Thursday, December 1, 2016

The "Core" COULD actually be a core

In the Chronicle of Higher Education Nicholas Lemann argues for an alternative approach to a core curriculum that is explicitly focused on intellectual skills and METHODS. The core courses he proposes would all be interesting to teach:
  • Information Acquisition: kinds, acquiring, evaluating
  • Cause and Effect: science as style of thought
  • Interpretation: close reading of texts
  • Numeracy: quantity in everyday life
  • Perspective: the limits of one's own viewpoint
  • Language of Form: intelligently seeing/producing visual information
  • Thinking in Time: thinking historically
  • Argument: how to make a compelling and analytically sound argument
One element of what Lemann is responding to should sound familiar: "Quite a few colleges … devising a new undergraduate liberal-arts curriculum … these new curricula often identify a suite of intellectual skills … [but] permit a wide array of existing courses to fulfill the requirements … [thus] declaring victory simply by pasting on a new label."

Or, he continues:
Or they define the new requirements in terms of "learning outcomes" rather than course content, which puts the emphasis on devising an end-of-course assessment rather than on designing the course itself. Or they offer courses on broad interdisciplinary subjects, with words like "ethics," "values," or "justice" in their titles, rather than on the inescapably different project of identifying fundamental methods of understanding and analysis.
And the result of that is something my own school has: a core curriculum that is neither core nor curriculum.

More to the point, many schools (my own included) allow even a "core" which is called skills or competency based to be captured by colleagues who want the content - especially values and worldviews - that they champion to be required for all and who use core requirements to drive enrollments in their departmental courses. The "core" becomes a symbolic expression of whose intellectual and ideological commitments are on top at the moment and then a whole bunch of organizational ritual and hoohah emerges to regularly remind all of whose game it is and to channel resources in their direction. Until the next reimagining of the core elevates some other group.

My colleagues can read the article here.  If you have premium access to the Chronicle, you can read the whole article there.

The Case for a New Kind of Core

NOVEMBER 27, 2016 

When I was a professional-school dean (at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism), we had no choice but to try to define the specific content of an education in our field. The premise was that if you want to practice a profession, there is a body of material you must master, at least in the early part of your education. That perspective led me to urge, this year in The Chronicle Reviewthat undergraduate colleges move in a similar direction: a core curriculum.


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