6/16/08

Is Brown U a Bastion of the Capitalist Radical Right? Of Course!

Is Brown University the great bastion of radical capitalism run amok?

A case can be made for that. Brown did away with traditional distribution requirements for an undergraduate degree -- one sure way to guarantee that cultural pluralism courses will not be mandatory. Muddled "Modes of Thought" courses replaced the analysis of disciplinary thinking and seriously diluted any attempts at left wing criticism. That program of anti-Left revision is what Brown enacted under the leadership of "activist" student Ira Magaziner and others in 1969.

But wait. Does Brown sound like a reactionary throwback to the days of yore and a purveyor of radical right wing ideology? Impossible. Crazy!

Nutty? Sure. Except that the plans for modes of thought courses and curricular revisionism were not dreamed up in an epiphany out of the revolutionary left of the 60's.

Read on... from the Wriston regime at Brown in 1953, a Time report:
Monday, Feb. 02, 1953

Wake Up!

President Henry M. Wriston, 63, of Brown University, believes that it is high time for revolution. Last week he announced that he had ripped apart his old curriculum and was starting to sweep it away. Brown, said he, is out to revolutionize the first two years of college.

College, Wriston says, is not only dull, it is often soporific, and "most textbooks are hardly worth reading. If they are not barren of ideas, they are impoverished in that respect." Since 1946 a group of Brown professors, sparkplugged by Vice President Bruce M. Bigelow, has been looking for a solution. Financed by a special $250,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation, Brown's plan is now just about set to go into effect next fall.

At first the plan will be open only to volunteers from the top half of the freshman and sophomore classes. For these students there will be no regular lectures or textbooks. Instead of studying the usual subjects, they will spend their time tracking down ideas. They will read some of the great classics and the best of scholarly commentaries, but "the emphasis," says Bigelow, "will be on analyzing, not on memorizing."

By last week almost every department had drawn up its own tentative blueprints. The English department is planning a course called "the American Dream and American Individualism." As a starter, students will trace these ideas through the novels of Hawthorne, Melville, Henry James and Faulkner, will then go on to study the books and criticisms of scholars.

In political science, they will begin to trace "the development of the concept of liberty" by reading the works of Lord Acton and De Tocqueville. Then, in Renaissance literature, they will be concerned with the development of the individual, and later, when they get into the Reformation, with the individual in relation to God. Their biology may begin with Darwin's Origin of Species, their psychology with the writings of Pavlov; their physics will include the works of Von Helmholtz. Even their foreign languages will be involved in the study of ideas—Voltaire in French, Cervantes in Spanish, Dante in Italian.

As Brown well knows, this sort of education is expensive. Since there will be no mass lectures or I.B.M.-corrected examinations, Brown figures that its professors will be able to take on only one course at a time. To President Wriston however, the price is not too high. "The great mistake in American education from kindergarten through graduate school," says he, "has been an underestimation of the capacity of students . . . The minds of freshmen need to be awakened [to] a new adventure."

Yes, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. ’37 called Wriston “the greatest president Brown ever had.” And we all know about the political and social visions of TJW Jr. '37.

2 comments:

John D. Enright said...

Brown is widely reputed to be one of the most liberal universities in the country and the most liberal school in the Ivy League. See Christian conservatives at odds with liberal R.I. university

Brown is one of only two Ivy League colleges with neither a business school nor a law school (the other is Princeton).

If wrong opinions were dollars, you'd give Bill Gates a run for his money.

Tzvee said...

yeah i know the reputation - i went there! but distance and time give you new perspectives