Should professors provide trigger warnings for literature?


According to a recent article published in the NYTimes, student governments at several major American universities are calling for trigger warnings for rape, violence and other sensitive material to be placed on syllabi, forewarning students who may be upset by such depictions in the literature and media read and discussed in class. And they aren’t talking about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Works proposed for trigger warnings include popular tenants of the western literary canon such as The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare and ancient Greek myths. The concept of trigger warnings, rooted in feminist thought, has gained traction on social media sites. Students in favor of adapting the idea for the classroom argue that it would provide “explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans”.

However, many professors find the movement ludicrous, arguing that trigger warnings “suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace”. Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, even suggests that the idea is detrimental to academic freedom. Hajjar, who believes that the graphic depictions of torture she uses in her courses about war are essential, says, “Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

Let us know how you feel about the debate!

Taking Notes By Hand is More Effective Than By Laptop


A recent study conducted by UCLA researchers Daniel Oppenheimer and Pam Mueller found that traditional handwritten notes are far more effective than notes taken on a laptop or other electronic device. In their experiment, students took notes by hand or on a laptop while watching a video lecture. They were then quizzed, “either after 30 minutes of difficult problem solving or a week’s time”. The students who took notes by hand outperformed those who took notes on a laptop. The researchers believe that the desire to write down the lecture word-for-word without analyzing the content is what led laptop note takers astray.

To many people, a laptop is the clear choice of note-taking device because it allows them to take down more of what the speaker is saying. But according to UCLA researchers Oppenheimer and Mueller, the temptation to capture everything we’re listening to might actually be the biggest issue with typed notation.

“We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” Mueller tells The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. “The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down.”

In other words: Transcribing on a laptop in real-time may lead to verbatim notes, but doing so means you spend less time processing the lecture, and more time focusing on typing.

Read the full article here and let us know if you agree or disagree.


A work in progress

A personal thought to those finishing the Core this semester: you are a work in progress.

by Miko Dimov

by Miko Dimov

We were recently chatting with Christopher McMullen, a Core alum and Academic Adviser, and the conversation winded down to how the Core Curriculum merely reveals the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg – an introductory course on life. Core students are being taught how to fish.

In the Baines Report, Core alum Peter La Fountain writes on empathy and leadership, and discusses Jimmy Carter’s comments on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act:

Difficult truths are hard to reconcile with the way we see our society. We want to be optimistic about ourselves, and we should be proud of the strides our country has made. We are an increasingly diverse and welcoming nation, one that has expanded opportunity and liberty, and we consciously strive to be an inspiration for the rest of the world. Yet even on our best days, we should see our nation as a work in progress. If we take a moment to remember the underserved, we may start to question our idling assumptions that the ship of state is doing all it can.

While the article focusses on the importance of retaining empathic priorities in policy-making, it also serves to remind those of us who feel we are passing a threshold, or leaving one period of our life to enter a new one… even on our best days, we are a work in progress.

Keep up the great work, and keep the fire blazing!

The Challenges of Coping with Chronic Illness while in Higher Education

College classes and living on one’s own for the first time is stressful. Imagine having to cope with a chronic illness at the same time.

In a recent article published in Cognoscenti, Laurie Edwards goes over the challenges that face college students suffering from chronic illness in today’s tertiary education system. While services for students with accommodations for students with visible disabilities are becoming increasingly available, chronic illnesses like Crohn’s Disease and Lupus are often invisible and little understood by the general public. Suffers of chronic illness, who are increasing, are often forced to miss long periods of class. Accommodating for this has been surprisingly difficult for many college campuses. The author writes:

How do we accommodate students who can’t make it to class for longer stretches, have frequent medical appointments or disruptive hospital stays, or whose medications may make them drowsy or fatigued even when they are present?

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Borges! Studied for the first time in CC202

For the first time, CC202 is studying Jorge Luis Borges, and his story The Immortal. Here is a short excerpt from the introduction of our edition, with an epigraph by Francis Bacon:

The immortalA recent article of interest discusses a stolen first edition of Borges’ first poems. It was supposedly returned to Argentina’s National Library, but there are suspicions that it may have been… the wrong copy. A mystery!

Rx Books

In the past year, Great Britain’s National Health Service has launched a new “Books on Prescription” program for people suffering from anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health problems. As an alternative to traditional pharmaco- or psycho- therapy, doctors are now recommending self-help books to patients to equip them with the skills to lift themselves out of their illnesses. Read More »

Ibn al-Haytham on Scientific Methodology


Egyptian scientist, Ibn al-Haytham (AD 950-1040), is hailed as the father of modern optics and experimental physics. Also, he’s apparently one of the first to make a statement on scientific methodology:

The seeker after truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration and not the sayings of human beings whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of of its content, attack it from every side. he should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.

Read the original article here.

Daodejing & bright vs. dark

This semester, CC102 has delved into the Daodejing and all the wonderful concepts it illuminates.

Andrew Klufas, a student in Professor Nelson’s class, sent in an video of interest: What’s The Brightest Thing in the Universe? It’s creator, Vsauce, makes popular and informative videos on Youtube.

Here, we see how Core Science meets Core Humanities:

There is Yin and Yang again… the brightest things in the universe, quasars, are caused by the darkest things in the universe, black holes. The process that unshackles the most light is caused by the thing that best imprisons it.

The full video is certainly worth a watch:

Thoughts? Comment below!

Dante saving lives

Illustration by Michael Hogue. source:

Illustration by Michael Hogue. source:

Students of CC102 will remember the Divine Comedy as an exciting read, but also as the story of a man much older than most students. Dante deals, in a way, with his midlife crisis.

In The American Conservative, Rob Dreher writes an article about how, at the age of 46, depressed and aimless, he read the Divine Comedy. In Dante’s tale of of psychological crisis, Dreher found a way out of his own depression:

Killing time in a Barnes & Noble one hot south Louisiana afternoon, I opened a copy of Dante’s Inferno, the first of his Divine Comedy trilogy, and read these words (the translation I cite in this essay is by Robert and Jean Hollander):

Midway in the journey of our life

I came to myself in a dark wood,

For the straight way was lost.

I read on in that first canto, or chapter, and stood with Dante the pilgrim as wild beasts—allegories of sin—cut off all routes out of the terrifying wood. Then, to the frightened Dante’s aid, comes the Roman poet Virgil:

‘It is another path that you must follow,’

he answered, when he saw me weeping,

‘if you would flee this wild and savage place.’

So Dante follows Virgil—and I followed Dante. I did not know it in that moment, but those were the first steps of a journey that would lead me through this incomparable 14th-century poem—all 14,233 lines in 100 cantos—through the pits of Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory, beyond space and time to the zenith of Paradise—and out of my own dark wood of depression.

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Classical Self-Help

Please read Rod Dreher’s piece, How Dante Saved My Life, for the March/April 2014 issue of The American Conservative. It is a beautiful reminder that the works on a canonical reading list are not only politically and philosophically applicable, but are often also spiritually and personally invaluable.  Read More »