A modern proposal: Expanding course offerings

Alan Duff

One of Lawrence’s greatest strengths is its small class sizes. Students never have to worry about a professor not knowing their name or being unable to contact a professor for questions. Even better, if an advanced class in a specific field of study doesn’t exist, a student can always contact a professor and arrange an independent study.

While this system is great for the individualized learning that Lawrence is known for, it would be wonderful if students could have entirely new classes made that allow for group-wide discussions that focus on recent events and ideas.

Since its founding in 1945, Freshman Studies seems to have stuck to a very strict idea of what is to be taught. Classics like “Oedipus Rex,” “The Prince,” “The Republic” and every single work that Shakespeare had so much as looked at were on the list of what was acceptable to be taught.

Gradually, though, the Freshman Studies program at Lawrence began to branch out from these classics. Modern literature began to show up with the likes of Gould, Borges and Milgram. These modern works are in many ways more accessible and more rewarding to read as they deal with issues and ideas that are pertinent today.

Two areas that could benefit from new course offerings are the Conservatory and the English department. What has been applied in Freshman Studies can be applied here. Both of these fields seem to be constricted to teaching about a past, golden age.

Classics like Mozart and Beethoven along with Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are lain upon a pedestal that no one else can hope to reach. These very same “classics” all share a glaring similarity with the works of Cormac McCarthy, Lady Gaga and Nirvana: They are all a form of entertainment. Yet not all entertainment is created equal.

I guarantee that Shakespeare was not writing for a university crowd that was going to analyze and deconstruct every line he wrote. He was writing for the most popular form of entertainment at the time: theatre.

I do, however, recognize that both departments are making some headway with addressing modern subjects. The English department appears to have one modern literary course a semester that allows students to learn about modern writings. Music classes like Introduction to Electronic Music also offer a contemporary music experience. Yet I believe more modern classes can be offered in both fields.

Rest assured that this problem isn’t unique to Lawrence. I believe most of academia is guilty of this problem, but at Lawrence it seems we have begun to take a few steps in the right direction. I propose a few more.

The English department, I believe, could try to pick novels written by more recent authors along with the classics. I would like to learn a little bit more about the works of David Foster Wallace and Stephen King as opposed to just Dostoyevsky and Austen. All are forms of entertainment. Decades of students have studied the classics, why not study the moderns?

If I were asked what is the most similar form of writing to poetry, I would have to say musical lyrics. While most poetry studied here is from the 19th and early 20th centuries, song lyrics have grown in popularity and can be drawn increasingly from modern music. Why not create a class that analyzes and discusses musical lyrics, as both an art form and as a form of expression?

The genres of country and rap could be compared to jazz and rock. Music majors could finally get that writing intensive class out of the way in an engaging and group-oriented fashion.

While I can understand why some may be wary of this idea, try viewing the lyrics to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” and tell me that isn’t musical poetry.