Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

What the GEC? A Liberal Arts Education

4 Apr

Last night, I spent some extra hours on campus proctoring the GEC Exit Exam. It is a test that we give to our graduating seniors to see if they learned what we taught them in the General Education Core (GEC). As I read from a canned speech, we have taught them “a particular set of skills.” I really wanted to say that in a Liam Neeson voice.Liam Neeson

After reading the canned script, I told them what I really wanted to say. We are a Liberal Arts university and want them to leave with a well-rounded education. While being trained for a job is important, we believe that being exposed to different theories and ideas is what higher education is all about.

That is why the GEC is filled with History classes that cover Benjamin Harrison’s presidency and the Ming Dynasty. That is why it is filled with English classes where they read Shakespeare and Twain. Students often wonder why they have to take those classes and end their careers taking this GEC test. It is because we want them to know more than how to do their jobs. We want them to know about the world.

Sometimes, I fear that universities are becoming trade schools rather than bastions of higher education. Think about those words for a second. Higher education. It is great to get training to be successful in a profession. However, it is greater to be taught to think on a higher plane. That is what higher education and Liberal Arts is all about. It is about helping people to be open-minded toward ideas that are different from their own.

Open-mindedness is something that we are missing in the modern world. Heck, it may have always been missing. This makes me think about the politics of the realm in which we live. People are not willing to understand the arguments of the other side. I am not just talking about people who are conservative. I think people who have a liberal mindset are just as close-minded. Neither side is willing to concede that the other side may have some valid arguments and concerns. Let us just shut them off and yell at them.

Truly open-minded people listen to the other side. They may not agree, but, at least, they make an attempt to understand it. To me, that is what a Liberal Arts education is all about. It exposes people to different ideas and helps them understand that there things out there other than what their parents, their preachers and their teachers have told them.

It is a big world, and we need to do everything we can to understand it.

Today, I taught History to a room full of freshmen. Many of them did not seem very interested. By the time they get to the GEC Exit Exam, I hope they have realized that History, English, Philosophy, Sociology and all the other stuff were not wastes of time. They were essential to help them become something more than a job-holder. They made them an educated person.

 

Listeria

11 Jul

I was at the pharmacy buying legal drugs and had to wait the required 20 minutes for them to fill my prescription. There were five druggists and one customer, so I’m not sure why it should take that long. Maybe, they were sampling their merchandise. Anyway, I entertained myself by looking at greeting cards; checking out the new wave of condoms; and, in the end, heading over to the magazine stand. There, in the middle of the too-much-about-celebrities and the too-little-about-sports, I found TIME: The 100 Most Influential People of All Time.

I know what these “list” magazines are. They are a way for magazines to make some extra money and maybe get new subscribers. They are pointless because the lists are totally subjective, and there is no way of knowing how they came up with the names. Besides, what makes 100 so special anyway? It’s just a round number. Despite all of that, I am a sucker for these types of things. I even bought Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and made sure I had all of the songs on my iPod. This, despite the fact that “Like a ROLLING STONE” by Bob Dylan was ranked Numero Uno, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The ROLLING STONES came in second. Talk about subjective lists with self-promotion.

As you can probably imagine, I bought the history list, too. I am a historian who likes lists. What can I say? Now, I’m not going to go through the entire list, but a few things stood put to me.

1. There are a few people on the list who are subject to speculation in their actual existence. There’s Abraham, Jesus Christ, Confucius. Heck, some people even doubt the reality of William Shakespeare. Yet, they are on the list. Let me set this straight. I am not saying that they did not exist. They, or the inspiration for them, probably did. Also, there is no doubt of the impact that they and their followers have had on the world. I only think it is interesting that the list includes people who may not have actually been people.

2. There are four U.S. presidents on the list – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. I have already written about what I think of our presidents, so I won’t go into great detail. However, this brings some thoughts to mind. First, these four did a great job and left an impact on the world. Second, the other forty haven’t done much. I mean, these guys are always called “the leader of the free world” and are said to hold “the most powerful office in the world”. If that’s true, then why are there not more on the list?

I’ll tell you why. None of that is really true. There are a lot of leaders of “the free world”, and the presidency is not even supposed to be “the most powerful office” in the United States. The three branches – executive, legislative and judicial – are equal. It’s a team effort, and the president is supposed to run the day-to-day operations. Obviously, this job description has been skewed through the years by the people in office (definitely by the four on the list), but the fact remains that the presidency is supposed be no more powerful or influential than the other areas of government.

3. One of the presidents, Roosevelt is on the list along with Winston Churchill. Undoubtedly, they made it because of their efforts against Adolph Hitler (who is also on the list) during World War II. In my opinion, all three of those people deserve their listing. I’m sure a lot of people object to Hitler’s presence, but the list is about influence, not humanity. He started a war that shaped the rest of the 20th Century – from technology to the Cold War.

Mentioning the Cold War leads me to the issue with this grouping. Where is Joseph Stalin? He was one of the Big Three who fought against Nazi Germany. In fact his nation was actually invaded by German troops. Want to know an interesting statistic? More Soviet women died in combat than American men. On top of that, his policies shaped the 20th Century as well.

4. I also find it interesting that my area of historical study, the American West, is also included. I just can’t figure out why. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea make the list for their journey through the Louisiana Territory. It’s important for the United States, but I am not sure about its influence on the world. First, someone had already made the trek through Canada. Second, most of their travels went through lands already ventured into by Europeans. Third, Native Americans had been there for a long time.

Speaking – actually, writing – of Native Americans. Sitting Bull is on the list. This is one of my favorite people from history, and I will visit the Battle of Little Big Horn, the site of his greatest victory, in a few weeks. However, I don’t see how the killing of George Custer makes him one of the top 100. Sitting Bull didn’t even lead forces into battle because he was recovering from the Sun Dance. He is tattoo worthy, though.

As written earlier, I will not go through the entire list, but I will mention my favorites from each category.

In “Beacon of Spirits”, I like the inclusion of Socrates and Plato.

“Explorers and Visionaries” has Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell, with whom I share a last name. Unfortunately, we are not related.

Queen Elizabeth I and Simon Bolivar are listed under “Leaders of the People”.

“Architects of Culture” includes Michelangelo and Louis Armstrong.

That’s it. If you were on the committee, then who would you put on the list?

Cheeseburgers, Clocks and Albert Einstein’s Wife

21 Mar

Sometimes we have to search for something to write about, and other times subjects just appear. Today, I was struggling with ideas for tonight’s installment until I realized that it was happening right in front of me.

In my morning class, I brought out an activity that I have been using through the years to break up the monotony of lectures – for both me and the students. I ask them to list five people from history that they would like to have dinner with. When they are finished with their lists, I go around the room and ask who they wrote down. Then, we discuss one from each list. The parameters of choices are pretty wide. They can pick someone dead or living (living people have affected history too). In short, they can pick anyone famous. I allow this to show that history is not made up only of political leaders and other people who deem themselves important. Everyone takes part in the story of history. I also allow this to see what they are interested in.

As we went around the room, the usual suspects popped up. Jesus and Adolph Hitler have always been popular choices. (I wonder how often those two names have been used in the same sentence.) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln came up as well. I also get a lot of celebrities and athletes, but I was surprised to have a girl who wanted to meet Megan Fox. Some new names emerged, like William Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin and Super Tramp (you know, the band).

However, I was really surprised to hear someone say Albert Einstein’s wife. I know that there was a stunned look on my face as I asked, “Why Albert Einstein’s wife?” The following conversation took place.

“Because she is the one who did all of the work. No one would listen to her because she was a woman, so she put everything in his name. He was dumb. He didn’t even know how to tie his shoes.”

“I have never heard that. Where did you see this?”

“A friend told me. It’s like a conspiracy.”

“I’ll have to look into that. It is true that women did not have as many opportunities in those days, and I am sure she was an intelligent lady.”

I quickly moved on to someone else because I had nothing else to say. I did not want to quash a student’s interest in the subject, but I have never heard this theory before. Instead of making the student look bad, I said that was a very interesting idea that I wanted to investigate and would like them to investigate as well. Diplomatic, huh? I haven’t looked into this yet, but if you guys have ever heard about this please let me know. In the meantime, here is a picture of Albert Einstein’s wife along with Albert.

That was fun, but, as they say, the fun wasn’t over yet. I was starving when I left school. Rotary had corned beef and cabbage left over from a St. Patrick’s Day party. It was served with potatoes, and I wondered if the Irish started eating this beef and cabbage stuff when their potatoes went bad. If so, then serving them together is pretty ironic. Anyway, I was hungry and went into a drive-thru. The following happened.

“What can I get you today?”

“I would like a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, pickle and lettuce. I would also like fries and a medium Coke. (In the South, all soft drinks are called Coke.)”

“I have a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, pickle and lettuce. Fries and a medium Coke. Would you like cheese on your cheeseburger?”

Silence as I pondered that question and the origins of the universe which Albert Einstein’s wife theorized about.

“Sir?”

“I’m here.”

“Would you like cheese on your cheeseburger?”

“Yes. That would be good.”

“Drive to the first window please.”

After getting my cheeseburger with cheese, I headed home. At a red light, an old school station pulled ahead of me, and I noticed something strange in the rear window. There was a clock – a round clock that should be hanging on a wall. And it was keeping time. Next to the clock was a sticker that said, “I’m a Lover.” Perhaps, he was timing himself because he was, as The Dominoes would sing, a Sixty Minute Man.

I went home; ate my cheeseburger with cheese; thought about Mrs. Einstein and the Sixty Minute Man; and knew I had my blog post.