National Collegiate Honors Council


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Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


Chronologically presented courses that span centuries often catalyze unwitting buy-in to unexamined narratives of progress. While useful for helping students make connections between the human past, present, and future, Great Books honors curricula like the one used at the University of Maine have a few inherent problems that require careful navigation. Both students and faculty tend to discard—or misinterpret—the values, cultural products, and successes of older cultures in favor of newer ones. Instead of valuing the uniqueness of a foreign place and time, we often emphasize transformation for the sake of narrative coherence in a program that needs focus to bring heterogeneous elements together. At times, such a curriculum seems to imply that previous civilizations came into being only to create modern culture as we know it, a fallacy that can have a negative impact on students’ learning and the general tenor of cultural and historical sensitivity in an honors college. As an honors faculty member trained as a medievalist, I have developed strategies for avoiding a teleological approach to the Great Books curriculum, offering several exercises and resources to help teachers and students avoid the pitfalls of an unexamined teleological approach. These curricular supplements and exercises call out implicit teleological narratives at important junctures, staging interventions in our linear process of thinking, learning, and teaching.