Archive for February 2012
California Speaker Pérez’ plan for reducing public university tuition is a welcome sign, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Sacramento should consider more sweeping changes:
1. Expand advanced placement testing
Let students ‘test out’ of any course, or even get a diploma that way.
2. Integrate third-party courses into curricula
For example, video lectures by The Great Courses are better than most brick-and-mortar college courses. A campus library can buy these and students (registered or unregistered) may watch them for free. Testing and grading could be done by local instructors.
3. Institute a Great Books program
Let students get from 1 to 2 years course credit by reading classics.
4. Eliminate or scale down college accreditation
Accreditation for undergrad studies is unnecessary; it’s merely a means by which existing universities and colleges monopolize the market. Remove the costly barrier of accreditation, and communities, churches, etc., can found inexpensive local colleges suitable for many students’ needs. This competition will drive down the tuitions of existing colleges.
5. Limit or eliminate student loans for undergraduates.
This will also force colleges to lower tuition and motivate cost-cutting.
From time to time I experience the temptation to write something countering the many atheist invectives against religion that appear in print. For the most part I’m able to resist, reasoning that no argument will convince the atheists, and none is needed for theists.
This probably deserves a little elaboration, however. It seems to me that religion is basically something natural to human beings. It is as much a natural mode of knowing certain things as vision is a natural sense, or humor is a natural emotional experience. Someone who is blessed with sight, yet has shut their eyes and insists that vision is a superstition, hardly wants a serious reply; or, at least, not a reply that takes at face value their objection. Rather, the real questions are what the motives are of such people, and whether they are being honest with themselves and their readers.
Perhaps the real concern here is a third category of persons besides atheists and theists: namely people who do not currently practice any religion, but who are sympathetic to the message and principles of religion, and who will, eventually, either discover or rediscover it. The danger, then, is that atheist writers may discourage the authentic religious investigations of people in this third group. If an apology for Christianity is to be written, then, it should be for the sake of this ‘in between’ group.
Such considerations have often led me to imagine writing a book titled, “The Grandeur of Christianity“, which would enumerate the many excellencies and benefits of Christianity. Now it seems that Providence has supplied such a book ready-made — written in the 19th century by François-René de Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848).
Chateaubriand was a noted French novelist, part of the Romantic movement, and an influence on Victor Hugo, among others. Living through the French Revolution, Chateaubriand experienced more than the usual amount of adventure and personal tragedy. His most famous novels include Atala (1801) and René (1802). (And yes, it is after him that Chateaubriand steak is named — his hobby was gourmet cooking.)
But another great production from the pen of this literary master is The Genius of Christianity (Génie du christianisme; 1802). In beautiful prose, speaking from the heart to the heart, Chateaubriand explains to the rationalists of his day why Christianity is important and necessary.
Briefly we should note the historical context of the book, which parallels in important respects the situation today. Chateaubriand was writing at the close of two centuries in which rationalist philosophy had dominated the intellectual scene. Faced with the ponderous edifice of empiricism, rationalism, and skepticism – which left little room for traditional faith – Romantic writers (e.g., Goethe, Coleridge, Wordsworth — and Chateaubriand), artists (e.g., William Blake), essayists (Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson) and philosophers (e.g., Kant, Hegel) mounted a response. The Romantics, in short, pointed out that there are other forms of valid knowledge beyond that which is supplied by sense data, or by rational inferences made from sense data. Aesthetic and moral experiences, in particular, are real – just as real to the awareness as sense data – and must be fully accounted for in any satisfactory model of the human being.
These writers, artists and philosophers were not mere fuzzy-headed dreamers, but extremely intelligent and incisive thinkers. It’s no small matter that the atheists of today have neglected to counter, or even acknowledge the arguments of the Romantics.
In any case, I shall say no more – for, as already noted, good fortune has placed this brilliant work by Chateaubriand before us. The work remains fresh and readable today. Links are supplied below. If there were one stylistic detail which modern readers might take slight exception to, it would perhaps be the author’s tendency to minimize the value of other religions – Judaism, Islam, Eastern religions, etc. However this is easily overlooked, and in no way detracts from the principal arguments.
For English-speakers, Stork (1858) is a small volume of selections, containing many choice excerpts from the full work:
de Chateaubriand, François-René; Emma Β. Stork (tr.). The Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion. (Selections from Chateaubriand’s Genius Of Christianity). Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1858.
A full English translation is also online:
de Chateaubriand, François-René; White, Charles I. (Charles Ignatius; tr.). The Genius Of Christianity; or, The Spirit and Beauty of the Christian Religion. Baltimore: Murphy, 1856.
Numerous editions in French are also online.
Chapters in Stork’s ‘Selections’ edition of 1858:
- The Bible
- The Existence of God
- The Character of the True God
- General Spectacle of the Universe
- Physical Man
- Adam and Eve
- The Father — Priam
- The Mother — Andromache
- The Son — Gusman
- The Daughter — Iphigenia
- “Virtues and Moral Laws
- Our Saviour
- The Passions
- Dido, or Passionate Love
- The Christian Religion as a Passion
- Undisciplined Passions
- Hope and Charity
- Desire of Happiness
- Christianity a great Blessing to Mankind — Services rendered to Society by the Clergy, and the Christian
- Religion in general
- Missions—General Idea of Missions
- Defence of Christianity
- The Sabbath
- Singing and Prayer
- Christian Festivals
- Christian Tombs
- Country Churchyards
- The Influence of Christianity upon History
- Beauties of History
- Christian Eloquence
- Moral Harmonies
- The Influence of Christianity upon Music
- The Influence of Christianity upon Painting
- Songs of Birds — For Man they are Created
- Language of Animals — Laws appertaining thereto
- Birds’ Nests
- The Infidel and Christian Mother
- Remorse of Conscience..
- The Christian’s Death-bed
- Two Views of Nature — Ocean; Niagara Falls
- Youth and Old Age of the Earth
- The World without Christianity — Conjectures
Related: Christianity for Agnostics — my own brief apologia for Christianity, written just before reading Chateaubriand’s work.
Update: As of November 2016, things have gotten even better than when this article was originally written. The Great Courses now offers its courses online (viewable on computer or phone) for as little as $14/month. The new service is called The Great Courses Plus.
Modern technology is rapidly making the brick-and-mortar university obsolete in its present form. Many college lectures are already available online for free. There are also third-party courses, which are typically of superior quality, and cost much less than physical college courses.
Please note that I’m not talking about expensive online degree programs. I mean buying lectures or courses individually and teaching yourself. If you have money to burn, or don’t mind borrowing $50,000, and have a desperate need for a piece of fake parchment with your name printed on it, then there are plenty of colleges and universities that will be happy to take your money, and in return will fill your head with 60’s era New Left baloney. But if what you want is a solid education, the point of this article is to show that you get this on your own, and for a lot less money.
The leader in third-party college lectures is The Great Courses (TGC; formerly, The Teaching Company). They already have an extensive catalog of nearly 400 classes on DVD, CD, or for download, with more on the way.
TGC lectures have many advantages:
- At a regular university, only a few professors will be ‘superstars’. But TGC recruits the top professors from around the world. All lectures are given by intelligent, interesting, motivated, and skilled presenters.
- The production values are high. Lecturers are well-dressed and well prepared. Talks are given in pleasant settings that enhance the learning experience.
- You can watch or listen to them whenever you want; lectures can be paused or replayed.
The list price of TGC courses ranges from around $50 to $250 (much less than one pays at a university). However, there’s no need to pay full price. First, many libraries have TGC courses, and these can be watched for free. Second, most courses are available used at places like Ebay and Amazon. Third, a group of students can get together and swap courses. This means that one can typically get a used TGC course for $50 or less.
As proof of concept, let’s see if we can construct the equivalent of a four-year college education using existing TGC courses. We’ll assume that the goal is to get a well-rounded, Liberal Arts education, with a balance among science, history, literature, social science, and fine arts.
We’ll divide the curriculum into four years, and a year into two semesters, with four courses per semester.
[Update: as of November, 2016, The Great Courses Plus offers unlimited online viewing of their catalog for $20/month or less. Check that site first to see which of these courses are included there.]
Year 1 (Semesters 1 & 2)
- A Brief History of the World
- Classics of American Literature
- Psychology of Human Behavior
- Biology: The Science of Life
- Art of Reading
- Joy of Mathematics
- How to Listen to and Understand Great Music
Year 2 (Semesters 1 & 2)
- Understanding Calculus
- History of the United States
- Introduction to the Study of Religion
- Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology
- Nutrition Made Clear
- Development of European Civilization
- America and the New Global Economy
- Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology
Year 3 (Semesters 1 & 2)
- World’s Greatest Paintings
- Cycles of American Political Thought
- Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
- Oceanography: Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness
- Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond
- Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies
- Discrete Mathematics
- Our Night Sky
Year 4 (Semesters 1 & 2)
- Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Literature
- Meaning from Data: Statistics Made Clear
- Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning
- Understanding the Secrets of Human Perception
- Why Economies Rise or Fall
- The Cathedral
- War and World History
- Physics and Our Universe: How It All Work
Assuming an average cost of $50 per course, the total cost would be 8 x $50 = $400 per year, or $1600 in total. As noted, if your local library has any course, or you can borrow one from a friend, it’s free. [To be revised taking into account the even less expensive online subscription plan.]
Additional Educational Resources
TGC lectures usually come with detailed course guides, including outlines, bibliographies and study questions. To enhance learning, you can consult the suggested readings and even write out answers to the questions. True, this might require more discipline than having a professor motivate you with grades. But if you really need someone else to ‘kick your butt’ for motivation, a life coach is much cheaper than university tuition!
The one thing that DVD courses lack is the sense of community one hopes to find at a college. But you don’t have to pay tuition to join a college community. Just rent a room in Berkeley, Austin, or Madison and join the intellectual culture; spend your days in self-study and evenings in recreation and conversation with intelligent people. Attend lectures and films, and take advantage of the opportunities for civic activism. Use the library. You might even find that self-study is giving you an edge over your college-attending friends.
It’s true that DVD or online classes don’t result in a diploma or degree (yet). But, honestly, are those things necessary? Yes, some employers require them. But the better companies place more value on the person. Showing that you have the dedication and self-discipline to teach yourself might impress these employers more.
Universities cannot continue to charge huge tuitions and load students with debt.
Hopefully, public opinion will push them to change. One thing they could do is to expand advanced placement options, such that students may test out and gain automatic credit for courses and subjects they’ve already mastered. In theory, someone could self-study, but have the university certify their competence.
Alternatively, we might see third-party companies fill the gap by administering, for a small fee, standardized tests or oral exams, and then issuing a certificate of completion or diploma.
- The Great Courses Plus (streaming)
- The Great Courses (DVD and CD)
- YouTube Channel
- 10 Free ‘Great Courses’
- Great Courses Discussion Forum
- 1200 Free College Lectures – not as good as The Great Courses, but worth a look