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Designing My Own Curriculum

A few weeks ago I came across this article, A College Curriculum on Your Bookshelf, and it’s really stuck in my brain. Students have swarmed back to Williamsburg, and truly, seeing them in cafes with books propped opened makes me ache for school. No, it’s not that I want to be 20 again (although I wouldn’t say no to that) or live in a college setting—I miss being in classes. I miss the loosely structured learning environment, and after reading this article, I thought that perhaps I could design a curriculum for myself.
A nerd to the core, I loved the education part of my college education. It was thrilling to get new classes each semester, to study the course catalogue descriptions and get a sneak peak at a book list or a syllabus. Because I was an English major, a lot of my work load felt like reading for pleasure.
I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a lifelong academic (you should see the tweed blazer with suede elbow patches I’ve got in my closet), but so far, it hasn’t come to fruition. Plus, I’ve written curriculum for high school classes and for a college counseling program, and it’s tedious—numerous detailed objectives to reach, checks for understanding along the way, and minimal time to get it all done.
But designing a curriculum for self education is definitely worth it, and something I’ve already done. In college, my favorite professors encouraged voracious reading whenever a subject piqued my interest, even if it was off syllabus; in fact, one of my professors often said that the most important part of being a writer was being an excellent reader. I’m going to be reading books anyway, and I can certainly challenge myself to create a “curriculum” to follow with some of my selections. I often set reading goals as part of my New Year’s resolutions, and this year, I wanted to read one classic or canonized piece of literature a month. I fell off target pretty fast, but I think if I approached it as designing a syllabus for myself, I could do a better job sticking to it.
As for a starting point, one of my top contenders is American Identity, stemming from a ready-made booklist in the article The United States of Books in Entertainment Weekly. Since it’s got 50 books listed, it’ll be more like a yearlong independent tutorial than a semester course, but I think I can cross off the ones I’ve already read and it’ll be manageable. Plus, it includes some classics that I missed in my formal education, meaning I have a chance to salvage my resolution from January!
(The article isn’t available online, but I snapped a picture of the map by Peter Oumanski from the Sept. 4 issue of the magazine)
What class would you create for yourself? What would you put on the syllabus?