Prompt: Should a University have a class on the Red Sox? If so, who should take it?

Cute quote,  but this class on the New York Yankees, started in response to a class on the Red Sox, is probably still a waste of time and money:

“From World War II through the turn of the century, the Yankees were the dominant cultural icon of this country,” says Mr. Curtis. “Nobody can deny that.” Citing the team’s 26 championships and 13 World Series defeats, he adds: “The American experience is about tremendous wins and heartbreaking losses, and the Yankees give us both. … The American experience isn’t only about losing a bunch of times and being mediocre the rest.”

Look, I’ll be the first to say that offering classes on seemingly trivial things isn’t the worst idea. What you’re aiming for in a real education is for people to figure out where good questions lie, and be able to talk about a number of things intelligently and thoughtfully.

But I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t feel this wasn’t a symptom of just how far we’ve fallen. I mean, you guys are seeing me blog what might be a semester’s worth of material in a post or two compared to what’s going on in most courses. And I’m going out of my way to make the past relevant, not just feeding off of what people already pay too much attention to, i.e. commercial baseball teams purporting to represent big cities  even though they’re staffed by free agents from all over the world.

I don’t want to make this a “me” vs. “them” battle. I want to raise the question of curriculum instead: How much should one know, or be working on, or have expected of them before they go take a class on the Red Sox and Yankees? Some of you probably want to weigh on whether this class should exist or not: given that I’d probably teach Alan Moore’s graphic novel “The Killing Joke” and pair it with Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus,” I’m a bit ambivalent about getting into that debate, but you’re welcome to say something.

Btw, if you’re a student and thinking of taking one of these sorts of courses, I do encourage you to reconsider for this reason: you’re better off just not having a course in that time slot at all, and using your free time to go to the library or museums or just chill. During the semester, because of the pace of the work, the more free time you have the better.


  1. Wow, I don’t know what to say other than How Stupid, but I don’t wanna say that, so….

    Why??!?!?! I guess this could be like one of those continuing ed classes people take like potter or salsa dancing or whatever- for “grown” people to take when they’re bored. Only, I doubt highly that’s how it’s being used.

  2. There’s really no reasonable standard for what a college course is supposed to accomplish. People graduate and then proceed to start careers in fields that are completely unrelated to their majors.

    It seems strange that, for example, a stock trading firm would choose, for example, someone who graduated with a history major over someone who never went to college. I don’t really see the point in saying “oh, I see that you spent four years being unproductive and unrelated, so I assume that you’ll be a valuable asset to this firm.”

  3. @ Ben:

    Coming from somebody who is both a history and economics major, maybe that’s because what has been lost (thankfully not completely) was the idea that a certain method was being given to the student through the classroom that was supposed to arm them with the ability to evaluate, pick apart, pull together, and reason at a high level, and so chose to present the student with the hard texts, difficult problems, and great thinkers that could translate to the broker’s firm. Oh, and this type of study is suppoosseedd to be an end in and of itself.

    The attitude that you or I should be getting a skill is understandable — we pay lots of cash for this — but getting ready for the broker is not education. That’s vocational learning, flat and simple, I encounter my share of it in the business school, and I see it as the least important to my future and my self.

  4. @thag

    So in that instance, there’s no point in discussing whether or not the Red Sox are important enough to be worth learning in a college course. If college isn’t about what you learn so much as how you learn, then it doesn’t matter at all what they’re teaching you. The knowledge gained is irrelevant and it’s really just an excuse to make the students do something difficult.

    That’s an interesting way to sidestep the question that this article asks.

  5. You’re right, I should have addressed something other than the question you personally raised. But…I actually did. When I said the difficult problems, the hard texts, and the great thinkers, I should have qualified that, so I am sorry.

    Thucydides belongs in the classroom.
    John Locke belongs in the classroom.
    Homer belongs in the classroom.
    Frederick Douglass belongs in the classroom.
    Abraham Lincoln belongs in the classroom.
    You want flashy business stuff? Read Smith, Marx, Keynes, whatever.

    I should probably, then, spell out for you that this isn’t all-inclusive or something.

    People usually get touchy when you say something doesn’t — there are degrees to this and I’m no great mind, but to some degree you can pull out the b.s.

  6. And by the way, you misrepresent what I say by claiming my stance is that “it’s not what you learn, but how you learn.” I did bring this up, but more to address the notion that nothing from the university crosses into the real world.

    But what you miss is this: I also noted that learning in the liberal tradition is good in and of itself — you try to wrap your mind around this crazy world and make some sense out of your life. Do the Red Sox fit into this mix? Answer that one for yourself.

  7. If the course on the Red Sox taught the students how to think logically and how to compose valid argument using relevant research, then perhaps it might find a place in a university.
    But I doubt that it would.
    Having taught Brit. Lit. since 1984, I can conclude that my role was not to inculcate American students with any intrinsic adherence to British Literature models in their day-to-day existence. I was encouraging undergraduates to think clearly, period.

  8. I could probably figure out a way to write a few good papers about the Red Sox, but in general I feel that the topic would be too narrow for a class. Maybe if it was a class on baseball’s significance and development in Boston, or something of the sort.

  9. Actually, there’s an entire SCHOOL for Red Sox fans. Not really, but there’s a funny book called “Red Sox University.” It is like a mock textbook that covers like a dozen topics you’d find at a university, but makes it about the team. There’s real facts in there and some made up stuff, but it fills almost 200 pages.

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