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Establishing A Great Books Curriculum

What follows aims to provide:

  • a picture of what a Great Books Curriculum can look like
  • choices in how to structure it
  • choices in how to teach these courses
  • suggestions for how to approach practical steps in implementing a new program
  • possible templates for things like publicity

"Choices," "suggestions" and "possible" are words deliberately chosen, for they reflect the values at the heart of this work. For a Great Books Curriculum to work, faculty have to come together voluntarily - not compulsorily - and collaborate collegially on the contours and dimensions of their program, and see how it best meets the needs of students and themselves in their particular institution. While there are common elements in the Great Books Curricula of the partner institutions in the National Great Books Curriculum Academic Community, there are also differences, as one would hope in an enterprise where there is no attempt to create a "one size fits all" set of commandments.

Overview: Common Elements of Partner Institutionsí Great Books Curricula
  • A Great Books Curriculum is faculty staffed and driven.
  • Membership is on a volunteer basis only.
  • A Core Author List is followed.
  • To qualify as a Great Books course, at least half the primary readings in it - or alternately at least half the pages read in a course - must be drawn from a Core Author List.
  • Great Books Curriculum courses are typically long-existing core courses whose primary readings have been revised to reflect the "half the primary readings" rule. Great Books Curriculum courses therefore typically already exist in the curriculum, and no separate administrative division is required for them.
  • Great Books courses are labeled in semester course schedules and can be tracked for purposes of assessment and awarding certification.
  • A Great Books Curriculum is offered to all students. It is not an honors program.
  • To provide greater curricular coherence, a semester theme is agreed upon.
  • Efforts are made to provide extracurricular intellectual activities for students, such as annual student and faculty symposia, Great Books Discussion societies, field trips to classical theater, intellectual student-written journals on Great Books authors, guest speakers, and so on.
Establishing a Great Books Curriculum and Setting Realistic Goals
"Setting Realistic Goals in a New Academic Curriculum"
by Dr. Herman Sinaiko, professor of humanities at the University of Chicago and head evaluator for the FIPSE National Great Books Curriculum Community Project.
"Establishing a Community College Great Books Curriculum: An Administrative Perspective"
by Dr. Don Barshis, former dean of instruction at Wright College and cofounder of the Wright College Great Books Curriculum.
A Brief History of the Great Books Idea
by Tim Lacy, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. history at Loyola University of Chicago. This piece deals with various aspects of his forthcoming doctoral dissertation, "Making a Democratic Culture: The Great Books Idea, Mortimer J. Adler, and Twentieth-Century America."
Choosing a Program Structure
More Formal: Shimer College
More Informal: Wright College
Choosing a Teaching Approach
Case Histories
Publicizing a Great Books Curriculum

Publicizing the Great Books Curriculum and its courses and events serves very important functions. Among them are:

  • Recruitment. Flyers and posters provide a benefit to the faculty by serving to help recruit students into their courses.
  • Recognition of faculty. At a community college, publicly recognizing and implicitly bragging about the erudition of an individual faculty member is rare to the point of being nonexistent. Posting flyers each semester that mention a faculty memberís course and listing the Great Books authors offered raises awareness of a faculty memberís special expertise among colleagues and students. A faculty member becomes more than one in a long list of names beside hundreds of courses in a course schedule and gains a greater sense of being appreciated, of the work one does being considered important and worthwhile - which it is, and for which they deserve recognition.
  • Establishing a Sense of Permanency for the Program. Publicizing courses, circulating flyers about the Great Books Curriculum during registration and the first day of classes over time makes the program a part of the everyday scenery.
  • Cultural literacy and awareness. Flyers that list the authors to be taught in a Great Books Curriculum course introduce students to central cultural figures whose existence and importance they need to be aware. If students have heard of one or more authors listed, this can stimulate them to enroll.
How to Do It and How Much It Costs

Flyers, newsletters, and posters need not be a major cost. At the Wright College Great Books Curriculum, materials were generated using Microsoft Publisher and copied in quantities through the college photocopy department. The expenses were in ink cartridges and the time involved in creation and distribution. A variety of sample efforts can be fou nd in the Tools section.

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