Monday, May 17, 2004

What is core? 

A recent study by Association Council of Trustees and Alumni, the core of college education -- its general education curriculum, has been turned to mush at elite colleges and universities.
Formerly, most institutions insisted on a rigorous, sequential curriculum that ensured students a broad, general education in addition to the specialization provided by their major. These courses covered the most important events, ideas or works known to mankind�material considered essential for an educated person. Students could make some choices�e.g., which foreign language to take�but for the most part, their studies were dictated by the core curriculum, a learning pathway created to guarantee that all students would partake of subjects regarded as vital to a well-rounded education.

...In reality, however, few contemporary colleges and universities structure their general education curriculums to achieve these worthy ends. They may give the appearance of providing a core curriculum because they require students to take courses in several subjects other than their major�the socalled �distribution requirements.� Colleges typically require from one to three courses in each of five or six distribution areas: physical and biological sciences, humanities, social sciences, writing skills, math skills, and multicultural studies.

But a distribution is not a true core curriculum. It is not uncommon to have
dozens of courses to choose from within each distribution requirement.
...This cafeteria-style approach is a poor substitute for a true, carefully
designed core curriculum. Because the 18-year-old judgment is apt to be
untutored, and the college guidance system is not especially concerned with promoting a core, there is nothing to induce students to take the time-honored, but perhaps difficult, core courses instead of their narrow, popular and frequently less substantial competitors.

The whole article deserves reading. While our university offers four required classes of each student, most courses are distributional.