One Market for the Western Tradition

Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute recently wrote an article on the Great Courses (formerly known as the Teaching Company) which demonstrates that there is a real demand in our culture for knowledge of the Western heritage.

The article, “Great Courses, Great Profits,” discusses the phenomenon of hyper-specialization and focus on fads in scholarship at the university level, which has proceeded to the point where students sometimes do not even have the option to take courses that would provide solid overviews of certain historical periods or themes because the curriculum has been “divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation.” These divisions reflect the interests of professors rather than those of students.

The Great Courses, by contrast, approaches its course offerings differently:

The company produces only what its market research shows that customers want. And that, it turns out, is a curriculum in the monuments of human thought, taught without the politically correct superiority and self-indulgent theory common in today’s colleges.

The company unabashedly declares that the Western tradition can make you a better person. One of its recently produced courses is titled “Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life.” The advertising copy for the course reads in part, “Beginning with the definition of a great book as one that possesses a great theme of enduring importance, noble language that elevates the soul and ennobles the mind, and a universality that enables it to speak across the ages, Professor Fears examines a body of work that offers an extraordinary gift of wisdom to those willing to receive it.” MacDonald writes that today’s typical academic would view this as “a statement so reckless that it would get its proponent thrown out of the Modern Language Association’s annual convention.” (Full disclosure: two of this courses thirty-six lectures are dedicated to non-Western works.)

I have listened to well over 100 lectures from various series issued by this company, and I can report a satisfaction rating of around 95%. The lecturers are articulate, engaging, and not prone to editorializing. I make several of these courses available to students in our university’s library so they can listen to lectures and write papers about them for extra credit.

Click here to check out the offerings from the Great Courses. Every course goes on sale at least once a year.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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2 Responses to One Market for the Western Tradition

  1. Fred Jewell says:

    There are many potent passages in the MacDonald article. One of my favorites is “This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken “Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans,” “Women in American History, 1600–1900,” or “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs,” but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck.” This tells you all you need to know about the state of “elite” higher education in this country and the well-deserved critiques of Clio’s contemporary craft some thoughtful analyst have offered.

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