What Should We Be Teaching?

What Should We Be Teaching?

The debate over what to teach—”the canon”, “Great Books,” core curriculum, Western civilization versus world civilization, the sins of Stanford, and so on—is one the least edifying debates of recent times. The problem is that it’s not a debate at all. Instead, everybody is feverishly waving book lists. What makes it even less edifying is that everyone brandishes book lists for different courses. Unfortunately, Irving Howe’s and David Brom- wich’s comments in Dissent (Fall 1988) didn’t advance the debate. They only reacted within the framework set up by the academic conservatives who created the messy fight in the first place. The debate has been so badly framed that a wise person would stay out of it, but that’s impossible for educators and for citizens: Our profession and our mental health are at stake.

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