[Fresh] Core Humanities Interview

Kelly Eastland (kelly.eastland@villanova.edu)
Tue, 23 Sep 2003 13:55:36 -0400

Interview with Dr. John A. Doody, Robert Birmingham Professor of Core Humanities, Assistant
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Fresh@News: Every student in the class of 2007 takes Core Humanities Seminar. Can you tell
us about the program?

Dr. Doody: We started the Core Humanities Seminar (CHS) program in 1992 because we wanted
our students to learn to read difficult historical texts, discuss them critically in a small
group setting, and write thoughtfully about them. We also wanted to avoid large classes
where students could sit back and listen to a lecture, without being forced to engage
actively with the material. The only way we felt we could do this was to have every
student enroll in a small seminar-style class with no more than seventeen other students.

Fresh@News: What sort of thing will they be doing?

Dr. Doody. Most of our students will begin the semester by being deeply immersed in texts
from the ancient world. Most will start the semester reading Plato, the Old Testament, or
Greek Tragedies. Only by the spring semester will they be up to the modern world. (A few
of the sections start with the modern world and do the ancient in the spring.)

Fresh@News: Can you tell me a little more about the importance of teaching students about
the ancient world?

Dr. Doody. We feel that our students will never really understand the issues that dominate
the modern world without understanding the background and foundation. As they struggle with
these difficult texts, they begin to realize that many of the things they take for granted
today are the results of passionate debates hundreds of years ago. It gives them a depth
and perspective that really can't be acquired any other way.

Fresh@News: How do the new students react to CHS classes?

Dr. Doody. I think students really enjoy the intellectual companionship that forms in many
of the classes. The classes are small and there is an emphasis on discussion. As a result,
students get to know each other well, and this gives them other connections aside from the
ones they formed in their residence halls or in their orientation groups. They also find
the work challenging, especially at first. There is a lot of reading and the reading is
difficult. Many students feel initially uncomfortable when they are challenged to articulate
and defend their ideas in class. Usually by the end of the semester, it is one of their
favorite classes.

Fresh@News: What can parents do to help and support their students?

Dr. Doody. I would give parents two pieces of advice. First, don't be surprised if your
student is overwhelmed and intimidated by college work in the first semester. Students can
be initially frustrated by courses like CHS; the questions that they discuss are challenging
and difficult, and they find that their teachers often raise questions rather than giving
easy answers. Second, try to steer your student away from an overly vocational and
short-term view of college education. Students sometimes say things like this: "How is
reading Homer's Iliad going to help me be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, or
nurse?" All of the employers are telling us that they want students who are well-rounded
and who can think, write, and communicate as well as having specific skills and training.
Our graduates and senior students invariably tell us that their humanities classes,
especially Core Humanities Seminars, are an important part of their learning. Encourage
your student to take the view that he or she is here to become an educated person, not just
to get a job. Parents can also browse our web-site at:

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