A New Core

The Concord Review
December 2, 2016

Dinosaur scholars like Mark Bauerlein argue that the decline in the humanities in our universities is caused by their retreat from their own best works—literature departments no longer celebrate great literature, history departments no longer offer great works of history to students to read, and so on.

However, an exciting new article by Nicholas Lemann in The Review from The Chronicle of Higher Education, while it shares some concerns about the decline of the humanities, proposes an ingenious modern new Core, which would…

“put methods above subject-matter knowledge in the highest place of honor, and they treat the way material is taught as subsidiary to what is taught…”

In this new design, what is taught is methods, not knowledge—of history, literature, languages, philosophy and all that…

Here is a list of the courses Professor Lemann recommends:

Information Acquisition
Cause and Effect
Interpretation
Numeracy
Perspective
The Language of Form
Thinking in Time
Argument

And he says that: “What these courses have in common is a primary commitment to teaching the rigorous (and also properly humble) pursuit of knowledge.”

At last we can understand that the purpose of higher education in the humanities should be the pursuit of knowledge, and not actually to catch up with any of it. We may thus enjoy a new generation of mentally “fleet-footed” ignoramuses who have skipped the greatness of the humanities in the chase for methods and skills of various kinds. This approach is as hollow and harmful as it was in the 1980s, when Harvard College tried to design a knowledge-free, methods-filled Core Curriculum, so it seems that what comes around does indeed come around, but still students are neither learning from or enjoying the greatness of the humanities in college much these days…

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