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Why Colleges' Common Reading Lists Get an F


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why_colleges_common_reading_lists_get_an_f_129589.htmlReal Clear Politics:

Peter Berkowitz

February 09, 2016


A core curriculum is to a liberal education what the study of contracts, torts, civil procedure and constitutional law is to a legal education and what the rudiments of shooting and passing are to basketball—an essential prerequisite to excellence in the larger undertaking. The widespread abandonment of core curricula ensures that college graduates will mistake the smattering of information about the Western tradition and other civilizations that they randomly acquire through their potpourri of courses for the knowledge that ought to crown the education of free and democratic citizens.


Perhaps colleges and universities are suffering something of a bad conscience. They have increasingly adopted the practice of assigning a common reading, usually a book, to matriculating freshman to provide a shared introduction to higher education.


In reality, according to a report released Feb. 10 by the National Association of Scholars, the common readings tend to cater to the lowest common denominator among students and to reinforce campus orthodoxy.


“Beach Books: 2014-2016: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class?” examines programs for this year and the last at more than 350 institutions that assign a common reading, including more than half of U.S. News and World Report’s top 100 American universities over the last two years and also a quarter of its top 100 liberal arts colleges. NAS’s stringent conclusion is unsurprising but supported by a formidable array of data and analysis: “the common reading genre is parochial, contemporary, commercial, optimistic, juvenile, obsessed with suffering, and progressive” (emphasis in original).



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