No new Plato material until next Monday, so I get to ramble a bit. (I don’t think anyone would stop me were I to ramble anyway, but I need to give myself an excuse on occasion.)
I’m genuinely pleased with what I’ve seen on this third paper. Last year I had my classes do some research in their potential major or career fields, and the results were miserably spotty. Half a dozen or so wrote genuinely good papers, some didn’t have any idea what they wanted to do and thus wrote mediocre papers, and the majority picked the hottest on-every-evening’s-news-broadcast topic and wrote that up. Boring overall.
I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch, but from the buzz I’ve overheard, this year’s papers ought to be both better to read and better for initiating four (or five or six) years of college-level thinking. This year, since I’m teaching Plato rather than an anthology, I’m having them take Republic and one other premodern text (my rough cutoff line is John Milton) and write a paper on some social division, be between teacher and student, domestic and foreign, old and young, men and women, parents and children, or whatever. To develop some rudimentary research skills I’m also requiring that they integrate into their arguments two scholarly sources.
A number of my students have picked biblical texts, and I’m satisfied if that means they’ve spent a couple weeks thinking rigorously about how the Bible differs from Plato, arguably one of the other great influences on Western thought. Others have picked some protomodern stuff along the lines of Shakespeare and Marlowe. Again, the cross-genre potential means they’ve had to do some thinking. Still others have gone to Erasmus, Hammurabi, other Plato dialogues, Boethius, and others. I realize that few if any will go to the effort of reading other folks’ papers, but at minimum they’ve done some thinking about two texts that existed before 1700 and that differ from one another. That they can see some historical complexity means that they’ve done some thinking that otherwise they wouldn’t have done.
I hope they’ve started thinking about the final paper–the assignment for paper four is thus:
What is freedom, and are you free?
For this one we’re going to be mixing some Thoreau and some Milton and some Aristotle in with the Plato, and within a week the ones who read are going to have to read Thoreau’s case that governments necessarily impede conscience and then Plato’s that only a properly aristocratic government can develop conscience. This ought to be fun.
Thoreau’s tomorrow. I suppose I ought to plan that lesson.