The recently issued draft report of the Decennial Core Curriculum Committee strikes me as a misguided effort to implement change without “rocking the boat” in any significant way. It resembles a “Chinese menu,” in which the students are asked to choose “one from column A and one from column B” without any meaningful basis for making the choice. The approach to solidifying ND’s Catholic character by emphasizing Catholicism across the disciplines (CAD) is vague and intellectually vacuous.
But rather than merely criticizing the draft report, let me ask the following question: Why can’t Notre Dame, the greatest Catholic university in the world, have at least one required course in which at least a few of the most recognized classics of the Western tradition are read and studied by every single undergraduate? Not only would such a course enable students to come to grips with some of the greatest writers and texts of our tradition (in the absence of which no one can really claim to be educated), it would also spark a series of campus-wide conversations. Imagine if every Notre Dame undergraduate, Mechanical Engineering majors as well as Theology and Philosophy majors, read at least a few texts in common. Wouldn’t that have a significant impact on the intellectual and spiritual life on campus? This is done at the University of Chicago and Columbia, so why can’t we do it too?
Here is a sample course that I drew up in ten minutes. I am assuming that it would be taken for four credits, would be discussion-oriented as well as writing-intensive, and would have an enrollment of around 15 students. It would be expensive to implement, but the benefits to the student body as a whole would be immeasurable. The following syllabus assumes a semester of 27 or 28 classes (the extra class can be used at the discretion of the instructor).
Classics of the Western Tradition
Homer, The Odyssey (4 classes)
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone (the three Theban Plays) (3 classes)
Plato, The Republic (4 classes)
Augustine, Confessions (3 classes)
Dante, Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) (6 classes)
Shakespeare, Hamlet (3 classes)
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (4 classes)
Henry Weinfield is Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies and Concurrent Professor of English.