Freshman course asks 'Is American Progress a Myth?'
A new seminar for the spring semester at Dickinson College questions if America has progressed as a nation.
“The history of the United States is often taught – and learned – as though the country evolved over time to become among the most just, fair and equitable nations in the world,” reads the course description.
Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania offers as one option for its First-Year Seminars course requirement a seminar that seeks to have college students question the idea of America's progression as a nation since its founding.
The seminar, titled “Is American Progress a Myth?,” is taught by history professor Say Burgin, and looks to have students compare topics of race and inequality to determine whether America has improved over time or if it has remained the same.
The First-Year Seminar component at Dickinson is mandatory for all incoming freshmen, but students can choose from a variety of courses, including "Is American Progress a Myth," to satisfy this requirement.
According to Dickinson's website, the seminar teaches students "habits of mind that will enable you to participate in the community of inquiry..." In the seminar, students are taught skills such as how to critically analyze information and how to examine issues from multiple perspectives, the college states in the online overview of the program.
“The history of the United States is often taught – and learned – as though the country evolved over time to become among the most just, fair and equitable nations in the world,” reads Burgin’s seminar description. “But what if the US hasn’t progressed in many ways? What if history does not perpetually lead to improvement?”
Students in the seminar will be exposed to source material such as a rug that former President Barack Obama had woven for his oval office, the debunked 1619 Project, Martin Luther King, Jr., and former Communist Party leader Angela Davis. It will also include secondary sources on economic issues like “wages, wealth inequalities and union membership; the civil rights of LGBTQ and Black Americans; and health outcomes and disparities.”
The description of the seminar concludes by stating at the completion of the course, students will be asking themselves if American progress is real.
“We’ll finish the class by considering whether or not the idea that the US history is marked by progress, by things getting better for most people, is a myth or a reality or something in between,” the description reads. “If it is a myth, what or who does it serve?”
Burgin is currently in the process of writing a novel that looks into the “myth” that Black Power oversaw the wholesale ejection of White individuals from the movement. Her past work includes a piece that examines gendering in antiwar activism during the Vietnam war and an essay examining race within the women’s liberation movement.
Normally, students are given the choice of 40 seminars and are asked to rank their top five choices to be placed into, according to Dickinson’s website. However, for 2021 seminars, there are only six options, and the school did not clarify if the same rules would apply in seminar placement.
Dickinson did not respond in time for publication.
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