February 11, 2016

Greetings from the land of "The Communist Manifesto."



There's that, somewhere in the lower depths of a Washington Post "Wonkblog" item titled, absurdly "What Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t." It begins:
If you want an Ivy League education, you could fork over $200 grand or so and go to Cornell or Harvard for four years. Alternatively, you could save a ton of cash by simply reading the same books Ivy League students are assigned.

That became easier recently with the release of the Open Syllabus Explorer, an online database of books assigned in over 1 million college courses over the past decade or so....
It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are read. The access to data here, though, is great. The maps and lists, however amusing, are a depiction of evidence that needs some explanation. (Especially for Florida!)

I'm sure "Communist Manifesto" is so prevalent because it fits in a place in a standard course and there's no competition for the slot it fills. As for "Elements of Style," it's a slim pamphlet that can (and probably should) be thrown at everybody.

When you get to works of fiction and see the dominance of "Frankenstein," you'll have your ideas about why that's taken on ridiculous importance over the years. I'm sure it does say something about Ivy League schools that "Frankenstein" is only 10th on their list when it's #1 on the "All Schools" list, but once you move everybody's favorite woman-written work into a more subordinate position, you'll see the usual line-up of "Canterbury Tales," "Paradise Lost," "Heart of Darkness," and "Hamlet."

The differences aren't so much in which books you read, it's what you talk about after you've read them. I assume! I haven't been in college in decades, but I know law school. We all read Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, but what's happening in those in-class discussions and what are you expected to be able to write about them?

102 comments:

Phil 3:14 said...

No "Confessions" by Augustine?

damikesc said...

Funny, the Communist Manifesto is no better than Mein Kampf, but only one gets you odd looks for reading it. Both are diatribes written by idiots and both led to the deaths of millions.

But I suppose nothing beats reading an economic treatise by an unemployable dolt who knew jack shit about economics.

buwaya puti said...

Re CA and "Elements of Style" - I am surprised at the sound practicality. I wouldn't have guessed.

buwaya puti said...

The Communist Manifesto has the advantage of being very short.
And easy reading.

Karen of Texas said...

Biology in Texas and Physics in Alabama?

Redneck, Bible thumping states +1 in science.

We can't possibly be doing that down here in the South, can we?

buwaya puti said...

I always liked the Communist Manifesto. It's fun.
Was always hoping to be one of the "passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society".
Passive rotting, that works for me.

Karen of Texas said...

As an aside my daughter has her BS in biology from a Texas university and her Masters in the field from a university in England.

Ann Althouse said...

"Funny, the Communist Manifesto is no better than Mein Kampf, but only one gets you odd looks for reading it. Both are diatribes written by idiots and both led to the deaths of millions."

I don't think books should be assigned because the material in them is correct. These aren't text books, they are original texts. I think things you're supposed to question and critique should be read, especially when they fit in the history of a subject.

My students read cases that are important for where they fit in the development of the law. It's about history and the authority of the court. We don't read cases based on what I think are the best ideas! I can't imagine a law school class that taught the cases with the best ideas or why I would want to teach it.

buwaya puti said...

I also note that there really isn't a pattern in red vs blue states. Except maybe for the "Communist Manifesto".

Ann Althouse said...

I assume the students who don't get "The Communist Manifesto" as a book they need to read have some survey course with a text that tells them about the book and quotes key passages.

I teach Constitutional Law from a case book that presents some cases as main cases, so it looks like you are reading that case (though it's edited way down) and other cases that are described in text with quotes from the case, often several paragraphs quoted. If I had to say that the students didn't read the cases that were presented in text, I'd be embarrassed to name the cases the students didn't read.

amielalune said...


Frankenstein has ascended in the classics because It Has Been Decided that it was the first science fiction novel. Therefore, pretty much anyone who takes a course in science fiction (and said courses are wildly popular where offered) will be assigned to read Frankenstein.

buwaya puti said...

Based on my kids reports from the UCs, in class discussions are perfunctory at best, the kids rarely being interested in the material. And out of class discussions of intellectual matters are zero. Unless other universities are different, modern US universities don't seem to have much to offer in pure information and comprehension of the same than the Internet. Other than a disciplined structure with tests and papers to make the reluctant kids put in some work.

Terry said...

The 'Communist Manifesto' has some use as a critique of capitalism. It's not much use as an instruction manual for replacing capitalism. All the communist regimes have had to 'fill in the blanks' to create a functioning state (they eventually become oligarchies. Just ask Raoul Castro!).

buwaya puti said...

Frankenstein is also a popular novel written by a woman, which seems to be another important factor.

Brando said...

I read a lot of Marx in college (IA major) and found him an incredibly terrible writer, not simply because I disagreed with the content of what he was writing but because unlike a good writer, he fails to persuade. If you're trying to convince others to adopt your worldview, doesn't it make more sense to write in a manner that breaks down your concepts in a way they can relate to, builds logically to a central premise, and takes apart the most plausible counterarguments? Instead, his works just plod and harangue leaving you no new insight. As damikesc pointed out, it's basically the same as Mein Kampf.

The reason of course for the difference is that among the college glitterati "Nazi" is a dirty word in a way that "Communist" isn't because one means destroying individual rights, the rule of law and liquidating people that the "right" leaders deem dangerous, and the other....well, the other does the same but has cooler looking symbols?

Terry said...

Kind of a sad, codependent, abuser-enabling woman. But I suppose they don't talk about Shelley's open infidelity and his neglect of their children.

buwaya puti said...

The "Communist Manifesto" is also a great thing to argue about, full of material for disputation in class and out of it, should any student actually care enough to argue, though it seems these people are rare these days. Back in the old days the argumentative parties often were very numerous and used firearms.

tim in vermont said...

I have been reading a little Marxism recently. The slight of hand that goes on in developing the arguments is very interesting, like watching a magic show with the purpose of identifying how the tricks are done. And in the end? It's all science!

buwaya puti said...

Mein Kampf is fascinating, the early chapters anyway, because it is a very human story. That part should be extracted and widely distributed.

tim in vermont said...

The main difference between fascism and communism from the point of view of the person trapped at the bottom of either system is that the fascists have better tailors.

sydney said...

As an Ohioan, ROFL at Kentucky's book- "Oedipus."

Terry said...

I've started Timothy Snyder's Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. Snyder gets into the nuts and bolts of Hitler's race-based world view pretty quickly. Turns out to have been based on an extreme form of naturalism and some other intellectual fads going around in the west at the time. According to Snyder, what made Hitler worse than, say, Mussolini or Tito is that in Hitler's view every human activity had to be viewed through the lens of the struggle of the races for dominance. There was nothing else. 'Justice' had no abstract meaning, Justice could only be defined as that which helped the Germans in their struggles against the other peoples of the world.
Hitler's religious beliefs were a bit eccentric. He believed that the apostle Paul had purposely exported Christianity to the Gentiles to make them weaker than the Jews. Everything had to fit in the context of the racial struggle. The human qualities of love, mercy, and sentimentalism were not human qualities to him, they were alien aberrations that had to be excised before we could become truly human.

MadisonMan said...

Hooray for Alaska! Geophysical Fluid Dynamics should be required reading for every major.

Rusty said...

buwaya puti said...
The "Communist Manifesto" is also a great thing to argue about, full of material for disputation in class and out of it, should any student actually care enough to argue, though it seems these people are rare these days. Back in the old days the argumentative parties often were very numerous and used firearms.

Unfortunately, according to my youngest daughter, many of her friends are viewing it as a "how to" book.

PB said...

Elements of Style used to be assigned in high school, where I got my copy which still is on my bookshelf.

buwaya puti said...

Lenin is more fun than Marx.
It's energetic, driving, ruthless, opportunistic, and full of sound advice, for project management for instance. And the words make people sit up and take notice. They may want to kill you, but they are paying attention.
"Any conversion of collegiate bodies into talking shops is a supreme evil, an evil which must be halted at all costs as quickly as possible and whatever the means".
Dang, I like to keep meetings in line that way.

buwaya puti said...

The roots of Hitler's world view are all the things he read and those that were current in his day, but the personality is the thing. For that you want his own words.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael K said...

"It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are read. "

Actually, I agree. Reading the books is far superior to the classes, which are probably inhabited by bored students texting while a bored professor drones on.

Of course, it depends on your major but certain majors attract certain types. Even medical students now skip classes and study the material on-line.

Ann Althouse said...

"I read a lot of Marx in college (IA major) and found him an incredibly terrible writer, not simply because I disagreed with the content of what he was writing but because unlike a good writer, he fails to persuade. If you're trying to convince others to adopt your worldview, doesn't it make more sense to write in a manner that breaks down your concepts in a way they can relate to, builds logically to a central premise, and takes apart the most plausible counterarguments? Instead, his works just plod and harangue leaving you no new insight. As damikesc pointed out, it's basically the same as Mein Kampf...."

What you are missing is that "The Communist Manifesto" is short. It's like 40 pages or so. There's also "Das Kapital," which, at 900 pages, isn't on the list. "Mein Kampf" is something like 600 pages. What teacher would assign these books for actual reading as a book? I can't imagine. Maybe some passages could be profitably studied.

By the way, I'm forced to assign badly written material — bad in form and substance — all the time. Students have to learn how to handle this stuff and it's historically important. It's not a literature class.

Dealing with propaganda is extremely important. I've kind of devoted my life to the project. I'm trying to help people handle it.

There's a place for material that is beautifully written and scientifically and morally sound, but it's not the stuff of most higher education courses. I rarely read such things. What the hell are they anyway?!

n.n said...

The Communist Manifesto is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn the art of establishing and maintaining monopolies with full consent, and how to exploit shared responsibility in order to influence and persuade people to forgo reconciliation and voluntarily become dodos for the good of a minority's fitness. Given human nature, it's not a coincidence that Marxist revolutions are invariably accompanied by one form of genocide or another. That said, there are other ad hoc ideologies that mimic the goals and outcome of Marxism and its numerous derivatives.

Terry said...

"By the way, I'm forced to assign badly written material — bad in form and substance — all the time."
What kind of badly written materials? Novels? Legal briefs? I'm curious. In small state colleges like the one I attended, the undergrad stuff tends to be canned. There isn't a lot of room for the teacher to explore new teaching methods and new material.

n.n said...

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
- Sun Tzu - The Art of War

There is a fine line that separates indoctrination and teaching. Let the student beware.

Tank said...

Michael K said...

"It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are read. "

Actually, I agree. Reading the books is far superior to the classes, which are probably inhabited by bored students texting while a bored professor drones on.


This is because you are a smart guy. I'm guessing you have the same blind spot that many smart people have; they think that other people can figure things out and be autodidactic in the same way that they are [I guarantee that 75% plus of the population could not tell you what autodidactic means].

Most people reading classics on their own will not understand half of what is going on because they don't live in those times and cannot put the material in context. For most people that is what a good Prof (or annotation) adds to the material.

Smart people tend to live lives where they interact mostly with other smart people. If you have a 125 + IQ, it's easy to forget that those with < 100 (about half the population) can't figure things out the way that you can.

Henry said...

I filtered by Art.

#1 is Art History by Marilyn Stokstad. This is the text my wife was assigned to teach when she worked as an art history adjunct. It's pretty dreadful.

#8 History of Art by H. W. Janson. That's what I read in my art history class in 1984. Janson died in 1982. It's now up to it's sixth edition published in 2001.

Sadly Julian Bell's wider-ranging Mirror of the World doesn't make the list. The turgid surveys remain in place.

For the record:

The Elements of Style is #47
Plato's Republic is #48
The Communist Manifesto is #51

In Art.

Tank said...

What's with the hate for the Elements of Style?

Along with some $$$$, I used to give this to my nieces and nephews and friends' kids when they graduated high school to take to college. Several of them thanked me years later (some probably did bounce it off the wall into the circular file). I should have bought them in bulk. I still have the copy I bought during the very first class I took in college (which is where I learned how to write).

Larry J said...

MadisonMan said...
Hooray for Alaska! Geophysical Fluid Dynamics should be required reading for every major.


Or Alabama and Physics!

damikesc said...
Funny, the Communist Manifesto is no better than Mein Kampf, but only one gets you odd looks for reading it. Both are diatribes written by idiots and both led to the deaths of millions.


When you see someone trying to look cool in their Che shirt, do you ask them if it's part of a mass murderer collection or a standalone?

CWJ said...

Missouri - Heart of Darkness. I love this! Now Missouri is very river fixated, both its namesake and the Mississippi, not to mention Mark Twain. So there's that. But given its recent SJW bona fides, there no end to the snark that can be concocted.

George Grady said...

Tank said...

What's with the hate for the Elements of Style?


Here you go.

Saint Croix said...

I'm sure "Communist Manifesto" is so prevalent because it fits in a place in a standard course and there's no competition for the slot it fills.

I think it's malpractice, and a bad education, to assign Commie books while skipping over, say, this one.

Or this one.

Or this one.

If you have no counterpoint at all, then it's a joke of a class. Unless the professor is attacking the book, that would be a fascinating class. But to spend mommy and daddy's money on Commie indoctrination is a ludicrous and stupid idea.

traditionalguy said...

Doesn't anyone teach Sexual Personae anymore?

Marx wanted to take revenge on the Industrial Revolution the old fashioned way: To go out as a mob and kill them all. Making that sound learned was quite an accomplishment.

CWJ said...

"If you want an Ivy League education, you could fork over $200 grand or so and go to Cornell or Harvard for four years. Alternatively, you could save a ton of cash by simply reading the same books Ivy League students are assigned."

Wasn't this essentially the premise of the "Great Books. ..." series?

Carol said...

"By the way, I'm forced to assign badly written material — bad in form and substance — all the time."
What kind of badly written materials? Novels? Legal briefs?


Law cases - legal opinions, some quite atrociously written. The Brits are the worst writers. Or possibly they hadn't seen the Elements of Style yet.

Saint Croix said...

I didn't read Plato's Republic until law school. Plato is very, very smart (and confident!). But he's also a baby-killing, slave-owning fascist who has no respect for free speech or democracy. My professor loved Plato, and his reaction when I signed up for the class was classic. "Oh no!"

He never really forgave me for saying "fuck" while discussing the fuck the draft case.

Anyway, I think it's telling that the Communist Manifesto gets assigned in blue states and gets skipped over in red states.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brando said...

"What you are missing is that "The Communist Manifesto" is short. It's like 40 pages or so. There's also "Das Kapital," which, at 900 pages, isn't on the list. "Mein Kampf" is something like 600 pages. What teacher would assign these books for actual reading as a book? I can't imagine. Maybe some passages could be profitably studied."

They were among the assignments for Eastern European History classes (no job marketable classes for me!). I get why they were assigned--you have to understand the roots behind communist theory to get how the party-state functioned. But I was struck by how he became such an influential writer (he was only one among many socialist/communist writers) when his writing isn't particularly convincing. I sort of expected going in that it might have gotten me to challenge my own beliefs.

buwaya puti said...

I'd rate the first three chapters or so of Mein Kampf well worth reading. The Murphy that's free on the internet is quite readable and I think probably retains the feel of the original as best I can tell (I don't read German).
Pass over the occasional usually very parochial rant - though it's interesting just how parochial so much of his obsessions were- its like hearing about ancient internet arguments . It's a story, as its meant to be, of the roots of a personality and the fixing of ideas. Many bits I find very insightful, such as the worms eye view of the human guts of the industrial revolution (ongoing in Austria in his day), which he rightly credits with generating the tensions, conflicts and ideas of his time.
I can't think of any work that better serves to illustrate Ortega y Gassets "I am I and my circumstances".

n.n said...

damikesc:

It's important to know not only that communism and socialism lead to the "death of millions", but to answer who, what, where, when, why, and how. Neither communism nor socialism are merely diatribes that can be safely ignored or should be discarded.

Consider the implication of recognizing individual dignity. The implication of recognizing intrinsic value. The implication of natural imperatives. And the reconciliation of moral and natural principles.

There are reasons why Marxism and its numerous derivative philosophies are attractive but dangerous, even lethal, yet productive in the real world.

That said, the philosophies can be dissected and their principles can be extracted for ex vivo observation and evaluation.

Paddy O said...

"It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are read"

should be

It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are assigned to read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are assigned.

My experience with both better schools and independent learners is they read the books. My experience with less good schools is they have a similar mix of intelligent students who have significant less work ethic.

The key difference in reading the books while not at an advanced school is that the reader may read more deeply, get more out of it, but not be able to do as much with it because they don't have the diploma that opens the key doors.

But I know well-read people who are able to engage texts at a very high level. There's a lot of places to talk about books, often better than in a classroom which still tend towards the banking concept of education (a little Freire for you), especially in any class larger than 20 students.

Henry said...

I think my Art filter points out why The Communist Manifesto makes the top list. It is assigned across multiple majors. And for good reason. Whatever its worth as economic theory, it is a key text for many theorists that followed Marx. John Berger, for example, who created the highly influential (and brilliant) Ways of Seeing (#3 in the Art filter) was a Soviet apologist and dedicated Marxist.

Berger represents that brand of theorist who is insightful in his specialty while simultaneously asserting the most appalling political ideas. Thus the influence of Marx. You really can't work through 20th century thought or action in any field without having to deal with his acolytes, the murderers and the vandals.

Marx would be fully justified to cry out: "My name is legion for we are many."

buwaya puti said...

"Wealth of Nations" is a huge mass of a book, over 1000 pages usually in multi volumes. I'm not sure you would want to assign it to a non-specialist.

MadisonMan said...

The books at some places are curious. The Florida book, for example: "Florida State Univ". Compelling reading, I'm sure.

Nevada: How to Lie with Statistics. Is this because of gambling? Are their classes on how to count cards and infer probabilities?

Delaware: C: How to Program. Kindof an old computer language, I guess. No one takes Perl?

Hawaii: Methods in Behavioral Research. (What?)

Basil said...

"Dealing with propaganda is extremely important. I've kind of devoted my life to the project. I'm trying to help people handle it."

And yet, Professor, you failed to even see, much less rationally respond to, President Clinton's propaganda machine in the 1990's, Obama's blatant propaganda in 2008 and to Hillary's ridiculously inept propaganda now.

Perhaps you should engage in some (public?) introspection on your ability or inability to successfully teach anyone on this particular subject? What is the reason that you seem so susceptible to cartoonish left wing propaganda?

Just a thought......

Tank said...

@George Grady

Well ouch. It's been so long since I thought about grammar, I have no idea whether the criticisms are correct or not. I did think the comments they made about style in that article were mostly wrong.

Example: . Some of the recommendations are vapid, like "Be clear" (how could one disagree?). Some are tautologous, like "Do not explain too much." (Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn't.) Many are useless, like "Omit needless words." (The students who know which words are needless don't need the instruction.) Even so, it doesn't hurt to lay such well-meant maxims before novice writers.

I think, if you've seen examples of how people write, that these recommendations are essential, particularly for novices.

Peter said...

"The 'Communist Manifesto' has some use as a critique of capitalism."

But mostly it's useful in context of European history. If you want the Full Marx you've just got to slog all the way through Das Kapital. Which many have claimed to have done, but few have actually accomplished.

Owen said...

Dear Prof. Althouse: "There's a place for material that is beautifully written and scientifically and morally sound, but it's not the stuff of most higher education courses. I rarely read such things. What the hell are they anyway?!"

Anything by Richard Feynman. Anything.

Please, please, just read "Surely You're Joking" or "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" or his 1974 commencement address on the cargo cult. Please.

Owen said...

n.n. "It's important to know not only that communism and socialism lead to the "death of millions", but to answer who, what, where, when, why, and how. Neither communism nor socialism are merely diatribes that can be safely ignored or should be discarded.

Consider the implication of recognizing individual dignity. The implication of recognizing intrinsic value. The implication of natural imperatives. And the reconciliation of moral and natural principles.

There are reasons why Marxism and its numerous derivative philosophies are attractive but dangerous, even lethal, yet productive in the real world.

That said, the philosophies can be dissected and their principles can be extracted for ex vivo observation and evaluation."

Sorry to block quote you, but that is just damned brilliant. Thanks.

damikesc said...

The 'Communist Manifesto' has some use as a critique of capitalism. It's not much use as an instruction manual for replacing capitalism. All the communist regimes have had to 'fill in the blanks' to create a functioning state (they eventually become oligarchies. Just ask Raoul Castro!).

Marx was notably lacking in information on how, exactly, a Marxist economy would work. He could critique capitalism but not be bothered to explain how his solution would work.

Instead, his works just plod and harangue leaving you no new insight. As damikesc pointed out, it's basically the same as Mein Kampf.

I had to read both (took some asinine econ class where it was assigned and my focus in History was the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe in between WW I and 2 and, damn, both were terrible. Hitler's was worse because it was much longer but neither could make a compelling case for their lives.

When you see someone trying to look cool in their Che shirt, do you ask them if it's part of a mass murderer collection or a standalone?

No...but I will now.

And, n.n. ,didn't quote you because I don't see a point in doing so and just saying you're 100% correct.

But you're 100% correct.

LarsPorsena said...

Let's be realistic here. How many students actually read 'The Communist Manifesto' let alone 'Das Kapital'? Few if any. There are lots of summaries and Cliff Notes versions but it's one in a million who has actually waded through the tomes. Having it on your bookshelf helps your progressive credentials. The Manifesto is right next to your copies of Fanon and Marcuse.

Saint Croix said...

"Wealth of Nations" is a huge mass of a book, over 1000 pages usually in multi volumes. I'm not sure you would want to assign it to a non-specialist.

Kind of ironic! The lazy people get the short book, while the people who want to discover how to increase wealth have to work at it.

(I picked Camus' The Stranger in one of my Lit classes precisely because it was the shortest book. I wonder if Marx knew that his book would attract a young, hostile-to-work demographic?)

Mary Beth said...

Perhaps they read Frankenstein as part of a discussion of ethics in regards to science and technology.

New Mexico has their priorities straight. People need to know the office hours.

buwaya puti said...

To fill in for however many heavy tomes on economic philosophy - You can always assign "Free to Choose" by the Friedman's. That's fairly short and an easy read.

Though the one most relevant to the modern situation is probably Schumpeter "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy".

David said...

Once again head butting the pay wall at the link.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Nevada's is "How To Lie With Statistics", you gotta love that!

Terry said...

Wealth of Nations is episodic. One chapter will discuss, for example, how the difficulty of transporting material to and from a mining site determines its profitability and so its value. A tin mine in the right place can be more valuable than a gold mine in the wrong place. Smith explains, in clear language, how the people who collected agates on the beaches of Scotland set their prices, how they could charge no more and how they could charge no less, and all with nothing more than simple arithmetic (and not much of that). Again and again he stresses that people don't do work unless they receive value for doing that work, and that the more value they receive, the harder they are willing to work.
Smith also explains how inflation and national debt could be a serious problem when virtually every country in the world was on the gold standard. There are some gold bugs who would do well to read that chapter.

Ann Althouse said...

"What kind of badly written materials? Novels? Legal briefs? I'm curious."

Obviously not novels! Why would you assign a badly written novel? Maybe if you were studying a case about a novel. I once worked on a case about a novel. (The novel was "Altered States.")

But no, I assign Supreme Court cases and passages from legal academic writing. It's pretty bad! Almost every sentence could be rewritten to be clearer... and more beautiful. That's leaving the meaning the same. If you could improve the meaning too... why there would be no end to how much better it could be. But I can't get too distracted by that. It's painful. Only makes what needs to be done worse.

I mean, there is a teaching technique -- I should use it more -- of asking students to paraphrase things. It's a way of trying to understand the text and it leads to reflection about why the judges didn't write it in this better way that you can do for yourself.

Owen said...

Lars Porsena: "...Having it on your bookshelf helps your progressive credentials." With that and the Che T-shirt, a guy could definitely score with the chicks.

Which for many was the whole point. Until senior year, and they had to think about Next Thing. So: grad school in Something Studies?

Scott McGlasson said...

Really, Oregon? "Things Fall Apart?"

Owen said...

Prof. Althouse: "...I mean, there is a teaching technique -- I should use it more -- of asking students to paraphrase things. It's a way of trying to understand the text and it leads to reflection about why the judges didn't write it in this better way that you can do for yourself."

That sounds like a very powerful method. Take the source (information) and map it into a target (paraphrase). That really should force clarity and, ideally, a "better" expression. Of course every translation is unfaithful, but what matters is the process. It challenges and humbles the student.

They are no longer just words on a page.

mccullough said...

Justice Robert Jackson's opinions and dissents and Justice
Scalia's dissents are the most enjoyable readings from the Supreme Court. There are some other good writers in Supreme Court history but most of the writing is pretty dense and dull.

Birches said...

We read Elements of Style in 10th grade. Frankenstein is assigned in the 8th grade at my kids' school.

Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel was required reading 15 years ago at my alma mater.

Terry said...

Birches said...
"Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel"
I think that Diamond's brand of geographical determinism has fallen out of fashion since the turn of the millennium.

Smilin' Jack said...

Hee...I assume the "Physics" in Alabama is Aristotle's "Physics". Everything in it is wrong, which demonstrates the value of reading the "classics", as well as explaining some things about Alabama.

George Grady said...

Tank:

Yeah. The problems with The Elements of Style are:

1. The grammar advice, for the most part, is simply ill-informed and wrong.

2. The style advice, while mostly fine, tends to tell students what to do ("Be clear."), but not really giving in help on how to do it.

I think that a major issue is that the book doesn't recognize that formal written English is simply not the same language as the English that students have grown up speaking, and for most students, if you want them to write it, you will have to actually teach them how.

Rae said...

It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are read.

I'm with Scott Adams on this one. All you need to learn any given subject is a good book and someone to answer your questions. What college provides is credentials.

Bobby said...

Brando,

"They were among the assignments for Eastern European History classes (no job marketable classes for me!)."

Okay, but Eastern European women are the most beautiful women on the planet, and since I'm quite certain your knowledge of their culture and ability to speak their languages facilitated more than a few relationships, my engineering degree and I are still jealous of you.

Saint Croix said...

Justice Robert Jackson's opinions and dissents and Justice Scalia's dissents are the most enjoyable readings from the Supreme Court.

I've never been a Jackson fan--I'm a Hugo Black guy--but the Warren era had some really sharp writing. Also Oliver Wendell Holmes had a real flair for it, too.

The modern Court fobs off a lot of its writing work to 27-year-olds who are two years out of law school. Scalia's opinions are so good because he likes to write, he's good at it, he's funny, and he's doing the writing.

richlb said...

As a side note, I love that representation of the US and the states. It projects the overall outline of the country, keeps most states in their relative locations within (hard to do in the NE) and gives them all an equally sized segment in which to display data. I will be reusing this.

Bay Area Guy said...

If you're gonna read the "Communist Manifesto," in College, you oughta read how this theoretical "revolution" actually played out in the real world. I would suggest -- The Black Book of Communism by several liberal European scholars.

Here are the Cliff Notes: 100 Million killed by Communists in the 20th Century.

lgv said...

"It's silly to suggest that reading the same books that are read in a college course would give you the same thing as a class where those books are read."

I would have thought so, but I'm beginning to wonder.

I'm surprised students are still subjected to "Canterbury Tales" and "Paradise Lost" . I went to a religious college. I had to read "Paradise Lost" AND "Paradise Regained". What a slog. I kept thinking this is what must be required reading in hell. It was part of a required course, "English Masterpieces". I all I can remember now is how much I hated reading John Milton.

lgv said...

"By the way, I'm forced to assign badly written material — bad in form and substance — all the time."

Of course. I was assigned Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed" in grad school. At the time, it was the most poorly written and edited book I had ever read. I was shocked. But then again, I was naive at the time.

Rusty said...

Most people reading classics on their own will not understand half of what is going on because they don't live in those times and cannot put the material in context. For most people that is what a good Prof (or annotation) adds to the material.

Alas. Those are in short supply.

mccullough said...

Milton tried to turn the English language into Latin. Luckily he failed. Chaucer is the better poet and helped develop the English language. Shakespeare is the best, but Chaucer is a respectable second. We're lucky to have had two great writers when the English language was expanding. Milton would have been a set back but the good poets who came after him didn't follow him.

Birkel said...

You could assign the videos from the "Free to Choose" series.

But I would bet that is a rare thing.

Freeman Hunt said...

I post this from the land of "Writing About Art."

Paddy O said...

Reading Paradise Lost at a Christian college was one of the most profound moments of my life (not kidding). It probably helped that my prof did his dissertation on Milton, and got me excited about reading it. I read it outside during sunny, crisp Fall days over a long weekend.

So, mileage may vary.

Phil D said...

"What you are missing is that (...) is short. It's like 40 pages or so. (...) at 900 pages (...) something like 600 pages (...). What teacher would assign these books for actual reading as a book? I can't imagine."

What an epitaph for an institution that once provided an intellectual education.

Michael said...

I am all for reading the Communist Manifesto. To my lefty friends I always make it clear that while I read the WSJ and watch Fox News and read conservative blogs I also read The Guardian, the NYT and the WaPo on a daily basis. My lefty friends keep their reading and watching to lefty locales lest they lose their limited trains of thought.

Phil D said...

BTW, the "Communist manifesto" is A MANIFEST, meaning it is "sloganesque".
And 40 pages may make a short book, if one wants to call it that, but rather long for a bunch of slogans. And if you want to make some sense out of that crap you will have to read a lot more than books of 40 pages.
So assigning that manifesto is only useful for propaganda purposes. Which is why it is a popular assignment I would say.

buwaya said...

"So assigning that manifesto is only useful for propaganda purposes."
No, not at all.
Its a fine opening to history, and the research (as you say) is really quite interesting to get a grasp of depth and interrelation of history, change, events, the broader world. However, its a poor assignment for kids who are not able to grasp this or are uninterested.

Phil D said...

"However, its a poor assignment for kids who are not able to grasp this or are uninterested."

Exactly my point.

Brando said...

"Okay, but Eastern European women are the most beautiful women on the planet, and since I'm quite certain your knowledge of their culture and ability to speak their languages facilitated more than a few relationships, my engineering degree and I are still jealous of you."

Well, that and I had no proficiency with the STEM field, which left law school as the best post-grad option. Fortunately this was the '90s when the post-JD job market was a lot better than it is now. But friends of mine with econ and computer science backgrounds did a lot better!

William Chadwick said...

Nice to know there are some young people who are still reading books. One of the great things about being in college when I went was how those of us with opinions were influenced by books: whether SOUL ON ICE, ATLAS SHRUGGED, LORD OF THE RINGS, THE ROAD TO SERFDOM, or whatever.

Bobby said...

I guess my undergrad experience was different. But what I remember from every humanities and social science course that I took, we were assigned reading material from classic texts and contemporary scholars, and then required to critique it, identify its flaws and systematically rip it apart. Only years later, at graduate school, did I come to question the audacity of an institution that required us to tear down products that were far better than what any of us would ever be able to produce. (I get that just teaching cadets to memorize and recite someone else's argument is hardly developing critical reasoning and analytical skills, I just wish we had been taught to have more respect for the works that, although flawed in one way or another, were nonetheless great works).

So I guess what I'm saying is that if something is required reading at West Point, one should not mean the Academy is endorsing its message. On the contrary, you can expect cadets will be able to recite far more of the things it got wrong than the things it gets right. But maybe some of you went to schools where the professor presented the course material as the Talmud.

Sebastian said...

CM is well written, at least the main portion everyone reads. Parts of the 18th Brumaire are quite readable as well. Of course, Marx was also a journalist, and could toss off a readable article on current events. Even Capital has its sweet spots (but does anyone ever read volumes 2 and 3 these days?).

@AA: "There's a place for material that is beautifully written and scientifically and morally sound." Well, the "scientifically and morally sound" rules out Marx, if we include social "science" for the sake of argument. Tocqueville comes closer, especially in the Old Regime (and the Souvenirs are a literary masterpiece). Smith can be wordy but, especially in context, comes pretty close. Among more recent figures, perhaps William James fits, though he's no longer quite "scientifically" sound.

Fernandinande said...

Owen said...
Anything by Richard Feynman. Anything.


Oh, I dunno - rumor has it that he was a bongo player and a Groucho Marxist.

Rusty said...


"The 'Communist Manifesto' has some use as a critique of capitalism."


Not really

The Cracker Emcee said...

Ugh. In my time it seemed that everyone had been assigned "On Liberty" at some point. Those ossified Boomer professors no longer believe in liberty so it isn't surprising that reactionary Leftist dogshit is all they're serving up.

chuck said...

The "Communist Manifesto" is only about 20 pages long once the extraneous stuff is removed. It's a pamphlet, not a book.

Mary E. Glynn said...


"There's a place for material that is beautifully written and scientifically and morally sound, but it's not the stuff of most higher education courses. I rarely read such things. What the hell are they anyway?!"

You'll know it when you see it, ann!
----------------------------------

"If I had to say that the students didn't read the cases that were presented in text, I'd be embarrassed to name the cases the students didn't read."

This assumes your students only read the materials you assign them. Seriously? In this day and age, where it's all at the fingertips? Why do you think so poorly of your students, ann? ;-)

Douglas said...

If the standard is what books do you still remember decades later, well, I nominate Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And Lord of the Rings, but that's already been mentioned.

Rick67 said...

I taught writing to freshmen (aka first year undergraduates) in graduate school at Cornell, after one year of training + working with a professor and was surprised to learn that Strunk + White, Elements of Style, was *not* recommended as the premier go-to manual for grammar and style. (Strunk + White were at Cornell decades ago, part of its history.) So I am mildly surprised so many schools still assign it. Did they not get the memo? (We were encouraged to use Williams, 3rd edition, which was excellent. In many ways that book taught me how to write well, er, better. Still have it.)