Posts tagged ‘American Revolution’

My Highest Recommendation

I have pimped the Teaching Company (now called the Great Courses) for years on this blog.  I have done over 20 courses, and am nearly addicted to their offerings.  Nothing bums we out more than to read their catalog and find nothing new I want, except when that happens I order something random I don't think I want and usually love it.  I listen to music a lot less than I used to because I often have a Great Course on my mp3 player instead.

Via Econlog comes a great article about the Great Courses, and make me feel a bit better that I am not alone in my obsession.  Its one of those really interesting stories about an entrepreneur who sticks with his vision, right down to his last dollar.

But it is also a depressing read for someone who may soon be sending his kid to a small liberal arts college.  Some excerpts related to current college education:

the company offers a treasure trove of traditional academic content that undergraduates paying $50,000 a year may find nowhere on their Club Med–like campuses. This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken “Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans,” “Women in American History, 1600–1900,” or “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs,” but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck. A Great Courses customer, by contrast, can choose from a cornucopia of American history not yet divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, with multiple offerings in the American Revolution, the constitutional period, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights, and the intellectual influences on the country’s founding. There are lessons here for the academy, if it will only pay them heed....

The Great Courses’ uninhibited enthusiasm is so alien to contemporary academic discourse that several professors who have recorded for the firm became defensive when I asked them about their course descriptions, emphatically denying any part in writing the copy—as if celebrating beauty were something to be ashamed of....

So totalitarian is the contemporary university that professors have written to Rollins complaining that his courses are too canonical in content and do not include enough of the requisite “silenced” voices. It is not enough, apparently, that identity politics dominate college humanities departments; they must also rule outside the academy. Of course, outside the academy, theory encounters a little something called the marketplace, where it turns out that courses like “Queering the Alamo,” say, can’t compete with “Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition.”...

In its emphasis on teaching, the company differs radically from the academic world, where “teaching is routinely stigmatized as a lower-order pursuit, and the ‘real’ academic work is research,” notes Allen Guelzo, an American history professor at Gettysburg College. Though colleges ritually berate themselves for not putting a high enough premium on teaching, they inevitably ignore that skill in awarding tenure or extra pay. As for reaching an audience beyond the hallowed walls of academe, perhaps a regular NPR gig would gain notice in the faculty lounge, but not a Great Courses series. Jeremy McInerney, a University of Pennsylvania history professor, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1998 that he wouldn’t have taped “Ancient Greek Civilization” for the company if his tenure vote had been in doubt: “This doesn’t win you any further respect. If anything, there’s a danger of people looking down on it, since many people are suspicious of anything that reeks of popularism.” So much for the academy’s supposed stance against elitism....

Further, it isn’t clear that the Great Courses professors teach the same way back on their home campuses. A professor who teaches the Civil War as the “greatest slave uprising in history” to his undergraduates because that is what is expected of him, says University of Pennsylvania history professor Alan Kors, will know perfectly well how to teach a more intellectually honest course for paying adults.

While I took a fair number of liberal arts courses, being an engineer really sheltered me from this kind of BS.  But my kids interests run more towards liberal arts, and while I am working to enforce the double major approach (you can take whatever major interests you as long as you double it with economics or something useful), I still despair that they really are going to get what they think they will get at college.

Just Because We Elect Them Now...

Richard Conniff in the NYT:

But we need language to remind us that this is our government, and that
we thrive because of the schools and transit systems and 10,000 other
services that exist only because we have joined together. Instead of
denouncing taxes, politicians would do better to appeal to the
patriotic corners of our hearts that warm to phrases like "we the
people." "Taxation" is a throwback to the time when kings picked our
pockets. "Paying my dues," a phrase popularized in the jazz music
world, is language by which we can stand together as Americans.

I am confused as to what the substantial difference is between 1 king picking our pockets and 535 kings picking our pockets.   Just because I get the annual opportunity to cast a meaningless vote between the Coke and Pepsi party does not change my view of government. 

To my mind, this is the #1 incorrect perception people have about the American Revolution.  So many people, like this author, seem to think it was about voting and democracy.  Bleh.  The Revolution was about the relationship between human beings and government.  Voting was merely one tool among many the founders adopted to try to protect man from government.  Unfortunately, this intellectual battle is being lost. 

JFK was the president that first made it clear that those of us who love freedom have been losing this battle.  In his famous quote "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country,"  JFK defined the heads-statists-win-tails-freedom-loses choice that people like Mr. Conniff continue to try to present us with.   These collectivists define our relation to government as either the recipient of unearned loot or milch cow to the whims of the voters.  Neither part of JFK's challenge represents a relation between man and government a freedom-loving person should accept.

More on why voting is not what makes our country great here.