Feb 092010
 

My trip to Amsterdam was delayed due to the poor weather in Philadelphia.  My daughter and I are supposed to leave on Thursday now, for a really fast trip.  I spent the suddenly free afternoon reading Notes Home From a Prodigal Son, (author??) and a few more sections of Eagleton.   I wish I had more to offer on the ongoing Theory discussion, but I’m still catching up with my theoretical knowledge.  I also was reading the article Doug posted from Peter Kalkavage titled, “Four Essays on Writing Sentences.”  Kalkavage is (was?) a professor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.,  a small liberal arts college directly across the street from the Naval Academy, but light years away in terms of curriculum.  The “Johnnies” and the Midshipmen were the polar opposites of the academic universe, one studying the “Great Books” with no tests or grades, the other (me) studying naval sciences, electrical engineering and four semesters of calculus (and I was a history major!) with rigid academic standards…”2.0 and go”‘ was our motto, but sadly many of my friends failed to meet that meager standard.  I wonder if two more different schools exist in such geographic proximity.   But the Johnnies and the Mids gathered each spring for the annual croquet match.  Both schools organized a team of elegantly dressed athletes and did battle on the lawns of alternating campuses.  The Johnnies were distinguished by an abundance of piercings and facial hair, and the mids, well, were distinguished by the opposite.  (I never played, though I once received a croquet set for Christmas from my godparents.)  I remember thinking that if I could live another life, I would go back to Annapolis, but go to St. John’s College in my next life.  I think VCFA might be close second, minus the croquet match, so this essay really closed the circle of my karmic desires.  Four years at USNA = 1 English lit course.   My hours not learning electrical engineering could have been better spent reading the canon (if one exists) of Western Lit.  Alas, I’m now victim to The Shredder, and all my weaknesses are exposed.   My only, and fleeting, hope for redemption lies in the distant possibility of a faculty vs. student croquet match this summer.  But damn it, I’m going to Slovenia!  Maybe next winter.

—Richard Farrell

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  1. Coincidentally, Jacob’s first year at the University of King’s College is a bit like St. Johns. The Foundation Year Program is a Great Books reading course. I have heard nothing about croquet though.

    Sucks that you are stuck waiting for a flight.

    dg

  2. Manhattanville College, where I teach, has what until this year was known as the Freshman Preceptorial. Every year that I’ve been taught it (I’m going on 4) the Preceptorial has changed its purpose. The first year I was there, it was a Great Works course, focusing on a common “canon” that all freshmen read, agreed upon by all departments the previous year. The next year,the first half was devoted to the common reading and the second half was basically a writing course that culminated in a critical research essay incorporating the works from the previous semester and some independent research. The next year, because not enough faculty were volunteering to teach the Preceptorial, the curriculum became a completely individual to each faculty member (e.g., I developed a curriculum entitled “The History and Mystery of New York City”). The problem was, the English 101 equivalent course here was also theme-driven, so the Preceptorial and Freshman English courses were looking uncomfortably similar. So, this year they combined Freshman Writing with the Preceptorial into what’s now called the Freshman Year Program, with each thematic class team-taught by a senior faculty member and a “lecturer in writing” (that would be my new designation).

    There seems to be quite an intense debate in academia right now between intensely focused thematic work that forces students to engage a specific subject on its own terms, and the Great Books model that gives all students in the college a common curriculum to draw from. Personally, I think the debate is mostly pragmatic, as so many people come out of PhD programs with an intensely focused education concerned much more with discipline-specific depth rather than breadth in areas outside their own departments, typified by one history professor at Mville’s exclamation a couple years ago, “I’m a South American history professor – I shouldn’t be teaching Shakespeare!”

    Sorry for the long, rambling comment. Anyway, funnily enough, I was going over thesis statements with my freshmen earlier this week in the computer lab and getting on them pretty hard about focusing their thoughts. They know I’m doing my MFA, so to give them a little perspective and let them know I struggle with similar issues, I read to them a portion of Doug’s email to me about my pronoun usage and abstractions (hopefully his last blog post wasn’t just about me). After hearing it, one of my freshmen said, “Man, if someone told me that I’d quit writing!”

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