Section 1: Invention, Possibilities, and Student Capacities
Tragedy, History, and Rhetoric in the Core: Sophocles and Thucydides
Anyone who teaches core texts in a core, particularly one that they come to rather than one that she or he helped collaboratively form, wonders what is this curriculum for? What purpose does it serve as a non-specialized curriculum? So it was with the sequence of texts which I taught at Temple University’s Intellectual Heritage Program in the early 1990’s. Writing this paper gave me an answer to that question. The original draft of the paper was written in 1993 for presentation to the Intellectual Heritage faculty. The final paper appeared in Uniting the Liberal Arts: Core and Contexts. University Press of America. Lanham, MD, 2001.
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Heroic Action: The Gender of Justice and Nobility in Sophocles’ Antigone
The Director of the Intellectual Heritage Program (IH) at Temple University in the 1990’s was Stephen Zelnick. He offered the program’s ‘visiting professors’ many opportunities to work with colleagues in colloquia and in building supporting materials. One of these support materials was an Intellectual Heritage Student Handbook. Aristotle’s Poetics had been removed from the syllabus some years before, and a number of teachers felt the loss. I volunteered to write up an analytic presentation of the main points of the Poetics argument.
In re-reading the Poetics, instead of concentrating simply on formal characteristics (Chapters 6-24), I thought carefully about Chapters 1-5 and 25-26, as well. In other words, I saw the work as a whole. Combined with work in graduate school on the development of artistry in playwrights, this examination ultimately changed the entire way I viewed the texts of the Intellectual Heritage program. The paper, below, reflects that early developing re-orientation.
IH offered not only the contrasts of many arts (and their texts), but also the opportunity to see the characteristic artistry of one artist, Sophocles. We were able to examine the changing use Sophocles made of tragic form and power, the dynamic complexity of his plays’ actions and characters, what he may have learned from discoveries and reversals, and the unique development of two individual plays.
It was in the context of many arts and of the individual development of Sophocles that the class examined questions of inventions and innovations in the arts – that is, history, philosophy, rhetoric, ethics, and tragedy – in this section of the course.
Of course, the class discussed common “ideas” shared by Athenians, such as the use of reason in public discourse (see the paper above on “Tragedy, History, and Rhetoric in the Core: Sophocles and Thucydides”) or ethical beliefs such as “reward one’s friends and punish one’s enemies.” We extrapolated gender roles. Oedipus is acting as a hero. Women got married and buried the dead. Men went into battle. And we acknowledged that the Greek myths, particularly when rhapsodists performed Homer’s versions, were widely known by Athenians. All of these were expectations, possessed by Athenians, available in our texts.
But what happens when a playwright like Sophocles embodies these expectations in characters acting in the cauldron of a royal family? Does art make a difference to how the expectations are used? Is there a difference in the way an audience will regard a tragedy with these expectations and a speech in a political setting with the same expectations?
So, we began to examine the dynamics in plays by Sophocles whose characters, thoughts, passions, language, and their presentation on stage bring into play Athenian and, over 2000 years later, our own expectations. We began to see his art at work.
The paper, below, arose out of class discussions and preparation for teaching the text. Originally delivered at a local New Jersey College English Association conference in 1996, the paper and my thought went through several iterations and benefitted a great deal from discussion within and without the program. Though I have made some clarifications in passages, the essay stands largely as it was in 1996. It represents less a finished product than an example of what might be required not only for a preparation of teaching a text, but a course on invention, as well. Particularly, it embodies the wonder of a teacher who was struck how singularly one playwright invented a feminine hero who unites a male-gendered act to a gendered female act and, in her love of family, follows through to the bitter end the consequences of her passion, thought, and character in doing so.
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A 2020 postscript: Laura McClure in an introduction to the collection of essays Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society, (Princeton University Press, 2001) notes that “as a rich source of representation of women, Athenian tragedy provides perhaps the fullest fictional account of women as speaking subjects, albeit subjects impersonated by male actors before a predominantly, if not exclusively, male audience…” (13). Sophocles, as an artistic inventor, then, imitated, made possible a world, an egalitarianism, and a woman that the audience watching this play might have been both moved to pity and felt most uncomfortable about. We, here, in the late 20th and early 21st Century can still feel both of those emotions while viewing this play.
Section 2: Making Liberal Arts Education
Final Report to the U.S. DOE, Fund for Improvement of Post-Secondary Education on “Assessing Trends in the Liberal Arts Core: A Vision for the 21st Century.”
Contemporary Contextual Introduction:
The following report was jointly researched, compiled, and written in 2002 by George R. Lucas, Jr., Project Director and J. Scott Lee, Principal Investigator under the auspices of a three-year grant provided by the Fund for Improvement of Post-Secondary Education to the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) between 1998-2002. (Later, ACTC extended the project to 2004.) I built the database out of which to draw its statistical conclusions about trends, and, with Lucas, I conducted every interview with hundreds of faculty, administrators, and students on campuses which provided the ‘ethnographic’ confirmation of our data findings and the stipulations of causes of change in general liberal education.
There can be little doubt that a study of the development and evolution of general education programs over 20 to 24 years in 66 and, later, 81 institutions is simply far more comprehensive than any single institution is likely to mount as it begins a process of review and reform of general education. That said, the Report below is dated since its conclusions are drawn from a period between 1978 and 2002. It stands as a record of some of the data found in Invention: the Art in Liberal Arts, but does the report have any enduring value?
The largest single difference between then and now that affects all programs is the (often coercive) regional accreditation demands for constant institutional review and improvement through assessment of student learning. During the period this report was written, institutions underwent five-, seven-, or ten-year reviews through accreditation agencies. That kind of review, when focusing on curriculum, tended to look at the general education structure of categories of course choices and course requirements. However, within this report between the years 1992 and 1996 one can discern some of the more interesting first inventions of assessment of student learning well before accreditation agencies began to make their demands.
Assessment of student learning changed the focus of self-evaluation reports towards increased improvement by students. The effects on general education were, ultimately, to reduce the structure by subjects and to increase the denotative structure of general education as a producer of ‘competencies.’
In principle, there is nothing wrong with such an emphasis since the point of college is to learn, to become capable. Indeed, the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) was an early leader in 2002-2004 in accrediting agencies for developing qualitative assessment based on student work in liberal learning or what was largely the new, changing general education structures. The report below formed a ‘content’ and ‘goals’ basis for AALE’s later student learning efforts. And within the established milieu of now-current, largely quantitative assessment practices, in 2010-2011 I proposed to the Board of ACTC and the Association for General and Liberal Studies a joint narrative, qualitative assessment venture, particularly of humanities and core text programs, which bore fruit and was later produced by Kathleen Burk and David Dimattio as ACTC’s Qualitative Narrative Assessment: Core Texts Programs in Review, vol. 1 Qualitative Narrative Assessment: Core Text Programs in Review, vol. 2 ACTC’s Qualitative Narrative Assessment: Core Texts Programs in Review, vol. 1 Qualitative Narrative Assessment: Core Text Programs in Review, vol. 2 (QNA). These two publications arose out of the efforts of 13 institutions in the U.S. and around the world.
The drive toward measuring competencies had the effect of making the general education programs a kind of ‘black hole’ of course work. Who needed to discuss curriculum if it could be shown that students were emerging with competencies? If a review committee pre-judged that a course would fulfill a competency category in general education, what else would be needed to be discussed so long as later data on student learning in the course supported that pre-judgment?
Departments began to submit courses for institutional committee review that fulfilled many more categories than each department had originally committed to fulfilling in ‘subject matter’ general education structures. While math or language efforts tried to document the state and improvement of their learning in calculation or writing, the national tested results of this change-over after about 15 years-time were very discouraging. The same would be true of ‘critical thinking’ which every department laid claim to. See references to Blaich and Pascarella, and Arum and Roksa in Chapter 1 to Invention: The Art of Liberal Arts, pp. 29-30.
Of course the development of “competency” assessment also had some damaging effects on calls by some faculty members for ‘unified’ or at least ‘required’ sections of a general education curriculum devoted to liberal (arts) education and classic texts, notwithstanding that such courses were early proto-types of faculty cooperation and learning communities across disciplines extending back to 1920’s and 1930’s. Competencies were simply lined up as a list of what a college student would be able to do. Few if any were the efforts to try to relate one competency to another. Independent of any ideological arguments, it could be questioned why core text course structures were to be offered at all, since college students no longer needed to develop a knowledge, say, of Western Civilization (or any other major civilization), or a familiarity with great works across disciplines or fields, or perhaps even ‘canonical’ works within a discipline.
Over the course of the Assessing Trends report and at the report’s conclusion, there are indications of possibilities of development of research, curricular structures, and mission or goal elaboration both within institutions and as trends in higher education. Invention: The Art of Liberal Arts addresses not only some of the “follow-up” research on competency changes that have risen out of baccalaureate education since 2002, but also addresses arguments about mission, goals, structure, arts (that is, methods) throughout the book. Additionally, there is some evidence in ACTC’s QNA efforts that core text institutional programs did develop writing and thinking competences, as a function of the knowledge of the matter taught, which satisfied general education competency requirements and crossed times and disciplines.
To this day, general and liberal education remain institutional – not disciplinary – phenomena. And it is that context, in addition to the ends or goals of liberal education, which gives importance to this report, even now. Faculty must still cooperate, they must be incentivized to do so, there are faculty members who take a lead in general, liberal education programming, there are still adjudications of faculty disputes concerning appropriate courses, and, of course, there is still a question of the mission of an institution, the role of baccalaureate education in it, and the goals that general education should either aspire to or actually meet. Additionally, vast institutional size differences, organizational structures, ‘peer’ institutional practices, institutional affiliation (religious, secular, public, private), regard for general or liberal education – all of these still remain as important factors in the life of general education in the U.S., and increasingly abroad in China and Europe. Ultimately, with a stronger emphasis and development on student learning assessment, Assessing Trends in the Liberal Arts Core’s findings on historical statistical trends and causes of change in general education remain as salient now as when the report was researched and written.
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Report to the National Endowment for the Humanities on “Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and Sciences: An Exemplary Education Project.”
Taking its cue from C. P. Snow’s famous Two Cultures argument and ACTC’s (formerly the American Academy for Liberal Education’s) own “Trends in the Liberal Arts Core” project, ACTC brought together nationally respected experts in the sciences and the humanities with faculty from eight (later expanded to ten) institutions to develop humanistically-based, general education core curricula and courses in three, two-week summer seminar sessions, from June 2003 through June 2005. Participating institutions sent teams of two humanists and one scientist, one of whom was an administrator in a general education program, to the seminars. These faculty returned to their campuses, to develop course models and to conduct faculty dissemination and training projects. Important to accomplishment and success was the possibility of establishing on campuses the ground work for conversations between science and humanities faculty for purposes of understanding each other’s fields and, more particularly, for changing the content and, in some cases, the structure of general education courses and curricula. The title of the project was “Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and Sciences: An Exemplary Education Model of Core Text, Humanistic Education” or BTG for short. The project was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For the relevant passages in Invention which draw on this project’s data and report, see Chapter 7, “Enriching Liberal Education’s Defense,” p. 180 ff., and Appendix 4, “Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and Sciences Seminar Syllabi,” pp. 297-313.
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The Starry Messenger and the Assessment of Liberal Education
This paper was originally written during a personal transition from work at the national accreditation agency, the American Academy for Liberal Education, to working in a full-time position (previously voluntary and part-time) as Executive Director of ACTC. So, I had three concerns in writing the paper. First, after working on the national Assessing Trends project, I wanted to reflect on changes in liberal education that the conversion to ‘scientifically modelled’ assessment might bring. Second, I wanted to open-up the question of “possibility” within liberal arts education, so that future inquiries into possibility might be explored more thoroughly by programs and my own investigations. And, third, I wanted to show that there were a host of ‘technical’ liberal arts works, Galileo’s included, that could be employed both in crafting assessment instruments and in helping faculty, particularly new faculty, to judge the achievement of liberal arts education not in the terms of graduate disciplines, but in terms of the liberal arts.
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Report to the Mellon Foundation on the Aga Khan Humanities Project in Central Asia
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Western Heritage, World Classics, and Diversity: Problems of Coherence and Textual Selection in the Core Curriculum
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Section 3: Curricula as Objects of Art
On Educating the Whole Person or Learning to be a Knower: Rebuilding the reputation of the humanities
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