The Case for a Multicultural Core

A Response to: “Core Curriculum Fails to Improve”

Dear Scripps voice,

I was overjoyed when I opened your most recent issue and found an editorial criticizing the Core Curriculum. Ever since I was dragged, kicking and screaming, through a horrible semester of Core I, I have been outspoken to both friends and family about the program, which I disliked for a number of reasons. By speaking with first years, I’ve learned that faculty addressed many of my complaints, but the Core program still has a long way to go.

I disagree completely, however, with Stacy Wheeler’s stance on the program. She asserts that the Core curriculum should “develop a strong understanding of our Western civilization and the views it engenders.” I have several problems with this statement. First of all, by saying “our” Western civilization, Ms. Wheeler assumes wrongly that everyone who attends Scripps is a white American. Yes, our school has a sizable white population, but we also have several international students, as well as Asian-Americans, Latinas, and African-Americans. Their history should be given attention as well, not to mention the history of Eastern civilizations, Africa, and South America. Something history and literature curriculums across this country continually forget is that people existed—gasp!—outside of Europe and North America. I was fortunate to have teachers in high school that assigned me texts from the Middle East and China, something that I found as enriching, if not more, as my study of Western civilization. Women and ethnic minority groups have fought for decades for their rights and the right to study their history in school—just ask your mothers. Are we to forgo learning this history because it isn’t “relevant” to “our” culture? To understand the mixed world we live in now, we need to learn global perspectives.

Ms. Wheeler addresses my viewpoint in her article by saying, “These texts are not the ones which have been fundamental to our culture…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?” Again, she generalizes the culture of Scripps students as white and Euro-American. She says that before we even attempt to recognize the perspectives of others, we must understand “our” own culture. I agree completely that it is important to understand and know the culture and history of one’s own country, but I don’t think that people should have to wait before discovering other cultures. Many Americans received their first exposure to the Middle East through a group of individuals who interpret the Koran for their own radical purposes, thus assuming that all Muslims are terrorists, a viewpoint that has led to extreme anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. This could have been avoided if the American education system exposed more people to cultures unlike their own. Last year, I explored the kids’ section in Barnes and Noble for a school project, looking for picture books depicting religion. To my dismay, I only found books about Christianity and Judaism. After 9/11, my mother, a preschool teacher, asked a Muslim friend to visit her class and talk about her faith, but it’s safe to say that this did not happen everywhere. It’s never too early to start multicultural education. Students have waited long enough, why should they have to wait until Core II?

Ms. Wheeler’s disappointment with the alterations to the program seem most clear in this sentence: “Students increasingly miss Biblical allusions, aren’t familiar with the basic facts of American history, and don’t know who Adam Smith is or what Marx actually wrote.” She also laments that the Core curriculum doesn’t include Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Federalist Papers, Aristotle, or Plato. I admit, I had a charmed education, but I read all of the authors she mentioned, as well as significant parts of the Bible, in high school history classes.  When my Core I class read Galileo’s Letter To The Grand Duchess Christina, it was the third time I had read it for school. It is important for students to know certain parts of the Bible and be familiar with Marx’s viewpoints, yes, but I would argue that it is equally important to be familiar with the Koran, the Cultural Revolution, Said’s Orientalism, and Marti.

The world of 2011 is no longer centered on the West, and it is increasingly important to understand every corner of the globe. Cultures across the world are mixing, and to understand “our” world, we must understand all of these cultures—even in Europe, where rising immigrant populations are causing controversy and debate. It is imperative that we install this mindset into incoming Scripps students, and the Core curriculum is the place to do so. If Ms. Wheeler wants to learn about “her” Western civilization, there’s nothing stopping her from majoring in American Studies.

Sincerely, Katie Evans ‘13