I would like to teach a Freshman college course. I would name it, “Essential Tools,” and it would center around three texts:
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter.
Guns, Germs, and Steel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, Gödel, Escher, Bach in 1980. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize and Thinking, Fast and Slow summarizes much of his earlier work.
The course “concept” would be “Who are we, and how did we get this way?” It’s not political, and would puncture much of what pretends to be political discussion. It’s not religious, and would be rejected by fundamentalists of any religion. And it’s not Philosophy, because it talks about things we understand.
There are other great books out there, of course. I won’t name any other favorites because every time I bring this idea up in conversation, other people immediately provide their own list. There are obviously too many “essential texts” for any of them to be essential. This is mine.
I lament that I seem to be as old as I am, that I feel as if humility has been replaced by entitlement, that thoughtful discussion seems quaint, that ideas that take more than 140 characters to “articulate” are boring, that “reality TV” does not offend, that compromise is thought of as surrender, that “on-message” is more important than governing, that “news” has been replaced by opinion in a media war of words where “truth” is collateral damage, that I am living in a declining culture that has given so much to the world.
In teaching this course, I’d hope to give a sense that some of the ideas we hold most sacred are fictions that we have been told, and that we tell ourselves: useful, satisfying and false. I’d hope to call out those assumptions we regard as absolutes, and create a sense of wonder.
I’d hope that one student, somewhere, would be able to make a difference, do what I’ve never done.