Foun105: Foundations Sequence II

Spring Semester, 2000
Coordinator: Dr. Jim Dalton
Office: Clare Center, 2nd floor
Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 8:30-9:30
                      Wednesday 8:30-11:30 and by appointment
Office Phone:  783-4235
E-mail: dalton (

Foundations Sequence: A Description

The Foundations Sequence is a two semester course that is taken sequentially by first year students. It is designed to introduce them to intellectual and academic life by engaging students and faculty in the exploration of selected texts, (written, visual, musical, and dramatic), chosen from a variety of cultural milieu and expressing a variety of perspectives. Exploration of these texts will stimulate critical analysis of what it is to be human: to be living in a fragile physical world, in a diverse society and a complex network of societies, and to enter into various world views, or ways of making sense of the world. The course uses important classic and contemporary texts to illuminate questions which are important to first year students and which help them make some connections between their experience and the traditions created by thinkers and artists of the past and present.

A sense of community is an essential element of Siena's identity, and this course grounds that sense of community in the proper mission of a liberal arts college, empowering students to become sophisticated lifelong learners able to participate intelligently in a complex civic life.

Assorted photocopied material as class handouts.

Balakian, Peter. Black Dog of Fate. NY: Broadway Books, 1998.

Byrom, Thomas. Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1993.

Gould, Stephen Jay. Full House: The Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin. NY: Three Rivers Press, 1996.

Guignon, Charles B. Dostoevsky: The Grand Inquisitor with related chapters from The Brothers Karamazov. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.

Guinier, Lani. Selections.

Handouts in class.

The Holy Bible (selections).

Kurtz, Paul. A Secular Humanist Declaration. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980.

Course Requirements

A. All students will be required to have computer accounts or internet e-mail addresses and will be expected to be able to utilize electronic mail, word processing and the World Wide Web.

B. During the course of the semester there will be no tests or examinations. Grades will be based on writing, group projects and class participation. Class participation includes raising questions in class, contributing comments to class discussions, discussing issues and questions with me in my office, and communicating with me via e-mail.

C. Response papers: Since learning also takes place outside of the classroom, each student will be expected to write two response papers to events outside of class. The first paper, responding to Lani Guinier's King Lecture, will be due Tuesday, February 1. The second, on a student selected event, will be due on Thursday, April 13. These response papers will be from one to three pages in length and will briefly describe the event, relating it to one of the themes of the semester ( the Secular, the Religious, and the American Experience).

D. Students will continue to work in groups during the Spring semester.

E. Students in the Foundations Sequence are required to produce 12 pages of formal multi-draft writing during each semester. The coordinator will propose writing assignments to fulfill this requirement.

F. Because of the importance of class participation students should attend class regularly. Any more than three absences will have a negative impact on a student's semester grade.

G. The coordinator presupposes that every student will do his or her own work according to accepted academic standards. Any student who copies someone else's work or is in any other way guilty of cheating or plagiarism will be subject to the penalties outlined in the Siena College  Statement on Academic Integrity. At a minimum, the student will receive a grade of "F" for the course.

Grading Policy

I. My touchstone grade is a "C." This grade is awarded for performance which is expected of all students in a particular course. It means that the student's work is "ok" (no significant problems or special promise). It is not a negative grade but reflects what can be expected of a typical student doing adequate work.

II. A "B" reflects my judgment that the student's work is better than what I would expect from my "typical" student. The student's work is "good" and shows promise.

III. An "A" exhibits outstanding work or, better put, work that "stands out" from typical students in a course such as this. It displays characteristics such as original thinking, a firm grasp of materials and an ability to critique these materials. It is attainable, not only by students who are "brilliant" but by any student who works hard and is engaged with the materials of the course. It also reflects an ability to communicate clearly and thoughtfully.

IV. A "D" is given to communicate to a student that there are "problems" with the student's work. Such problems might be in communication or understanding of course materials and could arise due to inadequate study habits, poor preparation, or social difficulties. It is important for the student to locate the source of these problems. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss this grade with the coordinator.

V. An "F" is my "do it over again" grade. It means that there are so many problems that we (the student and I) need to go back to the beginning of the process and walk our way through it again.

A Theme for the Semester

I would like to propose a theme for the second semester of Foundations: human origins and present realities. Why do human beings consistently return to their origins to resolve questions about the meaning of human existence? Why the interest in the evolutionary origins of life, whether the "big bang" or the theory of evolution? Why are "creation stories" so important for religious folks? Why do Americans so often return to the revolutionary period during times of national stress and identity? Where did you come from and why might this be important for your present identity and future possibilities?

Course Outline

Please Note: This syllabus admits of additions and deletions as determined by the demands of the course.

Prologue: Lani Guinier and the quest for justice.

    Reading: Guinier selections on voting.

Unit 1:  The Secular World View: science, evolution and the secular.

    Reading: Full House, pp. 1-56, 133-195, 213-230. 
                        A Secular Humanist Declaration (complete).
                   The Grand Inquisitor, pp. 1-37.
                   Group Readings:  Gould, pp. 57-132, 196-213 as assigned.
    Assignment: First formal writing assignment: "Religion and secularism at the Millennium."

Unit 2:  The Religious World View:  Creation, creations and the Sacred.
             Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Native Peoples.

    Reading:  The Grand Inquisitor, pp. 39-80.
                   Genesis, chs. 1-5, 12; Deuteronomy 6; Exodus 20.
                   Dhammapada (complete)
                   The Life of the Buddha (Internet text).
                   New Testament: The Gospel of Mark.

                   The Franciscan Tradition.
    Film:  "Jesus of Montreal."
    Video: "The Little Buddha" (excerpts).

Unit 3: The American Experience: a culture of cultures (origins and prospects).

    Reading:  The Black Dog of Fate.
    Field Trip:  Ellis Island, New York City (April 15, 2000)
    Film:  "Little Big Man"
    Videos: "Talk to Me: Americans in Conversation."
                "The American Promise."
    Assignment:  Second formal writing assignment: "Our Journey to America."

                "To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable,
                  but to be certain is to be ridiculous."

                                              -- Chinese Proverb

Last updated January 25, 2000

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