Young people who want to spend their college years to undergoing radical intellectual transformations do so typically through the study of liberal arts. No other academic scheme is able to challenge the preconceived notions that young people have in quite the same way as the introspective, penetrating dialogues found in Plato’s Republic or in Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. Only within the course listings of the liberal arts infrastructure would burgeoning humanists be able to find such prime opportunities to alter how they think, feel, and live.
The study of Greek philosophy and psychology are highly valued disciplines, but what about the new Tufts University course, “Demystifying the Hipster?” On its face, the title does not suggest that the course would further the objective (rooted in classical antiquity) of educating a civically and politically engaged populace.
The mission, as stated in the course description is, to have students “interrogate contemporary writing – both academic and popular – that claims to define the hipster, examining these arguments alongside exemplary cultural texts that have warranted the hipster label.”
What is equally as disturbing is that the list of bizarre courses available to college students goes beyond the Tufts campus.
Students at the University of California Berkeley can take “Arguing with Judge Judy,” which is not meant to instruct students about the legal system, but about logical fallacies that often occur on the show.
The University of Virginia offers, “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” Students “analyze how the musician pushes social boundaries with her work.” Surely, there is another way of achieving the same end, with more intellectually stimulating means.
This writerfinds it difficult to believe that Petrarch would have been supportive of a class about Lady Gaga. Often dubbed the “Father of Humanism,” Petrarch’s erudition was unmatched during his lifetime.
He wrote letters to Cicero, Virgil, and St. Augustine, engaging in “dialogues” with the men he saw as his heroes.
Petrarch was convinced that to devote the mind to enrichment and fulfillment was instrumental in the way one lived his/her life. His studies were treated not just as mere intellectual fancy, but as guides to help one lead a virtuous life. Today, the liberal arts may purport to do the same, but they do so in an environment that is far less amenable to subjects with little practical or utilitarian value.
Thomas Jefferson, arguably America’s most famous Founding Father, was also a true intellectual; in fact “Cicero was Jefferson’s favorite classical scholar.” Jefferson, at one point,“acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States.”
There were texts on virtually every subject from natural philosophy (science) and medicine to astronomy and ethics.
Renowned as a gifted writer, it would became clear to the other men in attendance at the Second Continental Congress that Jefferson should be the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. His ability to pull from a large swath of knowledge that he had accumulated over many years of intense study is one reason why Jefferson’s polemic has stood the test of time as a frequent model for reassuring people all over the world that they are endowed with certain “unalienable Rights” that can’t be refutedby any ruler orgovernment.
Is the University of Virginia (as well as the other schools mentioned), Jefferson’s precious brainchild, living up to its humanistic roots?