The Corner

Education

Could Reading Books by Dead White Males Do Students Any Good?

To hear campus “progressives” talk, reading anything by a dead white male is a form of brain pollution since, y’know, those people are to blame for all our woes. But on the other hand, some scholars still think there is value in reading such books. Some un-woke students also seem to think so.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins writes about some of the country’s remaining Great Books programs. She argues that they help give students a unified education. Among the schools that still have Great Books programs are Columbia, the University of Dallas, and Notre Dame. And one small college in North Carolina, Belmont Abbey, has recently begun a program that gives students several options.

About that program, Watkins writes,

Another notable feature of Belmont Abbey’s program is the design of the senior year, where the curriculum focuses on “Crises in the West.” The goal of this last year is to connect everything students have learned from the Great Books to current events and issues. Some course titles include “Freedom, Rights, and Virtue,” “Education and the Fate of Nations,” and “Globalism, Nationalism, and the Limits of Commerce.” Students read modern authors such as Friedrich Hayek, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Theodor Adorno — names not typically studied in Great Books programs, but who nonetheless have significantly influenced recent intellectual and socio-political thought.

Sounds like a superb intellectual challenge.

Referring to her own undergraduate education at UCLA and that of a Princeton grad, Eva Marie Haine, Watkins writes, “Unfortunately, both Haine and I didn’t realize how impoverished our education was until we were nearly done with our undergraduate careers. I believe that both of our frustrations stem from a lack of an overarching vision and from a need for a deeper sense of purpose in our studies — a deficiency that a well-structured Great Books track could have remedied.”

Let a thousand educational flowers bloom, including Great Books programs.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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