The title is a bit misleading here. Basically, I'm working on drafting a dialogue (of all things) about the future of liberal arts education for my "Future of English Studies" course. The goal is, in short, to reimagine the St. John's College Great Books program - or something like it - with an eye towards important modern concepts like multiculturalism and technology. The fundamental question is, how much do you lose from the radical dialogic pedagogy of the college in modernizing it (or post-modernizing* it, I guess).
* Post-modernism still makes me viscerally uncomfortable, even as I recognize that almost everyone - including myself - with any semblance of education in the modern world believes in it implicitly. Truth is relative? Of course. Context matters? Duh. Moral sensibilities have more to do with culture than with eternal, Platonic forms? Yeah, I guess so. That doesn't change, though, that I also dislike post-modernism. I think this is in part due to its horrible name. Someone should have foreseen a problem with future naming of philosophical movements when they called their own time "modern." Someone else should have realized that calling the next movement "post-modernism" was also silly. What comes next? Post-post-modernism?
The goal in this post is not to write my draft, but to pose questions. That is, I don't even plan on trying to answer or discuss those questions here: that's what the dialogue will do. I just want to pose questions. So without further ado, here are, in no particular order, questions for the liberal arts major:
- Is it desirable for every student in a college to share a reading list with every other student?
- Is it possible to share a reading list in a multicultural curriculum?
- What makes for a good classroom discussion, and how important is a shared reading list - or even a shared reading - to that project?
- How could a St. John's-like program teach writing effectively without abandoning its pedagogical roots?
- What is more important to St. John's pedagogy: the illusion of equality in the classroom, the apparent absence of grades, the commitment to the shared reading (and no outside sources), or the participation of a sufficient percentage of the students in the class?
- How many students and tutors is ideal?
- What is the purpose of a liberal arts education? How can we justify it in the modern world?
- Could St. John's work as a multicultural institution? That is, is it merely the reading list, or is it the entire structure that is racist and sexist? (Can the subaltern speak?)
- Indeed, is higher education in general (not just St. John's) not culturally hegemonic?
- What subjects should make up "tutorials?" At St. John's we do Math, Laboratory, Music, and Language. Are these the best options? What is the goal of the tutorial?
- If Husserl's "Crisis of the European Sciences" organizes the traditional St. John's, what text or texts would best organize a modern St. John's?
- How should a student be assessed in a dialogic classroom?
- Is it possible to just update the reading list and keep everything else about St. John's the same?
- If we did update the reading list, what would be thrown out or condensed, and what would be added? Isn't it too ironic to have a multicultural, post-modern canon?
- What about increasingly prominent non-textual works of art and philosophy, like movies, documentaries, albums, and born-digital documents like blogs or video games? What would it mean to study these, and would it be possible to do so in a dialogic classroom?
- Can elements of the St. John's program be recreated online?
- What would a fully digital St. John's seminar look like; what would it gain over the traditional model, and what would it lose?
- How important is the credential to a liberal arts education? Practically and theoretically.
- How should questions like these even be decided? That is, how should a modern liberal arts program be run politically and socially?
I'm sure I could pose more questions, but this seems to me a good start. Of course, if you have any thoughts, I'm happy to hear them.