David Coleman’s nightmare. Primary sources: no close readings.


Is Shimer College really the worst college in America?  Is it because it admits non-traditional students, including those who didn’t even graduate from college?  How can the education reformers make money from this type of college which doesn’t use textbooks or data sets to determine who is a good student and who isn’t?  From the above linked article, here’s the real reason it has the worst ranking: So a truer description is that it’s the worst college in America that doesn’t have many students of color or low-income students.

If that’s what makes it the ‘worst college in America’, what other factors make it a college worth considering if you hate Common Core and the CCSS alignment between high schools and colleges?  Shimer College uses a  structure unlike what David Coleman believes makes students successful.  No ACT or SAT (David Coleman approved) is needed for enrollment.  No close reading is allowed.  The classes are true Socratic debates, not the surface Socratic technique taught by ELA trainers on close readings:

They offer only one core program, and just one teaching method. This is a ‘great books’ college. The great books of the western tradition, not the professors, are the teachers: Da Vinci’s Notebooks and Aristotle’s Poetics and Homer’s Odyssey and de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity and Kafka and Derrida and Nietzsche and Freud and Marx and Machiavelli and Shakespeare and the Bible.

Textbooks about the great books are forbidden. That would be too easy. It is primary sources only here. Students can concentrate on humanities, or natural sciences, they can take electives in feminist theories, or Auden, or Zen masters, but it’s all great books and nothing else. There are no lectures. Each class takes the form of Socratic dialogue between the students, guided by a professor if necessary.

It is a college which trains students to think and debate.  It’s also a college with a sense of humor:

Right now, on their website they brand themselves as ‘very small’ and ‘focused’ and ‘rigorous’, and geographically close to ‘endless archives of unadulterated information’. They make themselves sound like a monastery. They also say: ‘We count among us prodigies who left high school early, homeschoolers, transfers, veterans, sci-fi writers, multi-linguists, painters, philosophers, contrarians, misfits, and the double-jointed’.

Apparently the admission folks at Shimer College think contrarians, misfits and the double-jointed have much to accomplish in their lives and are valuable for who they are, as opposed to the current push to adjust student’s attitudes, behaviors and values via Common Core aligned curriculum so that students look appealing as work force human capital.

Read more about Shimer College here.  It’s a college that ignores what David Coleman thinks and decrees.  I could not find any mention on Shimer’s website that a main goal for students was to become human capital for the work force or that it is necessary to become a global citizen so America can become globally competitive.

That’s a lovely thought and Shimer College should rate 5 stars just for that attitude and omission.  From Peterson’s Four-Year Colleges 2007 about Shimer College:

Students tend to be individualistic and creative thinkers, and are encouraged to be questioning and inquisitive.

Maybe if more teachers and administrators would become more like Shimer students (questioning and inquisitive) about Common Core and

  • its origins (it’s not really state led)
  • that non-educators (mainly test developers who would make a killing on a centralized testing rubric) made up the majority of the work groups
  • that the Chief Architect was never an educator
  • that it is primarily for the benefit of the 1%,
  • that it is only theory and it violates the law

we wouldn’t be facing Common Core nonsense.  Challenge those education reformers to go back to the primary sources of Common Core (the MOUs, the State Stabilization Fund, the gutting of FERPA, the illegal conditional waivers of Arne Duncan) instead of the Chamber of Commerce talking points and other Bill Gates’ funded organizations touting the standards.  Ask them to take off their blinders to the newest educational reform that’s before them now and look at the facts.  Ask them how they can still believe it is state led, that data gathering has no connection with the CCSSI, and that Arne Duncan can make decisions without Congressional approval.

I’ll bet you none of those teachers/administrators will take you up on that challenge.  They’ll just marginalize you in various social media, work group meetings and conferences to tell you how misinformed you are and then ask you what standard don’t you like.  It’s a straw man argument from teachers/administrators taught not to think for themselves or understand basic civics lessons.  These teachers/administrators absolutely cannot construct an argument for Common Core other than we have to do something and we need it.

Perhaps a constructive professional development conference would be to fly Shimer faculty to teach these teachers true Socratic method from the primary sources instead of listening to NGO paid CCSS trainers.  Ask your school (public or parochial) district if that is a possibility.  And ask to see the curriculum to determine how many primary sources your student will read in total, vs a close reading from a source such as the Gettysburg Address.


(The title is adapted from David Coleman’s words here.)

Published December 10, 2014




Gretchen Logue

Share and Enjoy !

0 0