Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

What Are Folks in Institutions of “Higher Education” Reading?


I know the visitor map on this site (down, on the left, in the side-bar {if you’re not on your phone…}) shows folks coming here from all over the world; yet, still, most of my traffic is here with me in the USA.

So, for those folks from other places on our planet, I hope knowing about something in my country can translate into a valuable perspective in your country

The “top”, “most respected” institutions of “Higher Education” in the USA are called the “Ivy League“.

What that term means certainly isn’t only the ivy that may be growing on the walls of buildings at certain Eastern institutions known for “‘academic excellence’, selectivity in admissions, and a reputation for social elitism”—check out that last link—but, these places do exist and people attend them and many of them become quite influential in American politics and business.

So, there’s an article on The Washington Post that addresses What Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t.

While I urge anyone to go read the full article, I’ll excerpt a few bits of it:

“If you want an Ivy League education, you could fork over $200 grand or so and go to Cornell or Harvard for four years. Alternatively, you could save a ton of cash by simply reading the same books Ivy League students are assigned.”

Then, they reference the Open Syllabus Explorer, a database of about a decades-worth of books assigned in over a million college courses in the USA.

Another excerpt:

“There’s an ‘intellectual judgment embedded’ in the lists of books college students are required to read. The most frequently-assigned books at the nation’s universities are essentially our canon: the body of literature that society’s leaders are expected to be familiar with.”

There are a number of fascinating charts and a very cool map in the article that are worth checking out (if you have any interest in “higher education” in the USA…).

But, I want to share a few comparisons:

While, in all the schools in the database, the top three most-assigned books were The Elements of Style, The Republic, and Campbell Biology,  the top three most-assigned in the Ivy League were The Republic, The Clash of Civilizations, and The Elements of Style.

The full article has a graph with the top ten in each category

Then, they compare the top ten most-assigned English Literature books.

The top three for all the schools are Frankenstein, Canterbury Tales, and Paradise Lost.

For the Ivy League schools, they are Canterbury TalesParadise Lost, and Persuasion.

Again, the article has the top ten.

And, I should mention that The Open Syllabus Explorer shows Many more than ten in each category

Two more brief excerpts:

“The folks who built the Open Syllabus Explorer are the first to admit that their data are incomplete and likely contain a fair number of errors.”

“Still, with more than 1 million syllabi in the database, it’s currently the best approximation we have for what students are actually reading in college — and for the books that are informing the leaders of tomorrow.”

So Two questions:

If you went to an institution of “higher education” were you assigned any of these books?

And, if you’re from a country other than the USA, did this post have value for you?

>>> EDIT after publication: I tried to replicate what The Washington Post gave for the top assigned books to Ivy League students in the data base

I don’t really know how they got the results they reported

Perhaps it’s best to stick to what is presented directly in the Open Syllabus Explorer

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