Since I've been home, I've done some more thinking about The Review's championing of a Core Curriculum as a sort of panacaea for Dartmouth's educational woes (which pretty much amount to being bad at the 1870 version of Trivial Pursuit). Here are a few more points I have thought of:
1. The Review presents the Western Canon as a source of universal values, but the scope of their critique is limited to the local--the Dartmouth campus. This seems rather discontinuous to me. Here's why:
If the Western Canon is truly a universalizable value, then some print and some time should have been spent writing about the place of the Canon outside of Dartmouth, at least as an ancillary argument for the Canon's importance. If the Canon is the best society has to offer, as the Review claims, there is an obligation implicit in making it the focus of their latest issue to put it in a larger societal context.
Questions like "Should the Canon be taught at night schools?" "Should it be taught at public universities?" "How about tech schools?" "How about non-Western universities?" do not have to be answered, but they merit a consideration, even in The Review's Dartmouth-centric scope. Since that consideration is absent, I assume it must be irrelevant to The Review's staff and Dr. Platt, in which case I have to wonder, if they truly believe that the Western Canon is the best education a person can have, why is it irrelevant to those not at a school like Dartmouth? In my humble opinion, it is simply pedagogical elitism--not education adapted to the needs of disparate communities, but education adapted to privilege--that drives the Reviewers.
2. In regards to the attack on the English Department's abandonment of the Writing Program, well, I agree fully that the greatest emphasis should be placed on making the Writing Program excellent and effective. I have to ask, though, why should there be a concern that English/Writing 5 is being outsourced to faculty other than those of the English department? Shouldn't we ask why the Review believes a computer science prof teaching at Dartmouth is incompetent as a teacher of grammar and effective composition? I tend to assume that if a person has been hired to teach at Dartmouth, s/he's a)pretty damn smart and b)except in special cases, has a considerable command of the English language and effective argumentation. Obviously there are professors that are better at this than others, and it is my hope that there is a preponderance of that type of professor in the English Dept. than in any other, but to cast outsourcing as a certain sign of the apocalypse as far as instruction goes is complaining for its own sake and shows a(n unwarranted) lack of trust in the capabilities of the Dartmouth professorate (not to mention a disturbing lack of real thought by the author).
I believe what is needed is not making the Writing Program the English Dept.'s exclusive province, but rather that a more stringent and universal list of educational objectives, specific grading guidelines, and common methods be drawn up. (Note: this is not a recommendation of a certain common body of texts to be used in the classes, but of a certain methodology and teleology that would be held in common among all classes.)
Also, one final thing: If we should be concerned that compsci or physics profs can't teach how to draft an effective paper, doesn't that say something about the writing programs of their college years? Maybe not much has changed.
3. The idea that you can only develop the skills of literary analysis or attain knowledge of the human condition based on the classics or those books that address "the Great Issues" is bogus. Some of the most illuminating conversations I have had at Dartmouth (or elsewhere) have sprouted from extraordinarily mundane, dull topics. I feel that one can say just as much about film technique after watching The Rock as one can after seeing a film by Ernst Lubitsch. I can use and sharpen my analytic skills on poor arguments like those of The Review just as easily and just as efficaciously as I can when tackling Hegel. I can have as deep a conversation about the human experience while talking about The Game's lyrics as I can while talking about Brahms. It's not about the subject, it's about the process.
Thanks for reading.