Most of my professional life has been spent outside of academia and the first half of my ten years as an academic was as an adjunct. Sadly, as we know, there aren't many institutions that fund adjunct participation in conferences (though I believe that should change).
As a result, this will be a brief post!
One of the most rewarding professional associations I have is with the Association for Core Texts and Courses (ACTC). This organization is committed to promoting the teaching of, what is more colloquially referred to as, the "Great Books" - think (in no deliberate order) Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Virgil, Sophocles, The Old and New Testament, Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Pascal, Kant, Mill, Rousseau, The Qur'an, Augustine, Montaigne, Austen, Milton, Boccaccio, Morrison, Woolf, Aeschylus and the list goes on (but you get the idea). What all of the texts in a Great Books course share is an enduring influence on the thinkers and writers who have followed them and an enduring message to all who engage with them.
A Great Books curriculum often includes the study of the art and music that flourished at the time the writers were writing their works so that students are exposed to other aesthetic expressions of responding to the big questions of our lives - "what does it mean to be human?" "how does one live a life of meaning and purpose?" "what is our relationship to the natural world?" 'how are we to seek a more just society for the common good?" These are all the questions I pose to my students in a version of a "Great Books" curriculum that I teach. We turn, together, to these ancient, medieval and modern texts for guidance in how to answer them for ourselves in our world today.
I've attended two ACTC conferences - most recently, last September in the charming cathedral town of Winchester, England (yes, I paid homage to Jane Austen's burial place within the famed Winchester Cathedral). At both conferences, I came away with the renewed belief that these texts matter - to us and to a new generation. They matter because, in one way or another, they address our most human yearning to find meaning in an often bewildering world filled with perplexing people and ineluctable instances of sorrow and loss. While not providing any set roadmap for answering our human wondering about the "big questions," the great books of our collective humanity point us toward something beyond ourselves and to a wisdom that has evolved over time, cultures and every other divide.
One of the most impressive Core Curriculum programs I have come to know through these conferences is worth sharing with you: the nearly one hundred year old Columbia University Core. Columbia is a sustaining member of the ACTC and all its many initiatives to engage institutions of higher learning with a Great Books curriculum. The Columbia Core even has its own twitter handle and you'll find interesting content filling your twitter feed if you chose to follow @ ColumbiaCore!
When I've returned from ACTC conferences, I've been fortunate enough to have a supportive and interested Department Chair and Dean who facilitate opportunities for sharing pedagogical and ideological take-aways. Mostly, these take the form of brief presentations/reports at department meetings but sometimes I've facilitated faculty workshops (such as how to conduct a Seminar-style discussion) related to my experience at a conference. More often, however, I share my enthusiasm for all I saw and heard with my closest colleagues over a meal or a coffee - I guess that's how it is for most of us.
Looking back over what I've written, it seems this post isn't very brief, after all. But, after all, there's a lot to mine from any discussion of the "Great Books" - in, or outside of, the classroom. #CCCWrite
I teach literature, a Great Books course in Catholic thought, and first-year writing at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I have also taught in Dingle, Ireland (where I took the photo on this blog) and in Rome, Italy. I am interested in engaging my students through inter-active technologies and harnessing their savvy for social media for educational purposes. Come along with me on my journey of teaching and learning!