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Monday, October 30, 2006

Unsung Stem Cells 

Not that any of the pundits are paying much attention, but post natal stem cells continue to lead the way in new health care discoveries and cures (note, that to date, not a single actual cure has come from embryonic stem cells.
British scientists have grown the world's first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant...Described as a 'Eureka moment' by the Newcastle University researchers, the tissue was created from blood taken from babies' umbilical cords just a few minutes after birth.

They go on to mention that, while a full grown liver is still in the future, the miniature one is functioning, and will be used as an accurate means to test new drugs. This is revolutionary, and should be rightly heralded as a turning point in the development of safe, ethical medical treatments using non-embryonic stem cells. Somehow, however, I feel like Michal J. may have missed the memo.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Decline of Western Education? 

The point of the Western Civilization sequence is to nurture this sense of a living and continuous tradition of the West. That cannot be accomplished by a classicist assigning extra Cicero in a specialized course on ancient history. It can only be accomplished by a sequence of courses that connect Cicero, Machiavelli, and Tocqueville, a sequence taken in common by sufficient numbers of students to spark real discussion and debate, even outside of class. It is this sense of shared tradition that is being lost here, and that is what this debate over Chicago's curriculum changes is really about.


Stanley Kurtz, over at National Review, wrote those words in 2002 about the changes that were made to the Core curriculum here at Chicago, mainly the specialization and decomposition of the Western Civilizations Sequence. Flash forward, and it appears that "Great Books" rival Harvard is taking steps backward on the same front. According to the Boston Globe, Harvard will be making American History once again a requirement for graduation (a requirement, I must note, that is notably absent here at Chicago). Kurtz is on the topic again, however, and he isn't impressed.

Personally, I think he is right to be weary of such superficially "conservative" core adjustments, in lieu of more substantial progress, but at the same time I think Conservative academics, in general, need to take their victories where they can. The very emphasis on History at all, albeit still with its faults ("Health Care in the United States: A Comparative Perspective"???), at least opens the possibility of previously unheard discussion and debate on topics that drive the contemporary political debate, and form the basis of American, and Western, Civilization. As the left knows very well, you can't lose a fight your refuse to join. Judging from the student quotes, I'd say this is only the beginning of some needed reform:
"It seems to be about fears about the Middle East and the need to learn science so we can create better weapons to maintain American supremacy," said [Jenny] Tsai, a social studies major.

Putting aside the fact that the proposed changes are in the humanities, not the hard sciences, Tsai unwittingly reveals the sad, partisan state of affairs at Harvard. Let's hope this change is the first of many, for her sake at least.

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