Book Review: A Student’s Guide To The Core Curriculum

A Student’s Guide To The Core Curriculum, by Mark C. Henrie

When I started reading this book, I thought that the author was going to comment on some of the fashionable fads for common core [1] that exist in contemporary education, but to my surprise and pleasure, this subject was completely ignored and the author instead discussed a different but often neglected aspect of the core curriculum that is at the base of classical education.  In light of that, I appreciated that this book was an intriguing and worthwhile effort to encourage students to acquire through their electives (if they have electives–some majors are rather lacking in them) the sort of education that was once provided in the basic core education of the university.  Given that few universities are interested in providing a solid classical education–if educators even acknowledge such a thing or its lengthy and worthwhile pedigree–this book and others like it to yeoman’s work in helping a student acquire the knowledge to do that task for themselves.  If one cannot depend on others, at least one can do something worthwhile for oneself, after all, and this book is all about improving the capacity for self-discipline and personal responsibility for its readers.

After a lengthy introduction in which the author discusses the history of the core curriculum and its present absence, the author then presents eight chapters that deal with different courses that students should take to encourage their knowledge of classical education and their ability to understand the context of culture and history better.  From the classics department the author urges the reader to take a course in classical literature in translation, a course that is worthwhile, and which ought to inspire a lifelong love of reading ancient books.  The author then moves on to recommend that the reader take an introductory course in ancient philosophy, another way for the reader to become aware of Plato and Aristotle and a great many more obscure philosophers who will provide years of worthwhile reading and writing and intellectual conversation.  From the religion department the author suggests two classics:  The Bible and Christian Thought before 1500.  From the English department the author recommends a course on Shakespeare, which ought to inspire more lifelong reading.  Finally, from the history department, the author recommends courses on US history before 1865 and nineteenth century European intellectual history, both of which are essential to understanding ourselves and our contemporary times.  At the end of the book the author recommends ten courses more:  A course on the Old Testament from the religion department, courses on Roman history and the history of science from the history department, a course on the Divine Comedy from comparative literature, an introductory course to modern philosophy, a course in constitutional interpretation from the political science department, a course on the history of economic thought, a course on the English novel, a course on Renaissance art history, and a course on music appreciation, all of which sound like delightful electives, and all given in the course of a beautiful and worthwhile book of about 100 pages in length.

In doing such work to promote a solid core curriculum among its readers, this book does what many good books do, and that is inspire further reading and further learning.  Even for those who are past the age of going to college and are paying off their college loans (however slowly!), this book encourages its readers to think about what makes someone a well-rounded and well-learned person.  Knowledge of history provides one with context, knowledge of philosophy hones our ability to reason, appreciation for art and music give us cultural outlets and an appreciation for civilization, and knowledge of religion helps us gain a base in biblical faith leading both to salvation and a better life here on earth.  To be sure, not everyone needs to be an expert in such matters who is capable of writing books on these subjects, but we would be far better served if many people had at least a basic enough understanding of these issues to understand when someone was not addressing the realities of logic, history, morality, and economic law effectively.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: A Student’s Guide To The Core Curriculum

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Psychology | Edge Induced Cohesion

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