Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The problem with 'Great Books'

My latest in the Catholic Herald: a book review.

In the 1920s, some influential academics were dismayed to find that many graduates of elite American universities were, not to put too fine a point on it, culturally illiterate. They lacked the knowledge that could be taken for granted among cultivated Europeans at the beginnings of their tertiary education, let alone at the end.

The academics’ natural response was to attempt to address this lack, and so the “Western Civilisation Course” or “Great Books Programme” was born, and made compulsory (or strongly recommended) in many institutions. These courses frog-marched students through a carefully selected canon of Western literature, from the Greeks and Romans onwards, with excursions into philosophy and history.

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