Core 101-102, Dr. Essid
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Exploring Human Experience

Joe Essid, Director of the Writing Center
Ryland 205, TR 8:15-9:30 (bring coffee)

Office: Writing Center Room 9 Hours:
M & TH 10-11 and by appointment & by appointment
Contact: 289-8935 and (preferred)

Writing Fellows:
Sarah Gilbert sarah.gilbert & Angela Campagnoli

About the Course

Core is like no other class you will take at Richmond. First of all, you will study together as a group for two semesters, and we'll gradually move from analytical thinking about single works, in the first semester, to, in the second, drawing broader connections between works and ideas.

Core also has the unabashedly old-fashioned, and meritorious goal of "having you do hard thinking about hard books." I call it "boot-camp for your brains." Do not expect spoon-feeding or the "teacher's answer" for a book. Instead I'll demand that YOU generate and defend interpretations within and between our readings. Any answer you can defend merits respect. Intellectual laziness merits only contempt. I can be a demanding drill-sergeant or helpful coach; your level of engagement will determine this.

Do not expect an A the first semester, though you may earn an A for an assignment. You may also earn the first Cs, Ds, or Fs you have ever gotten. You are all good students, or you wouldn't be here. Expect to find the bar raised beyond what most of you have done before. If you don't become better writers and readers, I earn an F.

General Requirements

An open mind, respect for your classmates and their ideas, and your book. If you do not bring your book to class, you will be counted absent for the day. See the policies page for more details.

Course Goals

These ideas lie at the core of what Cardinal Newman and others after him called a "liberal education." You will do a lot of hard thinking in this section. Moreover, a few points from the common syllabus strike me as so important to how I teach Core 101-102 that I will repeat them here:

  • Instead of asking you to master a specific body of information, this course asks you to read and interpret a series of complex literary and philosophical texts.
  • The point is not to learn facts and formulas. . .but to develop skills: how to absorb difficult material relatively quickly; how to see the way a text works; how to fashion clear, subtle, persuasive arguments for a position.
  • The guiding assumption for this is that the examination of a variety of approaches to common human problems will give you a more sophisticated understanding of what is involved in making thoughtful sense out of experience.

Please don't feel patronized by that last point. I know we all spend time thinking about big problems. Sadly, however, we no longer have the luxury of escaping them (though you can drive yourself mad worrying too much). Thus I'm pleased, sometimes a little troubled, to be teaching such a class at a chaotic time, politically and economically, when Americans are finally taking time to ask some profound questions about what makes life worthwhile and comprehensible.

My Role & Teaching Philosophy

My stance in the classroom is apolitical. My job is not to indoctrinate you in any one point of view except one: to always ask questions, even painful ones. This got Socrates killed. I'll take my chances because I believe in my bones that a civilization that fails to ask questions is not really civilized and will not endure.

I also because your generation is important: you'll be asked to make many important decisions and that we cannot dodge, such as responding to climate change, immigration, globalism, and an ongoing energy crisis. People my age have failed you and, in many regards, are leaving you a mess. I cannot fix matters, but preparing you to ask good questions isn't a bad start. For our readings, I cannot give you answers, even though I can help you untangle difficult spots in the texts.

At the end of your first year, I hope that you find your thinking to be, as Martha Nussbaum puts it, "truly deliberative and reflective, rather than simply the collision of unexamined preferences." Thus Core (and I) will have done our jobs well: you will have reached an important step in your life's journey.

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