.

I'll also agree with Britta on the reservations about professors question. One of the attractions of Chicago as an instructor is the wide degree of latitude you get, which allowed me, for instance, to add the Bible, Augustine, and Calvin to the first term of Classics. If you don't trust the people who you hire to design courses in the manner they see fit, why hire them? And why trust an administrator (who'd be making the decisions otherwise in any contemporary university) more?

Phoebe said...

Nick, Britta,

Thanks for giving the perspective of those actually teaching these courses. For me, this is both lots of new information and a good reminder of what the courses were.

And - and this gets to MSI's speculation that I have no thoughts on undergraduate education - it's helping me clarify a thought I've long had, but had trouble articulating. The primary-text-only approach, which I remember extending to classes beyond the Core (which, of course, were ones I'd chosen to take, and maybe not representative), probably was what made UChicago special.

But "special" wasn't always a good thing. Sometimes it was - there's a lot to be said for teaching students that even Great Books are just text that, if you're literate, you can get through. And it kills two birds with one stone - you get the content of important works, along with the freshman-comp-type education.

As for why it wasn't so great... I got to grad school and the fact that I'd read a ton of primary texts, including in French, sure helped. But that I had no idea what literary theory was, that I was trying to see what the connection could possibly be between the Core-class readings of Foucault and Bourdieu to novels, wasn't so wonderful. Now, one might say, a stronger student, or one more passionate about literature, would have figured this out for herself. But my impression in grad school has been that this is something that's generally part of an undergrad program.

And I also came away from college with the sense that anything that wasn't just reading a primary text and reacting to it was nonsense. It could have been that I missed the point of college, but this was the message I took from it. I didn't understand that if you're going to be reacting to whichever texts, you're in conversation with those who have already done so. Which led to my application to a certain history PhD program, where they wanted you to respond to a book of history scholarship, but I thought I'd really impress them by sending in a response to a primary text. Guess how well that went!

My understanding of MSI's argument (as always, person I'm attempting to speak for, by all means intervene and speak for yourself) is that she believes there already was this college course, Gender Studies, and some (shady? self-interested?) behind-the-scenes maneuverings brought it up to the more vaunted Core status. So I don't think she's saying that the faculty are inept, or that the resulting course would have no content. Rather, she's saying that something's being labeled "Civ" that should be otherwise classified.

Miss Self-Important said...

Phoebe:
I was saying that *even if* you're not the sort to care, you should.
I took your illustration of why uncaring sorts should care - b/c anti-sexism education will help a student get a job with someone who is sensitive to sexist remarks (but not w/ someone who is not, I assume) - to suggest that the reason for caring should be instrumental, or as you said, that it can help students in their post-college lives. That's plausible in certain cases, if indeed the student ends up encountering social situations that anti-sexism or anti-racism education would address, but there is no way for a college to ensure that, and there would seem to be an almost infinite number of confusing potential future social situations that could be addressed this way. So I'm not sure what, in terms of the practical benefit you advocate, would make racism and sexism education particularly appealing over and above other life adjustment-type courses, just as I'm not sure what in terms of moral urgency would make them more necessary than other moral instruction in Britta's moral values framework. Perhaps instrumentalism is not what you intended to convey by the example, but you can correct me.

The reason you come across as indifferent is that your defenses of Gender Civ have ranged from something like, gender is a big topic that academics care about so undergrads should be introduced to these professional scholarly concerns, to gender studies will help you get along better in the world, to possibly endorsing Britta's claim that it's a matter of morality, to kids just need to learn to write well and gender is as good a vehicle for conveying that as any other. These are very different premises for a Core, some mutually exclusive, and none clearly distinguish it from other introductory courses. In the absence of evidence that this course will fulfill even the present vague historical aims of the Civ sequence, you say, well, they can figure that out later. Maybe they can, but that suggests that there are no particular standards we can apply in advance. On the other hand, you might think that it's gender itself that needs to be studied, and the matter of indifference is whether it's in Civ or elsewhere, so the historical aspect is secondary to the urgency of the topic itself. If that's the case, then I'm wrong to conclude you're indifferent to what constitutes a liberal education, b/c you do have specific ideas, but you've framed them in terms of 'this belongs in UChicago's Civ Core' while actually arguing that 'this belongs in any program of liberal or college education'. If the latter is what you're aiming at, then we can abstract from Chicago-specific considerations, and I'd reiterate the question above about what makes gender particularly necessary to require.

The question for debate was, I believe, is this a reasonable Civ course? Your answer was that it's not not a reasonable Civ course for all reasons paraphrased above. I think we conclude it's not a good Civ course as judging by the descriptions so far given, but could be a good something course, or could become a good Civ course, assuming they have a lot more historical and contextual things in mind than they've chosen to convey. As far as that goes, I'd say Gender in Western Civ would pass muster only b/c we've already lowered the bar to include other topical Western Civs, but not if we had a firmer view of the Core.

What I think the Core should be is long enough for a blog post, so I will post a comment-thread version in the subsequent post.

Miss Self-Important said...

Britta:
It's true that as mere freshman (and sophomore, junior, senior), I could not have understood too much, and I doubt reading about the College's history helped a great deal in those early years, so let's consider your experience of the university's aims. Your distinction b/w Core and departmental courses is identical to the one I gave for history, so no problem there. But if the goal is simply to get students to write in a "sophisticated" way, then what relation is there b/w that and the primary texts? Couldn't you easily do the former w/o emphasis on the latter? What, moreover, is the difference b/w the different parts of the Core; are these just arbitrary groupings? If there is a neuroscience (and also statistics - Democracy from way back) sosc, then it seems that primary texts are not that central after all, since only some classes require them? So is the university confused about its own aims?

include plenty of texts a conservative would probably get their panties in a twist knowing students had to read
Hmm, maybe. I wasn't aware that either the Great Books or the Core in its initial conception were products of panty-wearing conservative minds trying to shield the youth from radical texts.

no where does it say the gender studies civ core will be taught substantively differently from any other core. All I see is ad hominem and totally off-base attacks against "gender studies" in the abstract and a sense that it must be crappy scholarship that will involve random, non contextualized, overtly political comparisons, pulled out of absolutely nowhere.
Well, the present difficulty is more that nowhere does it say that it will be taught in a way that resembles a Civ course. You can examine the links above or on my blog and see if you can find evidence of anything clearly historical or civilizational in the given descriptions. I don't think I've made ad hominem attacks on gender studies here (would be hard since it's not a homo), but I invite you to point them out to me if I've overlooked them. My claims about decontextualization come from the course description offered by the course's faculty in the catalog.

That you worry this will consist of inferior scholarship not up to Chicago's "usual" standards, then you must have reservations about the professors teaching it.
I also don't recall expressing reservations about the professors teaching it, but again, you can point me to an instance I've overlooked. I don't know them, and can only make judgments based on the information they release, which is what I've done. I'm not sure why questioning their vagueness is impermissible. Does teaching other courses render them infallible?

Finally, have we dropped your promising moral values curriculum?

Nick:
I don't have a preference for trusting administrators over instructors, but I think it's possible for both to err. Don't you? The Core is a cooperative undertaking across disciplines; it's not simply a matter of giving free reign to individual preferences in course design, because again, that's the departmental course model. If instructor flexibility is the goal, you'd get a much wider degree of latitude in any freshman seminar or Gen Ed-based program than in the Core. Instead of the radical decision to add Augustine back in after a two-year absence, you could select the topic and all the readings of your courses - wouldn't that be far preferable on your argument?

Miss Self-Important said...

Finally, my Ideal Core:
I think the Core should be very limited so that there is a unified curriculum across the College prior to the specialization of a major. Having 10 sosc options, etc. to suit various tastes is clearly the reverse of that. I'd allow 1-2 options at most. Obviously this raises a question about what is worthy of inclusion in the radically pared-down reading lists, which I propose to solve by having the faculty who will teach each Core duke it out until they reach an agreement. In a more restricted framework like this, changing the authors offered in any given year or even within different sections is not a problem so long as the course as a whole is well-articulated. At the level of the Core, which is not preparation for an academic career but should be a liberal education in itself, subbing Augustine for Cicero in sosc, or Milton for Hobbes in civ, makes little difference, despite the fact that this would be a crime in a real discipline. My interest is not generating some definitive canon, but in creating a reasonably unified program of basic liberal education, after which you can specialize or not according to your wishes. It's important to remember that the Core is not the whole college curriculum - it's only two years. Such a program would likely focus more on American and European texts than others, which I suppose is sad for specialists in non-Western literatures and histories, but that's an accident of circumstance; our own civilization is more accessible to itself than other civilizations are to us, at least at a first go, and there are more faculty in it. But I'm not particularly opposed to a non-Western requirement in addition. I'm also for abolishing all the sub-standard physci courses and requiring real chem or physics in their place (or potentially math and science through primary texts, but I'm agnostic on the benefits of that model at SJC).

As for the pedagogical aims of this program - what you say about showing students that a Great Book is just a book that you can pick up and read is, I think, exactly right and extremely important, as is of course learning to read and write analytically through close reading, but I would also add the goals of
1) filling in students' concrete knowledge of how we got where we are, in the sense of our political and intellectual history, our literature and art, and our philosophy (civ, hum, sosc, respectively), and
2) creating a common educational experience and content groundwork for both the students, who should study together at first so they can study apart profitably later, and also the faculty, who should be forced to de-specialize for a while in order to teach these courses
The latter is an element of "building community" in a better and more effective way than partying and fragmented extra-currics, which also bring strangers together, but less (and with more drunken conflict). I don't think that the dominant model of res-life as the best means to create a primarily academic community is effective, so I would like course-life to substitute.

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh, wait, no, one more thing, apropos of Phoebe's last comment:

It’s possible that this education is not ideal for grad school success, but I think pretty much everyone experiences fear and trembling in grad school, regardless of the nature of their undergraduate preparation. (Case in point, my grad school classmates from Brown: "Nothing was required! I've never read any of this before!") I just don't see how we can tenably claim that a program of liberal studies at the beginning of college should be constructed with the needs of future PhD students in mind. There must be some form of university-level education that is a real intellectual benefit to the non-specialist, no? At the same time, a graduate program should also have a learning curve, b/c if you already knew all the material covered in your grad coursework from college, why bother with grad school? It's not as though literary theory and gender studies are unavailable at UofC; they're just tangential to the Core, and so offered through departments and not universally required. Also, another big source of college-grad school training mismatch is that not everyone knows they want a PhD in college, so they fail to take advantage of available resources to further this end in college. (Like me/language training/oh well.) It's also worth considering that despite its primary source emphasis, which is by itself insufficient for every discipline, Chicago sends what appears to be (via FB observation, not hard data) 1/3 of its College grads into PhD programs. So the situation w/r/t grad school prep can't be so bad.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

First, our particular discussions. Next up: the Core more generally.

Our one area of complete agreement: scrap the faux-science classes. Force everyone to take one quarter of real biology, one of physics or chemistry, as is done with math already. I felt no particular sense of accomplishment after taking what were in the end some kind of challenging science classes (with math, I believe, in the astrophysics version). I'm not sure whether the real deal would have been more work, or just different, or if the only difference would have been the lower grade at the end of it, what with the majors/premeds taking the class as well.

But beyond something sappy like a sense of accomplishment or lack thereof, the current system effectively closes off science majors for those who don't come in knowing they're seeking those out. One does not similarly opt out of an English major. And there is - alas! - a gender angle here. If everyone had to take the same 'real' science classes, more people who didn't enter college fancying themselves science people might major in the hard sciences. Which is likely to mean more women.

In any case, I kind of wonder why they do it that way. Presumably it's a) to save humanities-types from having a C on their transcripts, and b) to save those courses for the purpose of weeding out would-be hard-science majors and pre-meds. But considering that Chicago - and none of the other schools I applied to (although my memory is fuzzy) insisted that applicants be strong in all major academic areas, it felt like a let-down that after proving I was good enough at calculus, I was channeled into rocks for jocks.

Re: the % of UChicago undergrads going on to PhD programs, my FB anecdata suggest, what, half? But then one hears that more than half of UChicago undergrads major in economics, whereas via FB, I might think only two or three do per graduating class. It's a bigger school than we think. But sure, a third could be right.

Re: UChicago as grad-school preparation: You're right that the Core is not designed to prepare you for a particular grad program. What I was trying to convey was that from the Core through the rest of college, and through the French major itself, I got a fairly consistent message of what university-level work consisted of at Chicago, which was important texts read without any theory, without much context, and so on.

Some of this may have been particular to the French major, which I recall was suffering, so they allowed basically any course of study, as long as it happened in French. Which left me with a BA, effectively, in the Core in French. I thought "French" meant I could study French history (not that I knew then what history-the-academic-discipline consisted of, having taken only one or two courses strictly in that department) using French texts. This wasn't a disaster as preparation for literature grad school - in the end, perhaps quite the contrary, and there's now another UChicago grad in my very program - but it didn't impress the history grad programs I applied to way back when. But as much as some of this was no doubt about a flexibility coming from how excited profs were when anyone wanted to study French-loosely-defined, I do think some of it *also* came from the UChicago approach - that reading anything other than the novels/treatises themselves was a waste of time.

Phoebe said...

And now, re: the Core.

Thanks, MSI, for explaining what you think the Core should do. We probably should have started the conversation there.

What you're saying, then, I interpret as two different things. One is what you're overtly saying - that there would be a return to a Great Books curriculum, where everyone reads just about the same thing, and where a common Chicago experience comes out of the Core. Being/having been a Chicago student will mean something specific, above and beyond being college-educated, elite-college-educated, what have you.

The other, though, is that the works in question will be in the Milton and Hobbes realm, the flexibility coming from which of a fairly restricted set of texts the faculty opts to include. Works that everyone agrees count. And how it goes, in my experience, is that there's more or less a canon agreed upon on the left as well as the right, but that on the left, there's more readiness to include texts above and beyond those. What Britta was getting at re: panties in a twist, I believe, is that things like this are read in Core classes. (It was assigned in one of mine, I think Sosc.) These texts do indeed detract from a universal mission of what the Core should be, assuming they vary a bit by instructor. But they're consistent with your how-we-got-where-we-are mission statement, in that they bring us up to the present day.

And along those lines, perhaps the question is whether the Core should stop off before the big cultural upheavals of the postwar era, or whether it should address them head-on, and with primary sources.

Part of this discussion seems to be about whether the faculty should be historically contextualizing itself. I mean, there are concerns that exist in 2013, maybe didn't in 1950, maybe won't in 2050. Should the faculty teach a timeless Core, which of course isn't really timeless, or should it do what it can to be open about the moment we're all coming from?

Miss Self-Important said...

the current system effectively closes off science majors for those who don't come in knowing they're seeking those out
This is an argument my husband has been making to me for a while, which is that he was a moderately good science student by high school standards, but when he arrived at Chicago, he got the strong impression that math and the hard sciences (chem, physics, geophysical sciences - not bio) were the exclusive preserve of genius types who'd mastered calculus at age nine, and everyone else had was only fit for the humanities. I think this is a valid point, and should be addressed along with abolishing "Ice" - a physci class about, well, ice, which is about as rigorous as your average third-grade science class.

I think the existence of physci and dumb bio (as well as the use of AP credit for these courses, which is not done for the other Cores) is partly the result of worries about student preparedness for difficult courses and faculty displeasure at teaching below their specialized threshold, to uninterested fools. The original natural science Core was quite different: it was a three-part course in something like the epistemology of science, which used historically important discoveries and experiments to demonstrate the method of science, the way it answers questions, etc. (There is a good overview here, pp. 126-133.) But this is an extremely integrated approach, and I'm not sure where you'd find someone like Schwab now to teach that, given the fragmentation of disciplinary training. But overcoming that fragmentation among faculty is also an aim of this program.

What I was trying to convey was that from the Core through the rest of college, and through the French major itself...
I'm not sure how much that's generalizable to other majors. The English department required a theory course, if I recall correctly. In history, you could go either way - there were both historiography-heavy courses and primary text-heavy ones. I also opted almost exclusively for the latter b/c they were more interesting. But having also applied to (some of the same) history PhD programs as you, I think you're underestimating their bias in favor of history majors, and overestimating their concern about what you read in college. The program that required the tedious essay praising your favorite historian, for example, admitted 2-3 Chicago grads a year, but they were all (as far as I know) history majors. Different discrimination.

Miss Self-Important said...

the works in question will be in the Milton and Hobbes realm, the flexibility coming from which of a fairly restricted set of texts the faculty opts to include. Works that everyone agrees count. And how it goes, in my experience, is that there's more or less a canon agreed upon on the left as well as the right, but that on the left
I think it will be less restricted than you imply, b/c the current faculty must agree on what's included, or at least those faculty who agree to teach in the Core. I suppose if everyone teaches postwar stuff, the pull towards contemporary texts will be stronger. But in general, yes, I suspect that, when forced to deliberate about what should be included in a very limited reading list to introduce undergrads to the most important ideas, the faculty will settle on texts that are mostly pre-WWII, since most of history took place before WWII. There are important and good texts that come after the war, but those should be considered in proportion to the amount of civilization that happened after the war, and I don't see any justification for making the past 50-60 years of our 3000-yr old civilization the centerpiece of an education in that civilization.

But, in terms of concrete proposals, you could have two sosc sequences available, like Classics and PIR, and the latter begins in the 17-18th centuries, while the former ends in the 19th C. This way, there would be both overlap in that both would cover the Enlightenment and various 19th C. derangements that followed it, and some divergence, since Classics would cover the history of philosophy before the Enlightenment, and PIR would cover that history after Nietzsche. In that case, PIR would likely incorporate more contemporary readings. I think that would be fine, as long as there is no course on exclusively the 20th C in the Core, or exclusively any single century, since that's too narrow.

But, in your remark about liberal and conservative canons, are you suggesting that pre-war texts are conservative and postwar ones liberal?

Part of this discussion seems to be about whether the faculty should be historically contextualizing itself.
I don't know how good any of us are at historically contextualizing ourselves. This involves a lot of not-very-scholarly speculation and reliance on our feelings about the present, speculation that we should by all means personally undertake, but probably not pass off as foundational to other people's educations. Rather, liberal education should be preparation for contextualizing yourself, not vice versa. I don't think that all the great books have already been written or anything like that, only that we are very bad at recognizing in the partisan heat of the moment which of the things recently written is actually worthy of inclusion, and since selecting texts that we will force all students to read is a substantial responsibility, we should probably err on the side of caution and wait a few years until passions have sufficiently cooled to choose among these. Nothing is stopping students from reading the popular books of the moment on their own - they're widely available. The Core is not some educational North Korea - you can only read what we give you and nothing else - so students will continue to live in a political and partisan society where they can indulge their interests in the problems of 2013 on the side, in courses beyond the Core, or elsewhere. But I would generally be very wary of presentism, and of lapsing into utilitarian views of education, where the purpose becomes something like correct socialization for the modern world, which is how high school education in America was made moronic in the 1940s.