Engaging students in key humanistic questions

core books

Engaging students in key humanistic questions

Core Books

We create opportunities
to think, to learn, and
to question together.

Core Books has its roots in a collaboration between Columbia College and Hostos Community College. The goal was to bring CC students into a conversation they are often excluded from through embedding core texts and the issues they raise from the Columbia Core Curriculum into selected required courses. With the support of the Teagle Foundation, Core Books includes 4 CUNY colleges: The Borough of Manhattan Community College, LaGuardia Community College, and New York City College of Technology. This faculty professional development initiative aims to engage students in key humanistic questions while strengthening their reading and writing skills and bolstering student performance related to course learning objectives. At the heart of this initiative is the recognition of the value of a community of practice among both faculty and among students as we create opportunities to think, to learn, and to question together.


Faculty Development Initiative

We are a professional development initiative comprised of four CUNY campuses and  aim to teach a selection of Core texts in a meaningful and engaging way.


Humanities-Based Curriculum

Through the study of humanistic questions, this project will strengthen student’s academic skills.

Discussion Class

Building Student Skills

Our goals are to build student skills while helping them confront essential questions

Join Core Books Today!

Our goals are to build student skills while helping them confront essential questions

The works of classic Greek plays speak directly to the human condition, and often to the most basic and complex of human emotions.

–Charles Rice-Gonzalez

Our project aims to disrupt the isolation of the classroom for both faculty and students. Often faculty do not have the opportunity to think together about what they are going to do in the classroom, and often students do not have a community of peers to read and write with. This project hopes to create a community of practice among both faculty and students. In addition, by engaging foundational texts, the project helps students confront vital questions: What is the good life? What is justice? What is the nature of community? How do we frame equality? These questions, so important for true education, provoke conversations that community college students are often excluded from. The project aims to include our students in that dialogue.

Participating Campuses

New York City College of Technology Campus
New York City College of Technology

At New York City College of Technology, six English Department faculty members developed curriculum for the “Core Books at CUNY” initiative funded by the Teagle Foundation. City Tech faculty participants are integrating excerpts from Plato’s Republic, Sophocles’ Antigone, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, The Declaration of Independence, and Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”— along with the curriculum created for the texts—into participating First-Year Writing courses. The materials are available openly via City Tech’s OpenLab (an open-source, digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration), and via Blackboard, to support faculty members using the core books in their writing courses.

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) is a baccalaureate and associate degree-granting institution. Founded in 1946, it is the only college in the City University of New York (CUNY) system that focuses on technology and professional studies.

Hostos Community College
Hostos Community College

The Core Books program at Hostos Community College in the Bronx grew out a collaboration with faculty teaching Columbia College’s renowned Core Curriculum. The program intends to form communities of learning among both faculty and students by reading and writing about texts at the same time. It engages students in important humanistic questions such as: What is justice? What is the good life? What is the purpose of an education? How do we know who we are? Participating faculty embed these common texts, which range from Plato’s Republic to Morrison’s Song of Solomon, in both developmental and composition courses in English and in courses in Behavioral and Social Sciences. Reading, discussing, and writing about these humanistic topics together not only improves students academic skills, but also empowers students by fostering a sense of belonging in college and connection to community.

Hostos Community College is an educational agent for change, transforming and improving the quality of life in the South Bronx and neighboring communities since 1968. Hostos serves as a gateway to intellectual growth and socioeconomic mobility, and a point of departure for lifelong learning, success in professional careers, and transfer to advanced higher education programs. The College’s unique “student success coach” program, which partners students with individualized guidance, is emblematic of the premier emphasis on student support and services.

Borough of Manhattan Community College
Borough of Manhattan Community College

The Core Books project at BMCC aims to incorporate key humanities texts into the English composition sequence in order to engage students in reading classic texts that raise broad humanistic questions.  In English 101, students read Plato’s The Republic, Federalist Paper #10 and Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?”  In English 201, students read Sophocles’ Antigone and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.  In each class, individual instructors supplement these core texts with readings and activities that engage students in exploring themes of justice, freedom, community, civic responsibility and individuality.  We are not seeking easy answers or any specific truth. We have chosen texts that show students that there are important problems about which thinkers can disagree across time and space, and that such disagreement spurs even stronger, deeper thinking. As citizens, they are invited to join in these centuries-old discussions.  Faculty who chose to incorporate these texts into their classes are supported through workshops, speakers, and shared materials and assignments.  Students in the Core Books sections are supported through an engaged group of faculty along as well as through reading groups and speakers.

Borough of Manhattan Community College is a diverse teaching and learning community committed to advancing equity and the intellectual and personal growth of students. The college reflects the best of downtown Manhattan: the culture of Tribeca, the vibrancy of Wall Street, and the promise of the Statue of Liberty. A Hispanic-Serving Institution, BMCC has over 50 associate degree programs and welcomes students from the New York City area and all over the world. Our students come from over 155 countries, with more than 111 languages spoken.

LaGuardia Community College
LaGuardia Community College

LaGuardia’s Core Books Program has two main objectives: To foster a greater sense of community among our students and faculty, and to enrich intellectual life. The Program features a set of core works selected by faculty, from across the disciplines. The texts include excerpts from Plato’s Republic, the Constitution of the United States, and Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” as well as works by other major figures, such as Toni Morrison. Core works like these are central to higher education in the US, and our Program aims to make them equally accessible to LaGuardia students. Participating instructors are given great freedom. They choose one or two of the specified core works and engage them in their teaching. They may approach the reading from any angle, and they may work across disciplines. The point is to deepen learning within a given course. Faculty regularly exchange approaches to teaching and assessment.

LaGuardia Community College, located in Long Island City, Queens, our nation’s fastest-growing neighborhood, educates and supports thousands of New Yorkers annually. We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and offer a welcoming environment for immigrants of all nations and individuals of all backgrounds. As a nationally recognized expert at pioneering innovative programs and initiatives that are quickly adopted by four-year institutions and small businesses alike, we are changing the thinking about two-year colleges, their place in higher education and their role in strengthening our nation’s economy. Since opening our doors to all in 1971, our successes reflect the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff – so that students can write their own futures, immigrants can achieve their dreams, and small businesses learn how to grow and thrive.

Enjoyed by Students Across CUNY

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John Doe
LaGuardia Community College Student

The Role of the Humanities in Education Today

With so much emphasis on technology and the sciences, is there a place for the humanities in education today? In this program, Dr. Roosevelt Montas, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs of Columbia University, and Hostos Community College Assistant Professors Andrea Fabrizio and Gregory Marks examine the value of a humanities education in the 21st century.

Start Teaching the Texts

Core Books embeds challenging, foundational texts in a variety of different courses to both strengthen students’ academic skills and help them engage significant humanistic questions.