October 5, 2005

The Review finds a friend

A Harvard student wrote a moving op-ed criticizing the diffusion of the Crimson Core Curriculum.

I think the conceit he uses--an address to the Core Curriculum itself--is fairly stilted, but the message--how does one "know thyself" if the Core Curriculum has no identity of its own?--is solid.

However, to reiterate arguments I have made earlier, a core curriculum is no longer commensurate with either the breadth or the depth of our knowledge or our know-how--as a human race, as an American nation, or as individuals. I believe that the wide-open GenEd requirements this Harvard author describes are pretty bad and likely do very little to helping students prepare for anything, but I believe the solution to this problem is not to junk any class that doesn't focus on Western culture/history/philosophy, but to have more faith in authors, in ideas, and in cultures that are not dead, white, and male.

As a person who is two of the above adjectives, perhaps I should recuse myself from this sort of judgment, but I think that if we get serious about teaching and studying other cultures, we will find them easily as wondrously complex and, more importantly, as useful as Western "civilization." I think the problem is, simply, that the efforts to include non-Western traditions in GenEd requirements have been half-hearted and lukewarm. This leads to half-hearted and lukewarm students. If people are taking a WGST or AAAS course because it is easy, this is a problem. But there is a difference between the course being easy and the subject being easy. If taught well, it won't be, students will stop taking it as a soft option, and may return, after all, to the Classics Department. Or they may find something intriguing, vital, and troubling in another culture and use it to work out things about the world that they inhabit.

But a Core Curriculum, especially along the lines of the one the Review proposed, will be incapable of covering such a broad area of study--literally, the world. What will be needed in navigating this field is better advising that helps students find good classes, an administration that understands the value of non-Western culture, and a campus of open minds.

1 comment:

  1. One further note--I don't mean to imply that courses on non-Western subjects are not well taught, but that most people don't know whether they are or not.