Core Curriculum Fails to Improve

By Stacy Wheeler ‘13Guest Writer

Designing a perfect Core curriculum would be impossible. But the most recent changes to Core I are not the sorts of changes that will get us any closer to perfection. The administrators certainly could have done a better job.

Students increasingly miss Biblical allusions, aren’t familiar with basic facts of American history and don’t know who Adam Smith is or what Marx actually wrote. Today’s students need a Core program that helps us understand the foundations of our culture.

Yet, this year, the Core program abandoned the theme of “Culture, Knowledge, and Representation” for “Histories of the Present.”

The Scripps website describes the changes, saying that the new Core “more explicitly focuses on the relationship of critical thinking to contemporary problems and debates. [The curriculum] involves grappling with how our own views have emerged, and seeing how they might well be different.” A worthy aim. But does Core really end up doing this? I assume that “our own views” include liberalism, individualism and a belief in individual rights, democratic rule and the market economy. These topics should be a central focus of a liberal arts freshman seminar.

But when you look at the reading list for the new Core, you will see that these views are not explored in depth. “Our own views” only get addressed through contrast with other views. Only two of the eight required books—The Leviathan and First and Second Discourses—clearly relate to a history of our views at all. No Aristotle, no Plato, no Federalist Papers and no Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Our new Core I focuses on multiculturalism and perspectives from outsiders. There are texts from Canada and Mexico, from African American and female authors. Valuable perspectives maybe, but these texts are not the ones which have been fundamental to our culture. Of course, the counterargument here will be that our culture is already dominated and influenced by old, dead, white guys and that it’s time to recognize minorities and oppressed perspectives. But how can we analyze and investigate alternatives to our own views if we don’t first understand where these views come from and the works that influenced them?

Of course, we Scripps students are intellectually mature. We have the ability to grapple with Core’s questions about contemporary issues without a thorough understanding of our culture’s history. But in order to make any meaningful progress in considering the challenge to “our own views,” we need that foundation in the works that have shaped them.

Our Core program should use the first semester to develop a strong understanding of our Western civilization and the views it engenders. Contemporary questions and minority perspectives should arise in Core II, only after Core I has provided adequate foundation to intelligently consider their implications.