The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, May 21, 2007

general ed

A friend--who wrote it--sent me this editorial about university general-education curricula from the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE this morning. My basic orientation when it comes to general-ed or core programs is quite conservative; I was educated in a place that, while it wasn't a pure Great Books curriculum like St. John's College's (not the alma mater of Chris Mullen and Ron Artest), was a very old-fashioned great-books approach to an education. Read the ILIAD over the summer and leave the first year knowing Dante, Aquinas, Virgil, etc. I loved it. But I was involved in the revision of our core curriculum over the last few years and learned a bit about what's called a "learning-outcomes-based" curriculum, or in lay terms, one planned on "what will our students know and be able to do when they finish?" rather than "what books will they have read and be familiar with?" Running a writing program, as I do, I've become much more amenable to the former orientation, while when I began I thought it was ed-school doubletalk. Rader says that as his school (the U. of San Fran) began revising its curriculum,

we became less interested in ensuring that students know a canon and more committed to making sure students know how to do history, economics, science and literature so that they can be smart, engaged, critical readers of any text, canonical or not.

He adds that the motivating philosophy behind this was that

a dynamic, nimble curriculum better equips the next generation of leaders to deal with the rapid advances in technology, the growing instability of global politics and the unpredictable demands of a diverse American populace. An education that looks forward and outward is, at its core, democratic, and ultimately, democracy should be the core value of American higher education.

I guess I'm still enough of an elitist (more than Rader, but not quite U. of Chicago Committee on Social Thought--and hey, check out how many Social Thought Ph.D.'s end up at St. John's!!!) not to be convinced his final conclusion and to point out that "smart, engaged, critical readers of any text," especially students at a Catholic university, might question the value of democracy. But still, I'd rather educate my students to be critical citizens of a democracy than to be good workers (and I am still enough of a liberal to think the two can be divorced).

On another topic, I got to meet Michael Bérubé, one of my few all-time blogging heroes (and, according to David Horowitz, one of the "most dangerous professors in America") today. Sad that he retired the blog.


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