As we continue our video coverage from Symposium 2020, today’s clip features Dr. Mark Bauerlein (Emory University), relating some of his own experiences from the college classroom, in an effort to provide some context for what students want out of a course on literature: namely, a coherent narrative.
Recounting the 1987 curricular debates at Stanford, Bauerlein points out that, contrary to the vocal detractors of the Western Culture courses, students and alumni of that university were attracted to the coherence of the great epics and stories of the tradition. As Bauerlein recalls, the efforts to produce a more varied sequence with the “Culture, Ideas, and Values” (CIV) course led to dissatisfaction among students—essentially for lack of a clear and compelling story.
Surely we are story-telling creatures, whose lives are shaped by the tales we tell ourselves and one another—perhaps most dramatically felt in the stories of the songs we hum, whose lyrics we loosely memorize. All of this suggests a call for greater attention to the words we imbibe, including open criticism of the stories we propound. (A beautiful example of the stories of song can be found in the history and repertoire of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, founded in 1871.)
To be truly free, we must ask ourselves what’s to be learned of the human condition from the narratives we hold dear.