May 2009

Economics and the Trivium
By Gabriel Martinez on May 04, 2009

In Newman’s view, the way that a student acquires this ability to understand the place of things in the universal system, or the significance of a particular sub-field within the discipline, is not by knowing about every subject under the sun or by attending every possible lecture or by taking lots of courses in any order. A shallow and superficial acquaintance (“a smattering”) in many sciences or many topics in not enlargement: the goal of education should be to learn a few things very well, not many badly. In the next few posts I will rely on economics syllabi from a number of top liberal-arts colleges and universities in the United States to lay out how economics can best instill the philosophic habit of mind to its students. This will be done by organizing the curriculum into the trivium.

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Can East Meet West in Core Text Programs?
By Anonymous on May 09, 2009

A few weekends ago, I attended the Association of Core Texts and Courses (ACTC) annual conference. ACTC is an organization that promotes core curriculum education at the collegiate level. This was my second year to attend the conference, and I recommend it to anyone who teaches in a liberal arts or great books program. The conference usually takes place in early-to-mid April, and I believe that next year’s meeting will be held in New Jersey. Registration is on the pricier side, but the fee includes most meals and an annual membership.

One of the distinctive aspects of the ACTC conference is that its organizers encourage panelists to write short papers (5 pages maximum) that discuss not only the content of a great text but also the experience of teaching the text. Most participants comply with the call, which means that many of the panels turn into mini-seminars on pedagogy.

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Quality Time With The Venerable Dead
By David C. Innes on May 11, 2009

Samuel Davies (1723-1761) was one of America's greatest preachers. He was a Virginian and the fourth president of the College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton University, succeeding Jonathan Edwards. As a pastor in Virginia, he had the privilege of discipling young Patrick Henry from the pulpit each Lord's Day.

On a friend's Facebook page today, I found these words from Pastor Davies which everyone who is serious about the truth, wisdom, and the life of the mind will take to heart.

I have a peaceful study as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me, the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

C. S. Lewis and Niccolo Machiavelli share some related thoughts.

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Some Characteristics of Effective Teaching: Forget Content and Think about the Students?
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on May 13, 2009

Forget disciplinary content. Be student centered not content focused. Don’t worry about content and how much you can cover in a class. Rather, think about connecting with your audience and starting with what is important to them not you. It’s about the students not the material of the faculty.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 3
By John von Heyking on May 18, 2009
See also Part 1 and Part 2

The nature of a particular regime's behavior is a key focus of our study of Thucydides' History. The students hear the Athenians defend their actions as those any strong power would take. International strength (or lack thereof) defines action, not regime, according to this argument. Yet, the Athenians themselves credit their strength to their innovative spirit (which their enemies call 'pleonexia, or overreaching). It seems one can never completely dissociate the character of a regime with the ways it defines its self-interest, ambition, and fears.

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Economic Grammar
By Gabriel Martinez on May 19, 2009

The first step in education is to impress upon the student the notion of arrangement from a common center, of rule and exception, of starting from fixed points and of learning by seeing the connection of the newly acquired with the previously learned. Economics is usually taught in precisely that way. The first couple of courses in the economics curriculum introduce students to Economic Grammar.

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Recommendations for Intro. to Political Theory Text
By Anonymous on May 20, 2009

I would love recommendations for a good textbook to supplement primary readings in an Introduction to Political Theory course I'll be teaching this fall. I'm looking for a text that will provide students with historical and theoretical background for individual thinkers, starting in Antiquity and leading up to the Modern Era. The idea is that while most of the time we'll spend focusing on the original sources—Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, etc.—I won't feel obligated to cover every detail, and students will see the big picture of how each philosopher fits into the broader context. Thanks for your suggestions!

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Some Characteristics of Effective Teaching: Seek Commitments
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on May 26, 2009

As any faculty knows, the craft of teaching is even more fulfilling when one has students eager to learn. Perhaps we can all point to a handful of students in our courses that came to class with this intellectual eagerness ready to be engaged and following our every word. Unfortunately, it is too often the case that one hears of the opposite cases – students that just “show up” to class because they are externally obligated given their degree requirements or some other reason. Is it possible to turn these students into the eager ones we all wish filled our classrooms?

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Leon Kass's Jefferson Lecture
By David C. Innes on May 28, 2009

On May 21 in Washington DC, Leon Kass delivered the 38th Annual Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, "Looking for an Honest Man: Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanist."

The lecture is about the lifelong pursuit of answers to the great human questions, the questions which Socrates began to address after his famous "turn" from natural philosophy to the deepest moral and political questions.

He summarizes his quest this way:

"I have sought wisdom about the meaning of our humanity, largely through teaching and studying the great works of wiser and nobler human beings, who have bequeathed to us their profound accounts of the human condition."

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