Philosophy of education:
One commonly expressed goal of education is that of empowering the self to make better choices. I see problems with this goal. First, it is inherently isolationist. Second, a selfish self will do more damage to society after empowerment than before. Rather, I agree with John Henry Newman that the goal of education should be to carry one beyond oneself, towards "the eternal order of things, "towards the God claimed by Protestants, Catholics, Muslms and Jews, the self-dependent, all-perfect, unchangeable Being" (Newman, The Idea of a University). This means not the assimilation of creeds and dogmas and does not imply exclusiveness, but rather the very opposite. It is a goal that fosters exploration of every system of belief and every aspect of life and promotes concerns for social justice as well as for individual growth.
In the midst of my lecture on culture in the early centuries of the first millenium after Christ, she interrupted me. A good student, she asked with considerable irritation, "Who is this 'Constantine' you keep talking about?" I was able to patch together an explanation, drawing on other elements in the fabric of her historical knowledge; however, had that fabric been slightly more threadbare, I might not have been able to anchor the missing patch.
In my experience, many students do not come to Furman with a solid grounding in Western history and culture. The intellectual formation of many is infused by a heavy dose of the pre-digested, contrived ideas of mass culture, which interfaces only indirectly and vaguely with the thought of the Greeks, or of Aquinas, or of Lincoln. It is a real possibility that students could lose their understanding of the Western tradition (yes, I am aware of problems with the concept and terminology) altogether. I believe that the Western tradition should be thoroughly learned, understood, and appreciated on its own terms and should not be regarded as an impediment to be dismantled and discarded. It is well worth preserving and passing on. People of every tradition wish to preserve and pass on their cultural legacy; we would be foolish not to do so.
This endeavor need not be at the expense of learning about other cultures and traditions and it need not foster a parochial mentality. We can teach about every culture, starting with our own, with respect for its strengths and with clear-minded assessment of its weaknesses and failures.
I should like to see us reinforce, not weaken, the teaching of the Western cultural legacy at Furman. A required course in great books would be one possible way of implementing this goal. Certainly History 11 should retain its status as a GER.
A required course in great books of the Western tradition, including works of history, philosophy, theology, politics, and literature and taught as a seminar, in the freshman or sophomore year, by faculty across the disciplines. Retention of History 11 as a GER.