I can start by introducing myself, I guess. I'm Mike Swanson of the American Studies and History programs in the Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences. My background is cultural history. I took my Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio, majoring in American Studies. I began here in the American Studies program in 1972 (wow, that's a long time).. I've always had an interest in material culture (the study of things people make) as well as intellectual history, and that interest took me into the historic preservation field about twenty years ago. I proposed the first Historic Preservation major here, and I expect to continue teaching in it from time to time, though I returned to my roots here in the College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2000
About the Core Program itself:
The Core Program at Roger Williams College centers on three recurring questions in Western thought: "Who am I?" "What can I know?, and "Based on what I know, how should I act?". No single academic experience can provide satisfactory answers to these questions: five of them, working in concert, at least introduce the perspectives, which traditionally have provided tentative answers to these questions. Core 102 uses the disciplines of History and Political Science to look at socio/political answers to the question "Who am I?", the methodology of history and political science to explore "what can I know?", and at the results of behavior based on former answers to these questions to suggest avenues of responsible action in today's society.
The course description gives an insight into the content of Core 102. It is more opaque concerning the rationale for a Core Curriculum in the first place. There was a time when the idea of a Core Curriculum would have made no sense: not because the idea seemed ridiculous, but because there was within the western world, at least, a universal agreement concerning what constituted a fit education. Throughout most of the periods we're studying, this was the case. Though the content varied across time, the categories of content proved remarkably stable. It wasn't until a little over a century ago that the idea of "electives" was put forth in academic circles. The culprit was a President of Harvard University.
...A decade or two before, the idea of specialties began, not as an undergraduate mode of investigation, but as what one did in graduate school. Here, the first American venture was based on a German model, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was the grand innovator. Now, of course, specialty education is shattering the cohesion of what Thomas Jefferson called the "Academical Village". Perhaps that's a bit too strong: "threatening to shatter" might be a more appropriate turn of phrase. Core Curricula such as the one at Roger Williams University are responses to this sense of fragmentation. We are participating in an attempt to forge a universal educational experience for all members of the Roger Williams student community, regardless of major, regardless of age, regardless of the majors they take or the schools in which those majors are located. This might be a brilliant exercise: it might also be a noble folly. I have the kind of mind that can hold both of these views simultaneously. It is worth the effort, in my judgment, to bring this diverse group into a common enterprise.
I'm planning to have a good time doing it. I'm also planning to continue to develop a class website for Core 102. At this stage of its development, the Internet is perhaps the most democratic medium ever invented. It is certainly the most potent educator since the invention of moveable type. I make that statement fully recognizing we've a few other means of disseminating information which have been invented since Gutenberg's day: movies, radio, television, to name the big three. Yet none of these allows the level of public access that the Internet does. Http://core102.homestead.com is the URL for the general website. There, I've uploaded a version of the "cover sheet" which all the faculty distribute, and copies of the statements on writing expectations and plagiarism. The required readings are listed there as well, and each has a link to an Internet resource.
Each faculty member of the Core 102 team shapes the general content of the course to his or her individual interests and expertise. My sections will use different materials, and in a different sequence, than you'll find in the other sections. My sections have their own website: http://ideaofdemocracy.homestead.com Notes on each week's reading and discussion activities will also be found there. This website is linked to the general core 102 website, or you can reach it directly by bookmarking its URL. There will be one page of notes and assignments per week, and these will develop as the semester progresses. All required reading assignments will be posted on the class website. In about one week I will cease distributing a paper version of the syllabus. Those who want to have a paper copy can print the Internet version themselves.
The Work Ahead
Textbooks: (Required Reading)
Swanson, Stein, Speakman, Moskowitz, & Greco, The Democratic Idea
Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 2001.
Bradbury, Ray, Fahrenheit 451
New York: Ballentine Books, 1953
Skinner, B. F., Walden Two
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1976
At the center of our class will be the discussion of a number of documents which have been important in the development of Democratic thought from the days of classical Greece to our own times. Most of these are found in the text, The Idea of Democracy. Others will be added. We will use these texts to explore some of the nuances of Democracy, and some of the challenges to it, as well. We will also be reading two classic mid-twentieth century novels, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and B. F. Skinner's Walden Two. These are of the genre sometimes called didactic novels. While they are designed to entertain, they are also designed to teach and present a particular philosophical point of view. I will expect you to read these on your own, as good fiction should be read. I want you to have Fahrenheit 451 finished by mid-October, and Walden Two by the end of Thanksgiving Recess. I will remind (nag) you about this from time to time
1.Keep Current with the assignments of the week, and the work of the day. You will notice that there is a special mailbox for this class: firstname.lastname@example.org. I will have the notes for the following week posted by 9:00 the Thursday night previous. You are responsible for visiting the class website before Friday's Class, and to demonstrate that you have, you must send an e-mail to that address each week. (E-mail is postmarked with the day and date, so I'll be able to record who is doing this and who isn't. Include in the subject line of the e-mail your name and section number. (13 for 2:00, 15 for 3:30)
2.Come to class prepared. My core classes are a bit larger than I'd prefer in an ideal world. To keep track of whose being faithful and who isn't, I will take attendance daily. Be more than a warm body, however. Do the readings, and come prepared to discuss them and to raise issues about things you don't understand. Use the class e-mail address to ask questions, too.
3.I will be requiring you to read a number of documents which are located on the internet. Purchase a 3-ring loose leaf binder, download and print these, enter them into your notebook, and bring them to class. If you don't have and computer and printer, remember that you have access to those in the Library and on the second floor of the Gabelli School of Business.
Evaluation and Grades
I don't like to do it but it comes with the territory. One of my goals for this course is to help you become more articulate and persuasive in presenting your ideas at the same time you are learning to frame questions, access information and form judgments and solutions. Consequently I'm going to have you do as much writing for me as I can find time to evaluate. I am going to encourage you to submit writing to me in electronic form whenever possible, though I will accept hard copies as well. Your Mid-term Examination will be take-home, and parts of your final examination will be take-home, as well. In terms of proportions of your grade, I expect to use the following:
Midterm (date to be announced) 20%
Final Exam (date to be announced) 25"%
Papers (3) 45%. I will weight the last paper more heavily than the first. The Third of these will be competed as a take-home part of your final exam.
Class Participation Including Preparation for Class, 10%
I will have two hard points of data here: your e-mails recording your visit to the website, and your signatures on the class sign in sheets. In addition, I will recognize your frequency of participation in class, your use of e-mail to clarify what you're working on, your use of my office hours, and other evidence of the level of work you're putting into things.
Classroom Practices and Procedures
Our primary focus will be the documents in The Democratic Idea. These are primary source materials, written by Western thinkers spanning 2,500 years. Primary materials are the bricks out of which narrative history is constructed. The readings I have chosen are designed to focus on several crucial themes, among them:
1.What is "The Democratic Idea," as first espoused by the Greeks and then modified by the Romans in Classical Times?
2.Civic Theory: What is "society" and how can "Reason" be applied to creating rational government? What is the appropriate relationship between "Authority" (government) and the civil state (the governed)?
3.Who should participate in a democratic society, and what does participation mean? How has that meaning changed across time?
4.Is "Democracy" appropriate for all societies and cultures? Is it appropriate for any?
5.Does Democracy have a future?
I spend a lot of time in "close reading" of texts; probing for implications in the structure of the argument. Your books will be open and used during class, but only if you have them along. So...
ALWAYS BRING YOU'RE THE DEMOCRATIC IDEA AND YOUR NOTEBOOK WITH YOU
The two novels shall help us explore two issues which seem particularly current, even though each of the books is over a half century old. Fahrenheit 451 will address censorship, and we'll discuss it about the time we discuss John Milton's Areopagitica.Walden Two asks whether modern science may make Democracy obsolete.
Generally my classes are pretty informal. I talk, you talk, and out of the conversation comes knowledge of a sort. We are not going to construct a linear narrative this semester. I am aiming to provide you with a richer, more complex, and more sophisticated understanding of The Democratic Idea. Much of your final understanding will result from what you piece together yourself. Some of you will be much more comfortable with this approach than others will be, at least initially. If you are a person who requires a lot of structure you're going to have to switch gears and trust the system I'm using. If this is difficult or impossible for you, there are other sections of Core 102 that are organized differently. Enrolments are very full, but you may be able to find someone who would trade sections with you