Wright College Great Books Curriculum Mission and Policies
[T]o know ourselves and the world, we have... to know the best which has been thought and said in the world.
We are all mentioned in the wills of Homer and Shakespeare
The Great Books Curriculum is a curricular program structured around a text-based model for selected courses in Wright College’s General Education Program. It is also a committee of faculty who are each committed to teaching General Education courses using this model and providing extra curricular scholarly activities employing the Great Books.
The intent of this curriculum design is to enrich both students and faculty. For students these aims focus on deepening their understanding of themselves and the human condition and also in enhancing General Education learning outcomes in such areas as analytical reading, critical thinking, rhetorical skills and writing.
For faculty the aims are deeper intellectual classroom engagement and ongoing increasing professional development through the use of texts from the world’s most profound and important thinkers and writers. Students completing the curriculum, with all its program supplements, are formally recognized on their graduation transcripts. As both a curriculum and a faculty committee, the GBC requires a structure that recognizes both elements.
The Great Books Curriculum holds that students are best and most profoundly educated through the exploration and study of civilization’s most central written texts, which have explored fundamental questions about human nature and society and the meaning of life and the universe with unsurpassed profundity and beauty.
The Great Books Curriculum’s special role and primary concern is a focus on the written text itself. Creative works such as music and the visual arts, while perhaps a part of a Great Books course, do not constitute the primary learning focus in it.
- To insure that students receive the most substantive and personally enriching liberal education by providing opportunities to gain a working knowledge of a portion of the world’s indisputably central texts.
- To help students learn to think more effectively. Close reading and writing about Great Books aim at helping students improve their analytical reading, critical thinking, and abilities to assess conflicting evidence logically and ethically. This will be especially the case when, whenever feasible, Great Books authors who express conflicting views on fundamental questions are assigned.
- To help students recognize claims and tacit assumptions, examine unfamiliar ideas fairly and in so doing ultimately acquire intellectual independence in a classroom where Great Books texts are presented in their own terms, free of bias and ideology, and where all points of view receive a fair hearing and produce for students a model of constructive and reasoned academic discussion and debate.
- To initiate students into a larger common culture of lasting value by introducing students to works that have shaped civilization, and then to provide students with supplementary assistance in grasping those texts that also constitute the profound and beautiful legacy of the generations of humankind.
- To increase student historical and cultural literacy through discussions of the significant figures, issues and events of the eras in which the Great Book being studied was produced. Such study has several goals, one of the most important of which is to help students gain awareness that Great Books were produced in a wide variety of epochs and countries where people experienced conditions and lived their lives in ways both fundamentally different and equivalent to our own. This awareness discourages ethnocentrism and provides students with the many perspectives on the human behavior and society which are indispensable when students reflect upon universal truths about human nature, justice and ethics.
- To increase student historical and cultural literacy through discussions that equip students with a minimum familiarity with the eras and people they will encounter in subsequent specialized classes. The aim is to liberate students from the common impediments to their learning when they are initially exposed to unfamiliar complex texts -- incomprehension, alienation, anxiety, and the inability to see the text’s perennial relevance.
- To stimulate students’ curiosity to explore independently periods and figures they would otherwise be completely unaware of and so gain the enrichment this yields.
To encourage the enlargement of students’ reading skills and their range of ideas through careful study of the complex vocabularies and allusions common to many Great Books texts. As Edward P.J. Corbett has noted:
[T]he best writing is usually done by ... omnivorous readers...[S}uch students have more to say on any given subject...[and] at their command the words they need to express what they have to say...[for] a person cannot give what he or she does not have. The person who reads a great deal is more likely to encounter new words than those who merely keep their ears open to the speech that is constantly swirling about them. The reason is that the vocabulary for impromptu talk and conversation is considerably more limited than the vocabulary for written prose.
- To encourage and recognize student academic accomplishment by engaging Great Books students and faculty in supplemental scholarly activities such as symposia, field trips to cultural events, and, as funds permit, by publishing student scholarly work and providing modest book scholarships and awards.
- To bring one’s best thought and lines of inquiry into the classroom by assigning those Great Books that best reflect and deepen such thinking. The best teaching takes place when both teacher and student are highly stimulated and challenged; the Great Books Curriculum promotes this and thus makes the teaching and learning experience more satisfying for all.
- To feel encouraged to utilize more complex and universal works which faculty themselves want to discover and explore, thus rendering the classroom a place for faculty intellectual growth.
- To share ideas on how to best teach the Great Books based on their own in class experiences and through joint projects such as assessment.
- To be a part of an intellectual community through such formal activities as team teaching, faculty symposia and the recommendation of books and authors for Great Books semester themes. The sense of community can also be furthered through informal exchanges involving each others’ areas of special Great Books expertise as well as recommended Great Books authors and events and through organized dinner discussions.
The Great Book Curriculum Core Author List
Origins and Purpose: The Great Books Curriculum is based on a core author list published on the Wright College Great Books Curriculum web site and available upon request. The preponderance of authors who compose the Great Books Curriculum’s core author list have been adopted from the list compiled by the Encyclopedia Brittanica both because of the list’s merit and reputation as an independent source. The core list of authors, with its basis in the widely accepted Britannica canon, provides Great Books Curriculum faculty and students with a common focus on works of indisputable profundity and universal importance.
- At this writing the core list consists of roughly 225 authors who have been drawn overwhelmingly from the Humanities and largely from the West. A core goal of the Great Books author list is to offer students the most important books from the entire human community. Over time additional excellent texts from outside the Western canon will be added.
For an author to be included on the Great Books list the author, two considerations only are to be permitted.
- The work produced by that author must have demonstrated its greatness over time and therefore has to have been in print for a minimum of fifty years.
- ii) The work is to be judged solely on the basis of the work’s intrinsic profundity, its universal truths and its lasting contribution. No other criteria are to be applied.
- Apart from augmenting the core author list with authors from Mathematics and Science, the core authors list shall contain a maximum of 250 in order to preserve its focus. When the maximum of 250 authors has been reached the addition of another author must be accompanied by the dropping from the core list of another. This decision will be made by the Great Books Curriculum faculty by a simple majority vote.
Great Books Curriculum Course Policies
- For a course to be included in the Great Books Curriculum in a given term, the standard requirement is that at least 50% of the primary readings in the course must be taken from works and authors on the Program’s core list derived from Encyclopedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World.
- These readings must be from the texts themselves, not from abridgements, commentaries, or adaptations. Though this often is not feasible, every effort should be made to include the text in its entirety. Films and other learning aids may be used to supplement direct encounters with the texts but never as a replacement for that encounter. The texts are the defining mark of the program and should in no way be trivialized.
The fifty per cent rule can be attained in several ways:
- Half the total number of assigned pages from primary readings must be from the core author list. Hence a course may include the assignment of the entire volume of Federalist Papers and half dozen important speeches from political figures not on the cure author list and qualify as a Great Books course.
- Half the total authors of primary readings can be assigned from the core author list. A literature course can assign a dozen poets from the core author list and a contemporary novel and qualify as a Great Books course.
- The readings are to be seen as tools to reach the course objectives determined by the academic department offering the course and consistent with the generic objectives specified by the Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI) that ensure a course’s transferability to other institutions. Department syllabi spell out these objectives and must form the basis for individually prepared class syllabi that integrate the Great Books readings and additional GBC program assessment outcomes into the department model.
- Syllabi are expected to be distributed to students at the beginning of each term and should clearly specify that the course is part of the GBC. The aims of a Great Books class and the scope of the program and its various facets (symposia, publication, possibility of earning certification etc) must be mentioned during the orientation being done on the first day of classes. Each member is also expected to periodically throughout the semester relate the semester theme to assigned readings, alert students to upcoming Great Books extra curricular events and opportunities, and at some point, be willing to time participate in small scale Great Books assessment activity with students, Each term, syllabi are subject to review by the Director (or the Director’s designee) to ensure compliance with these conditions, and courses may be withdrawn from GBC status if these basic requirements are not met.
The Great Books Curriculum Faculty Policies
- Membership to the Great Books Curriculum Faculty is voluntary. To be included as a GBC faculty, self evidently one has to teach a GBC course. Both full-time and adjunct faculty are eligible to be part of the program in a given year, and faculty may retain eligibility for one additional year, even if not teaching a GBC course.
- Faculty members not teaching any program course for two years or more in the program lose eligibility. Loss of eligibility means that a faculty member won’t qualify for possible GBC grant funding, invitations to GBC faculty social gatherings, and paid admission to cultural events that form the rich supplemental learning experience for GBC students.
- An additional condition for inclusion in the GBC is attending at least one GBC meeting during a two-year period. Attendance at meetings is the only way to keep abreast of program activities, assessment, and theme considerations as well as to share in the work of the program through committee assignments. Meetings will be scheduled to accommodate most teacher programs, and refreshments will be provided.
- Faculty are expected to comply with any requests for a review of their syllabi prior to having courses classified as a Great Books course (designated by the addition of a "9" after the Section letter in the academic schedule).
- The GBC is coordinated by a Program Director chosen by the GBC faculty from among their ranks and approved by Wright’s administration. The Director continues to serve at the will of the GBC faculty.
- The work of the GBC is conducted by various GBC faculty committees, most of which are constituted by ongoing tasks of the program. These tasks include assessment/research, publications, publicity/dissemination, events management, and student recruitment. A formal governance committee might also be constituted to assist the Director in handling many of the daily management tasks required. Committees should be staffed each academic year at the first organizational meeting of the GBC, and all GBC faculty are expected to assist in the ongoing work of the program if the GBC is to continue to flourish.
- The GBC should meet as a group at least three times each academic semester to carry out the mission of the program, and committees should meet as needed. While good will and consensus should govern committee actions, a simple majority vote (when a quorum of all eligible faculty voters is present at a meeting) will determine program actions. If a quorum is not present, a written version of the proposed action should be distributed to all eligible voters within a week of proposal, and simple majority vote should determine the outcome.
- Each member of the GBC is expected to contribute in undertaking some portion of the workload with the Director through meeting attendance and committee work. The rewards are considerable, if not monetary - the transformation of our students through their and our joint encounter of the greatest ideas from the greatest minds that have thought or written about the human condition. The GBC also offers the satisfaction of working with colleagues with sophisticated intellectual and aesthetic interests, and the program makes every effort to foster this sense of community through faculty-centered social and intellectual events, such as the annual GBC dinner and the annual Faculty Symposium.
- 9. It is critical to the success of the program to acquaint GBC students with the intent and resources of the program, to encourage their continuation in GBC classes beyond the one they are currently attending.
GBC Student Policies
- Great Books classes are open to all Wright College students who meet the prerequisites for the generic version of the course. The GBC is not an honors program, nor does it require any specific additional assignments beyond what a student would expect in a quality transfer course. The difference is in the texts read, the ideas discussed, and the arguments formed during the term. Great Books courses should engage students in the learning process through focused discussion, independent inquiry, and problem-solving; therein lies the transformative effect that GBC research has defined. GBC students also should be engaged in the rich array of learning supplements that are open to them - cultural visits, publication, Great Books Society activities, and the like.
- Students successfully completing at least four GBC classes receive both a Certificate of Completion at graduation (along with mention in the Graduation Program) as well as a formal notation on their transcript of successful completion of the GBC program.
- Students are expected to successfully complete (C or better grade) a GBC course for it to count toward their program completion requirement of four GBC courses.
- In addition, GBC students can receive paid admissions to plays and other GBC-sponsored cultural events as well as participate in student symposia and publish their work in the GB journal, Symposium. As indicated in the comprehensive student survey in the GBC’s grant-funded assessment project, the additional activities of the program extended the transformative effect on students beyond themselves and their classroom to a better understanding of their families and communities.
Subsequent additions to or modifications of this document should reflect the views of the majority of GBC faculty. Thus, a 2/3’s majority of eligible GBC faculty is required, via written secret ballot, to approve of changes to the final form of this document. Any changes should be discussed at the GBC meeting immediately preceding the written vote, and a simple majority of voters at that meeting is required to send the changes to the entire GBC for a written vote on any changes.