Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What would you teach?

Technically this post still falls under the rule of vacation, which for me will not end (as this blog is concerned) until January ends. So, today I had reason to go hang out at the campus of my undergrad (Oglethorpe University in Atlanta). A lot has changed (for example, the dorm I lived in was abolished, not a single member of the philosophy department is the same, and the entire library staff has changed), but whenever I think about Oglethorpe, I think about what it would be like to teach there. As some of you know, Oglethorpe has a thorough core program that all students take that is somewhat like a great books program. All professors are expected to teach a section of one of the cores, and I always thought I would teach the sophomore core, "Human Nature and the Social Order." Now, each semester has certain texts a professor is expected to cover to some degree, and then each professors add or change them within that framework. The reality is, the course has all the pleasures and problems of canon. Books strung together in a certain preformed idea of how works relate, minority voices either ignored or tokenized (So, in the first year core, Narratives of the Self, after a whole year of reading european men, they throw in Toni Morrison's Beloved at the end. Now of course, that is a great book. But one of the things I will always remember is talking with a friend of mine about how we wish we could read Alice Walker in core. Some professor, overhearing this conversation, stated, "You know you read Toni Morrison, right?" And of course, that is one of the great problems of tokenization. A refusal to engage a writer on his or her own terms, but rather demands that the writer speak for all of his or her social identity. All of them, the other. In the whitewash of faux multiculturalism Toni Morrison becomes Alice Walker, and the rod of the canon just keeps beating us over the head). So you can all play the same mental game as I, I will tell you what books you are expected to cover with a sophomore (remember that) class of students from all disciplines. What would you add? Throw in as many minority voices as possible? A few and hope to avoid tokenization? Just go with the canon? Well, tell me what you would teach (and remember, you can do just selections of all of these texts, so feel free to be as specific or general as you want).

Human Nature and the Social Order I: Aristotle's Politics, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Aquinas from On Law, Morality, and Politics, and lastly Locke's Second Treatise.

Human Nature and the Social Order II: Smith's Wealth of Nations, Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and Durkheim's Suicide.

OK, go.