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First day freak out

The poor kid asked me outside the classroom shortly before class started. He shifted on his feet and plunged his hands into his pockets and back out. He himmed and hawed, cough nervously and called me “sir.”

“I’m going to drop the class after we get done today,” he said.

“So, what are you doing here now?” I didn’t mean to be a jerk, but if he was getting out, why did he come?

“I thought I you had to show up for the first day of class.”

It was then that I knew he was new in college. He didn’t know how to conduct himself or what to do. I calmed him by asking him what was up. I told him not to be afraid. Everything was on the table, any problem he had we would fix.

“I’m afraid that this class is too much for me,” he said. “I mean, the reading . . . “ I had sent the syllabus for the class to the students a few days early so they could get to purchasing their books. He had seen the reading list and freaked out.

“Listen,” I said, “this class is a readings course. That means that literature primarily drives the learning arc of the class. The major thing we will do is discuss the readings. As a matter of fact, most of your grade comes from discussions of the reading. What else are you taking?”

He told me he was taking his foreign language credit, biology, and calculous, along with our class, Western Civilization: Scientific Revolution to the Modern Age.

That’s a chunk for a new student. He would have to put his head down and work. My class includes readings from fourteen books. Students write four papers of four to five pages each. They participate in two discussions a week. They sit in small groups developing discussion topics for a larger group conversation. I assess students on the quality of their discussion contributions, how they reflect the individual students understanding of the readings themselves.

This Western Civ class has everything for a nerd like me. Rousseau, Locke, Emerson, Weber, Shelley, Darwin, Marx, Woolf, Remarque, Camus, and more. (If you don’t know who some of those authors and thinkers are, my class is for you.) We deal with science, philosophy, race, rights, sex, and morality. The church and religion are involved. Intellectual and social earthquakes show up in the course.

To me, it’s fascinating, just the kind of class I wish I could have had in college. I had a few undergraduate seminars but in other subjects not nearly as interesting.

“What other class are you thinking about taking instead?” I asked.

“I don’t know yet.” His fidgeting was fading. He stood still.

“I teach an American History class that uses just one textbook,” I said. “I don’t know what your schedule is, but my class meets at 8 a.m. You might want to think about that. It’s an easier class. It’ll be work, but it’s not as reading intensive as this one.”

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if I should get out of this class and take another. I don’t know if it’s possible, I mean.”

“Sure, it’s possible,” I said. “Everything’s possible the first week of school. It’s the way college works. People move around like they’re playing musical chairs for the first week. You can join in too. You just need to talk to admissions or your counselor or whomever. I’m sure you can find all this out with a few questions at the Student Center.”

I told the kid, as I would later tell this Western Civ class was a difficult, college-level course that would prepare them for further study any four-year college or university. I expect them to read the texts; participate in discussion; and complete all written work to the best of their abilities.

He stood there in the lobby of the small classroom building. He tried to smile.

“Well, I’ll sit through this class and see.”

“Good work,” I said. “But I don’t want you to think about swallowing the whole course or the readings all at once. You will have assigned readings every week. You just need to think about this one week at a time. One week after the other. If you try to gulp down the whole course at once, you will fail. You can read three or four hours a week, though, I’m sure you can.”

“When you put it like that, it sounds easier.”

“Just a little every week. I guarantee that, except for the novels, you will only have to read, at most, 250 pages.”

The kid stood there another minute. He had settled down some. My aspect, I think, calmed him down. With long hair, casual dress, and a straightforward and unthreatening presentation, I don’t really scare anyone. At least, I don’t think so.

“Take in the introduction we’ll do today,” I said. “We’ll go through the syllabus and I’ll give you a rundown of the readings and the subjects of the week’s lectures. See what you think after you get through this.”

We went back in the room at just the time to start. There were eight students, including the kid I had just talked to in the lobby. I was suddenly unsure of myself. Would any of these kids, and they were all kids, make it through the class? Usually, the people who take the class have had some college experience. They come from other universities, using the community college to get their undergrad requirements out of the way on the cheap.

But these were just children. Only one struck me a ready for the work ahead. He had his head in the first book we were reading. He had printed the syllabus and had it in a folder. His notebook was open on his desk and he held a pen at the ready.

Screw it, I said. I’ll lose some of them, I’m sure. They will get into the class and find out that it’s just not for them. But if they stuck to it, if they read even a fraction of the readings and gave the papers and discussions a decent go, they would walk out with more than they came with. They would hit the halls of the college or any college or university ready for anything that came their way.

We have our second class tomorrow. I get to lecture on the New Intellectual Order. The Renaissance began to disconnect God from society. As this progressed, thinking in philosophy and science led us toward a world where secular, democratic society could develop. The church began to be segregated from the corporeal body. It set in motion the forces that would create modern capitalism, social relations, and morality.

We’ll see if the kid returns. My explanation of the readings, the subjects we would approach, and the coursework may have intrigued the him. I had treated him like an adult. That might make him feel, at least when it comes to this class, that he is one. I know that if he makes it through this class, he will find the rest of his college career, in the humanities, at least, much more fun and easy.

History 126, Western Civilization: Scientific Revolution to the Modern Age

MWF, 10-10:50 a.m.

Dr. Patrick Dobson

Office hours, 9-9:50, MWF, OCB 261 J

Course Description:

This readings and discussion course focuses upon the major ideas, theories and personalities that have contributed to the development of Western Civilization.

Course Objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course the student should be able to:

  1. Identify and describe the major historical periods ofmodern Western Civilization.
  2. Identify, describe, and evaluate some of the major contributions ofimportant thinkers to Western philosophy, literature, history, and
  3. Trace the institutional development of race in society and its influences on law, culture, and religion.
  4. Describe the development of technology and its influences on Western Civilization.
  5. Describe the political, economic and social structures of modern democracy and explain the values reflected in the modern and postmodern outlook.
  6. Evaluate the Enlightenment, Colonization, and Industrial Revolution as points of transition in modern society.
  7. Demonstrate critical thinking skills—analysis, synthesis, application and evaluation with informed opinion—in oral and written form.

This is a difficult, college-level course that will prepare you for further study any four-year college or university. I expect you to read the texts; participate in discussion; and complete all written work to the best of your ability.

My advice:

  1. Keep up with required readings.
  2. Read carefully, as discussions and papers demand your comprehension of the texts.
  3. Get started with required readings early.
  4. Know how to write an essay.
  5. Do all assigned work.

I guarantee that you will find your grade easier to earn if you follow this advice. I want to see you succeed in this class and with your further college career. I am willing to do whatever is my power to help you in this adventure. (See my E-mail address above.) Pay attention to your E-mail and refer to this syllabus regularly.

I may change some due dates on the class schedule listed below but I will give you ample notice (3-5 days). I also reserve the right and ability to alter any aspect of this syllabus. Again, I will give you plenty of notice for these alterations.

Required Books:

Rousseau, Discourse on the Nature of Inequality, Hackett, 1992

Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Hackett

Bernasconi, The Idea of Race, Hackett

Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays, Dover

Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Pearson

Shelley, Frankenstein, Penguin

Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Broadview

Marx, Selected Writings, Hackett

Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, HBC

Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Zamyatin, We, Harper

Fanin, Wretched of the Earth, Perseus

Camus, The Plague, Penguin

Evaluation and Grading:

Students will be evaluated on their performance in class discussion and on four three- to four- page papers, each of which deal with one or more works and incorporating ideas presented in lecture.

Discussion: Attendance is critical, as 60 percent of your final grade will be based on discussion. I will take attendance at every class session. We will devote one or more class sessions each week to discussion. Every unexcused absence will result in zero points for that day. Students are allowed no more than two absences during the semester. Students missing class due to religious observance, jury duty, or due to illness or personal emergencies must inform me either through email or telephone, prior to missing class. If you have to leave class early for any reason, other than a sudden emergency, you must let me know that you will be leaving before class begins.

Discussion Grade: Discussion grades will be determined in the following manner: 1) each student will be required to prepare ten (10) discussion questions for each session. These should be written based on substantive issues or queries that arise during reading. The questions should be accompanied by quotes or references from the texts; 2) each student will lead at least one discussion during the course; leading discussion entails being prepared with thought-provoking questions to initiate and facilitate general discussion; 3) each student will participate in both small and large group discussion. Each of these factors will each represent 1/3 of the final discussion grade.

Discussion questions should be typed and handed to me after class discussion.

Discussion will be graded on knowledge of the readings, interaction and clarification of questions, use of analytical skills, applying readings to historical and contemporary themes and ideas, as well as the influence of these ideas on Western Civilization. You should also be able to synthesize different ideas and show how they relate to each other. Try to connect common themes from different works and authors covered on the weekly assignments.

I will keep a discussion grading log that notes contributions by each student and assigns points on the basis of how many times the student enters into discussion, but, more particularly, on the relative quality of contributions.

Outside of leading a session, be prepared to participate at least three (3) to four (4) times per discussion. Attempt to develop a dialogue with other students. Build on the comments of others in the natural course of discussion.

Points for Discussion:

Discussion Questions: max. 10 points per week (10 percent of final grade)

Small Group: max. 10 points per week (large and small group discussions are 30 percent of your final grade)

Large Group: max. 10 points per week

Discussion Lead: max. 50 points (ten questions not required with lead; only a few starter questions are necessary; 10 percent of your final grade).

Final discussion: max. 10 points (10 percent of your final grade)

Papers: There will be four papers due during the term. The papers should integrate lecture material and textual analysis. All papers should be presented in essay form, with a focused thesis, a body of evidence to support the thesis, and a conclusion. The essays will be graded on the following criteria: knowledge of the material, analysis of ideas, synthesis of major themes, and clarity of written expression. Each paper is worth 10 percent of your final grade.

More specifically, your essays should analyze two or more of the texts we have read before the due date of the paper. They should integrate at least one or two points brought up in lecture. An essay, to repeat, has an introduction with a narrow and focused thesis, a body of evidence (including quotes and citations) supporting the thesis, and a conclusion that adds any relevant observations or points of discussion.

All papers should be double spaced with 1-inch margins.

The paper due dates are as follows:

First paper, September 13, Discourse on the Nature of Inequality, Letter Concerning Toleration, The Idea of Race, Self-Reliance and Other Essays

Second paper, October 11, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismSelected Writings, On the Origin of Species, The Idea of Race

Third paper, November 8, Frankenstein, A Room of One’s Own, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Idea of Race

Fourth paper, December 6, We, Wretched of the Earth, The Plague, The Idea of Race

I will accept late work on the first three papers. They will be assessed a penalty of one grade step. (That is, if the paper would have earned an A if turned in on time, that paper will receive a B; if a B, then it will receive a C; and so on.) Due to my work load, I cannot accept the fourth paper late. It must be in by December 6.

Each paper is worth 10 percent of your final grade. The four papers represent 40 percent of the final grade.

Points for papers

I will determine your grade on the papers based on the depth of your understanding of the texts you use for your essays, the ways that you can relate the readings to the lectures, and your ability to express your insights.

Grading Scale: A=90-100 percent




F=Less than 60

Writing for this class

Writing matters. All writing assignments in this class require you to write essays. I cannot teach you essay writing or grammar—and both are important. Getting the writing right is your work and your grade depends on it. You must write clearly, logically, and thoughtfully. You must abide by the basic rules of grammar, spelling, and word choice. Visit the Writing Center ( if you want help with writing class essays. If you take the Writing Center staff solid drafts of your essays, they will help you refine them before you turn them in for a grade.

Turn in all late papers, even though late work suffers a penalty of one grade step. While I accept late work on the first three papers, I cannot accept your final paper after December 6.

While I take late reading responses, missed assignments receive a zero grade. Plagiarized or copied assignments receive a zero and may result in academic disciplinary action.

Students with Disabilities: If you are a student with a disability, and if you will be requesting accommodations, it is your responsibility to contact Student Services. Student Services will recommend any appropriate accommodations to your instructor and his director. The instructor and director will identify which accommodations will be arranged.

Academic Honesty: Plagiarism or any form of cheating will result in a grade of Zero for that piece of work. This policy can be found in the student handbook.

Disruptive Behavior

There is a discussion forum for this class. As a matter of historical inquiry, we will discuss rights, race, religion, politics, morality, sex, and other difficult subjects. Our discussions of these matters will remain academic, professional, and honest.

So that we have an open and safe arena for discussion of these subjects, I do not tolerate disruptive, aggressive, sexist, racist, or disrespectful behavior. I will dismiss from this class anyone who engages in any of these behaviors in either written or face-to-face situations.

Physically aggressive or sexually inappropriate behavior, and/or implication of either in physical or written form are grounds for immediate dismissal from this class, as well as any academic disciplinary action pertaining to the behavior.

If you feel that you are the subject of harassment or aggression of any kind at any time in this class, please E-mail me immediately so that JCCC and I can address the problems and apply the appropriate remedies.

No cell phone usage is allowed in this class. If you feel you cannot stay away from your cell phone for an hour, please seek professional, psychological help.

Course schedule

8/21: Introduction, Syllabus Overview. Enlightenment. Discourse on the Nature of Inequality, The Idea of Race (“Classification of Races,” 1-22). 

8/28: Modern Self and Social Relations. Letter Concerning Toleration (Continue The Idea of Race, “Classification of Races,” 23-44) 

9/4: Transcendentalism, Self-Reliance and Other Essays (“Self-Reliance”)

9/11: Development of Race as Social Construct, The Idea of Race (“Science and Eugenics” and “Heredity and Culture”)

9/18: Roots of Capitalism, The Protestant Ethic (Parts I and II)

9/25: Industrial Revolution and Capitalism’s Ends, Selected Writings (“The Jewish Question,” “Economic Writings”), The Idea of Race (“Race and Political Ideology)

10/2: Intellectual Earthquake, On the Origin of Species (Chapters 1, 3-4, 6, 9, 13, 15)

10/9: Technology and Modern Society, Frankenstein

10/16: Catch up and discussion

10/23: Women in Modern Society, A Room of One’s Own

10/30: The Failure of Western Civilization? All Quiet on the Western Front

11/6: Racial Identity, The Idea of Race (“Racial Identity”)

11/13: Colonialism, We

11/20: Post Colonialism and Post Modernism, Wretched of the Earth 

11/27: Postwar Angst, The Plague

12/4: Catch-up/Wrap-up.

12/13: Final discussion, 8-10:50 a.m.

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