Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jenna Beadle's Study Abroad in Spain

Jenna Beadle, a senior Political Science and History major with a minor in Spanish, spent two months of the summer in Alicante, Spain.  Ashland University offers a variety of study abroad experience and partners specifically with the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, (See which has locations in Córdoba, Argentina; Havana, Cuba; and Seville and Alicante, Spain.  She was required to take one intensive grammar course for each month she was there and had the option of an elective each month—she wisely chose Spanish dance and Wind surfing.  "The experience I had was truly incredible.  I would recommend this program to anyone because it was outstanding; I was able to obtain ten credit hours and finish my minor.  The benefits of submersion have a very large impact on your comprehension of a language and your speaking skills.  There really is no substitute for it." 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Forum: An Undergraduate Book Review - The Closing of the Muslim Mind by Robert R. Reilly reviewed by Lindsey Richey

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis.
Robert R. Reilly, Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010. ISBN: 9781610170024

The modern Islamism crisis is gaining more and more importance, while it has remained somewhat of a mystery to the general public. Robert R. Reilly attempts to explain the issue as well as dispelling any misconceptions about the entire crisis. Reilly focuses on the theological difference that resulted in the removal of philosophy from the repertoire of Islamic belief. Utilizing a wide range of sources, Reilly establishes the fundamental change in belief as well as how such a change was accomplished and illustrates the repercussions such a change created in modern times. Reilly does a thorough analysis on the differences between the Mu’tazilites, with their philosophical roots in reason and free will, and the Ash’arites, with their theological roots in Allah’s omnipotence.

FORUM: An Undergraduate Book Review - The Big Short by Michael Lewis reviewed by Marc Zimmerman

Michael Lewis, The Big Short, New York City, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2010,
ISBN, 978-0-393-33882-9

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, provides a fascinating and unique perspective on the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Lewis takes the reader on a journey of the events preceding the crisis. He examines the events leading up to the crisis from the perspective of Michael Burry, Steve Eisman, and Greg Lippmann. Although these were not the biggest players on Wall Street, they were some of the few that saw the insanity that had ensued in the housing market and foresaw the inevitable crash. Thus, Lewis’ account of the financial crisis is set apart from others not only for the eloquence and page-turning style of his writing, but because of the narrative approach of his work. This combination provides financial geeks with an entertaining read, and  in addition can inform anyone who is seriously interested in learning more about the financial events that have shaped this generation. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Al Ghazali: Interesting Conference at OSU in November

"Abu Hāmid al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) is a central figure in the history of Islamic theology, jurisprudence, philosophy and Sufism. Of Persian origin, he lived and worked in Baghdad and in other intellectual centers of the Muslim world of the 11th and 12th century." So says the website of an international conference devoted to understanding al-Ghazali's thought and legacy.  There are many good reasons for learning something about Al-Ghazali, among which are the following two.  First, he is sometimes said to be the second most important man in Islamic history - for his defense of Islam and for his critique of Greek philosophy. Indeed, he may be the most successful critic of Greek philosophy ever.  Secondly, one of the most interesting papers at the conference is on this very subject, "Al-Ghazālī’s Critique of Philosophy"; it will be delivered by Charles Butterworth, who is a teacher of Dr. Paddags. 

A description of the conference and its program can be found here:  The conference is scheduled for November 10-12 at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at the Ohio State University in Columbus. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Students' Study Habits, Then and Now

A few days ago, I noted a new book called Academically Adrift, which analyzes data on various trends in colleges and universities.  One interesting finding is how little contemporary students study as compared to students in earlier years.  Before the 1960s, full-time students spent an average of forty hours a week on academic pursuits (studying and attending classes). Today, full-time students report spending an average of only 27 hours per week on academic pursuits, “less time than the typical high school student spends at school.”  Average time studying fell from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 to thirteen hours per week in 2003!  Interestingly, this drop in devotion to study has had little impact on grade point averages or graduation rates, which gives us a new perspective on grade inflation.  Students have developed the “art of college management,” which includes the subordinate arts of “shaping schedules, taming professors and limiting workload.”  Taming professors?  Interesting concept, and in fact the drop in students’ study time appears to be due as much to professors demanding less (less reading and fewer assignments) as to students trying to limit their workload.  So, we all have something to think about here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Quotes on History

Over the centuries all sorts of thinkers have commented on the importance of knowing history. Here are a few quotes that I thought were particularly apt:

"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development." --Aristotle

"This I regard as history's highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds." --Tacitus

"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results."--Machiavelli

"History is philosophy teaching by example and also by warning." --Lord Bolingbroke

"History, by appraising. ..[the students] of the past, will enable them to judge of the future."
--Thomas Jefferson

"In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind." --Edmund Burke

"Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward." --Søren Kierkegaard

"[History] may be called, more generally still, the Message, verbal or written, which all Mankind delivers to everyman." --Thomas Carlyle

"We can be almost certain of being wrong about the future, if we are wrong about the past." --G. K. Chesterton

"History is that which has happened and that which goes on happening in time. But also it is the stratified record upon which we set our feet, the ground beneath us; and the deeper the roots of our being go down into the layers that lie below and beyond the ... confines of our ego, yet at the same time feed and condition it, ... the heavier is our life with thought and the weightier is the soul of our flesh." --Thomas Mann

"A country without a memory is a country of madmen." --George Santayana

"History is, in its essentials, the science of change. It knows and it teaches that it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical." --Marc Bloch

"History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future." --Robert Penn Warren

"What else can history teach us? Only the vanity of believing we can impose our theories on history. Any philosophy which asserts that human experience repeats itself is ineffectual."
--Jacques Ellul

A New Study of Problems in Colleges and Universities

A new book called "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, identifies some important problems in America's colleges and universities, as you can see in this column by Kathleen Parker.  The main problem is not that there are too few climbing walls or flat screen TVs or even the high cost.  It has to do with what is being taught and the quality of the teaching.  One finding is that gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills are either "exceedingly small or nonexistent for a larger proportion of students." And interestingly for us, the report notes disaprovingly that less than 20 percent of colleges have a core curriculum in which U.S. government or history are required, an omission that contributes to students being unprepared for the job market.  Arum thinks that dumbed down curricula are such a big problem that he co-authored a letter to the nation's 10,000 college and university trustees saying that institutions not demanding a rigorous curriculum "are actively contributing to the degradation of teaching and learning. They are putting these students and our country's future at risk."  For more, see the Parker article or even read the book.