We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
It's about W.H. Auden's humanities class at Michigan in 1941. This is not mass-market, fast-food education.
Its syllabus resurfaced a few years ago and provoked much commentary on its mass of 6,000 pages of the most powerful and challenging literature in the canon: The Divine Comedy in full, four Shakespeares, Pascal’s Pensées, Horace’s odes, Volpone, Racine, Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Moby-Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Faust, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Kafka, Rilke, T.S. Eliot. Auden even included nine operas. Opera in the 1940s was a popular art form, with millions of people tuning in each week to the Met’s Saturday broadcast, but it’s hard to imagine anything less consonant with millennials’ attention span than one of Wagner’s Teutonic enormities. Auden assigned three of them.
Harvey Mansfield, the professor at Yale, tells how he used to give 2 grades, the official grade. This was generally an A and the unofficial grade, the real grade, more students wanted to know the real grade. There is still hope.
I wonder how you could listen to the required operas. I used to listen to the broadcasts from the NY Metropolitan Opera on Sundays but you never knew what operas would be scheduled for a given year. Besides, I prefer Puccini to Wagner. I love the beautiful music and happy ending in Tosca.
I suggest that this is merely showing off, and made no difference in the education of those who took the course.
Assistant Village Idiot
Now, this would surprise me. He was surely an inspiring teacher; there must have been students who read this dense and difficult set of works in order to live up to AUden's expectations and participate in what they expected to be illuminating discussions in class. If they read anything that they'd have been unlikely to attempt on their own, that in itself would have affected their educations, quite apart from what they learned from their professor and perhaps from their fellow students. They may also have learned how valuable it is to stretch and read something they wouldn't ordinarily have dived into.
We have a nice set of the Harvard Classics, most of which have never been cracked open. This syllabus makes them seem almost easy to tackle. I read part of vol. 1- Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, maybe I'll try again.
When I was 14, I took oil painting lessons with a retired art teacher on Saturday mornings. She always had the radio on, tuned to the Dallas Metropolitan Opera, and I credit her with my lifelong love of opera.