Blogs » Hudson On Higher Learning » The college 'core' and what to read


You’ve heard the old adage: You are what you eat. But in this knowledge-based, global economy, maybe we need to paraphrase this to: You are what you READ.

So, here comes the $64,000 question – just what SHOULD we read? Or better yet, from where I and my colleagues at the university sit, what should our students be asked or required to read?

Universities usually address this question for ALL students, regardless of major or what they intend to pursue as a profession, via something called the “core.” Over time, and with considerable debate and input from experts, Texas, like most states, has settled on a “common” body of knowledge that every college student should know. If you went to college, this is how you wound up in world history, basic economics, algebra and other such courses. The core, by the way, changes constantly – remember Latin?

But the most “infamous” core courses and the stuff of ongoing legend, inevitably are the literature offerings – from “Canterbury Tales” to “Moby Dick,” students and faculty alike have danced around this issue of “should,” “ought to,” and “required to” reading for generations. My blog on access to learning a couple of weeks ago elicited quite a few, sometimes funny, commentaries on college literature.

In April of this year when Venezuela’s rather unpredictable President Hugo Chavez gave President Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America” a big bell went off in my head – DONG. Wow, I was given that same book by my history professor at the beginning of a course on Latin America about three decades ago. Words are powerful, and the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. That book sure changed the way I looked at the world. In fact, I began to realize probably for the first time that I was CONNECTED to the condition of the world and its people. I wasn’t just OBSERVING the things around me. My actions (or lack thereof) helped make the world what it was – at the same time both a frightening and liberating concept.

I now know very clearly that this book led me to a couple of others (Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” for instance) that truly, as they say, “changed my world view.” I am sure it made me much more sensitive to the plight of people around the world and more determined to be part of the solution rather than the problem whenever I could figure it out. And it made me determined to do what my mother (a librarian) had been trying to get me to do all along: Read a lot, read a lot of different ideas, and never be so wedded to the “truth” that I couldn’t continue to learn. I’d be curious to know whether President Obama actually reads Galeano. I hope so.

So, yes, in many ways, we are what we read (and maybe I should write about the “status” of reading in general at some point).

At UHV, we are about to implement the state-mandated college core for our new freshmen, and along with it, the accepted canon of state-mandated knowledge. Sometimes I wonder, however, are the works of literature that are most often used in courses that fulfill the core the right ones? Do they tell our WHOLE story? In the limited number of hours and days students spend in the classroom, just what SHOULD they read to prepare them for this complex, globally interdependent and culturally polyglot world they will be asked to lead?

Just what IS the proper reading “assignment” for today’s student, today’s future leader?

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