The Dartmouth Observer

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004
The Practical Humanities

Here's an idea you don't hear about too often. Earl Shorris, founder and chairman of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a college-level course in the humanities for people living in poverty, thinks that poor people should be reading Shakespeare and Plato. Says Shorris:

If one has been "trained" in the ways of poverty, left no opportunity to do other than react to his or her environment, what is needed is a beginning, not repetition. The humanities teach us to think reflectively, to begin, to deal with the new as it occurs to us, to dare. If the multi-generational poor are to make the leap out of poverty, it will require a new kind of thinking — reflection.
Reflection for Shorris, thank goodness, doesn't involve pandering to political correctness:

The course places great emphasis on the Greeks, as it should. Their work has lasted and influenced all the world that followed simply because of its quality. It did not endure for reasons of the race or gender of its authors. Moreover, those dead white European males, especially the Greeks, were not the Establishment, they were the great troublemakers of history. Their art spurred people to think reflectively, to question the status quo. Our students deserve nothing less. If we were to deny them these conversations with the great ideas and give them instead a curriculum based on race or gender, we would be cheating them. And they have already been cheated. Society has already denied them access to the very works and ideas that bring people legitimate power in a democracy. That is why they are poor, why their parents were poor.
Read the whole interview here. (Link courtesy of the Straussian News Blog.)