Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Opposing Views on Liberal Education

Here are two very opposed views in the ongoing debate over the value of liberal education.  The first is a report in "Inside Higher Education" about Patrick McCrory, the Governor of North Carolina, who wants to tie State funding for higher education not to "butts in seats" or even graduation rates, but to post-graduation employment. This emphasis on practical or vocational education seems to involve a depreciation of the value of the liberal arts, though one of the two specific fields mentioned in the story is "gender studies", which is not a liberal art, at least by any traditional understanding of the term (the governor also appears to criticize philosophy). The other view is an essay by Peter Augustine Lawler on The State of American Liberal Education These Days.  While sympathetic to the vocational training - after all, we live in a middle class society where everyone has to work for a living - Lawler nevertheless argues that the soul has its needs that should not be neglected.  Appealing to Tocqueville, Lawler finds pockets of liberal education in faith based institutions such as Baylor University and in  those southern colleges and universities, such as Hampden-Sydney and Morehouse, where remnants of a "noble secular humanism" are still to be found.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Howard Cosell in Department of History and Political Science

Many of you probably do not know that Howard Cosell, the great sports announcer and TV personality, appears occasionally  in the Department of History and Political Science. Well, at least his doppelganger does. One of Dr. Moser's other careers is as an actor and impersonator, and a few years back he gave a great performance as Howard Cosell.  See here, here, and here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Top Academic High Schools in Ohio

Scott Gerber of Gerber Analytics has prepared a very interesting summary of the top academic high schools in Ohio.  It is based on schools' performance on the Ohio Graduation Test (for November 2011), which measures how well grade 10 students do in Reading, Mathematics, Writing, Science, and Social Studies.  This year's list includes the 84 Ohio schools (out of the 1,017 public and private schools that took the test) in which 91% or more of the students passed all five portions of the test. St. Charles Preparatory School in Columbus comes out as the State's top school for academics.  Interestingly, for our Department, 99% of St. Charles's students scored at the level of "Accelerated & Above" on the Social Studies portion of the test (which would include history and political science), and 92% achieved an even higher score of "Advanced", making this the top achieving school in social studies in the state.  There must be some good social studies teachers at St. Charles. (Thanks to Prof. Sikkenga for bringing this to our attention.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Science Proves that Primary Sources are Better

Courses in the Department of History and Political Science rely as much as possible on primary sources. We'd rather have you read Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, or Galileo's letter to the Grand Duchess Christina than summaries of them. The idea is to have direct access to the writings and ideas that made history and for students to learn how to understand, evaluate, and use those documents for themselves. 

But now there is scientific evidence that it is actually better for you to read primary sources like Shakespeare than to read the same ideas put into simplified "modern" language - as is usually done in textbooks and in study guides such as CliffsNotes.  In a study at Liverpool University, scientists measured the brain's activity as a person read lines from Shakespeare and then again as the same person read a simpler modernized version.  Brain scans "showed that the more “challenging” prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions."

That's a good thing and the research also found that "reading poetry, in particular, increases activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with “autobiographical memory”, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they have read. The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books."

"This," one of the study's authors said, "is the argument for serious language in serious literature for serious human situations, instead of self-help books or the easy reads that merely reinforce predictable opinions and conventional self-images.”

As another professor who participated in the study summed it up, "serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain."

This being the modern world, however, we can't leave things there.  The "next phase of the research is looking at the extent to which poetry can provide therapeutic benefit ...."  I'm sure good poetry has a beneficial effect, but I wonder if even Shakespeare can survive the therapeutic mindset. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

John Moser on the Great Depression

Prof. John Moser has contributed a chapter titled "The Great Depression" to the newly-published collection "A Companion to World War II," edited by Thomas W. Zeiler and Daniel M. DuBois and published by Wiley-Blackwell.  Dr. Moser's contribution focuses on the ways that the economic crisis of the early 1930s, and the responses of the various powers to that crisis, contributed to and shaped the nature of the Second World War.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The United Races, Classes, and Genders of America?

This article by Peter Berkowitz comments on a recent study by the National Association of Scholars, indicating that history departments at American Universities now concentrate so much on the themes of "race, class, and gender" that it becomes almost "impossible to grasp the larger political conflicts, institutional frameworks, and philosophic ideals that have  governed the course of American history."  It is increasingly rare for university students to read key documents like the Mayflower Compact or Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.  This is true even in the relatively few states, like Texas, that mandate courses in American history.  No one argues that race, class, and gender are unimportant, but there is a big problem in a liberal democracy when the people, who are ultimately the source of legitimate power, are not "well-acquainted with the principles on which our political order is based."  You won't find this problem in the Department of History and Political Science at AU, and the University's Ashbrook Center is doing good work to correct it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Internship in Lyon, France

In the Fall of 2012, Kyle Laughlin (International Political Studies, 2013) did an internship at the U.S. American Presence Post, in Lyon, France. He maintained a calendar of events, worked with “America House” to set up events and teach French youth about American culture, and monitored regional press reporting on current events, among many other things. He says that he learned a lot about the French, and especially about Lyonnais culture. As he summed it up, "I couldn't have asked for a better way to learn about a different culture than to work in one."  To finish up his internship, Kyle is writing an essay on French contributions to the American Revolutionary War. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The End of the University as We Know It?

"In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students."  

So begins a very provocative essay by Nathan Harden on the possible impact of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which may soon bring very dramatic changes to the way higher education works. You can read the whole essay in The American Interest.