The New Core Curriculum: Violence is Everywhere

By Noor Asif '16Staff Writer 

Core, that infamous yet utterly essential part of the Scripps College curriculum, was the reason for first year all-nighters and frustrated tears, as well as a foundation for our intellectual growth. As a sophomore, I can say that Core opened my mind to myriad ways to understand human nature and potential.

At the same time however, the readings could be very dense and the prompts for the papers were often beyond comprehension. The week a paper was due ushered in a period of sweatpants, oily hair, and dark shadows under eyes strained from the harsh lighting of laptop screens at three in the morning. The whole class rejoiced as soon as the papers were turned in and Sakai had closed its drop box. At the end of the day, I have no doubt that Core, although it was challenging, really did teach us to read critically and share intellectual discourses.

It seems like the general Core curriculum has not changed significantly from last year. The workload is about the same, and the intellectual exploration is still central to the course. However, the theme and the readings have been altered and I have to say, I am a little bit jealous of the first years. Their “Histories of the Present” curriculum focuses on violence, in contrast to the previous core’s concentration on human nature. The focus on violence is mostly in terms of institutionalized violence, including micro-aggression and the way that violence has been embedded in our society.

The first years recently concluded their unit on discipline and punishment with Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison”. In this unit, they discussed how society is permeated with institutionalized violence. To supplement Foucault, they also read “A Thief's Journal”, a novel about a homosexual deserter who lives on the fringes of society as the abject. His story describes his affairs with men as a prostitute and how he looks at society from the outside. In this way it seems as though the core curriculum is moving in a more liberal direction and has changed from last year.

 

By contrast, in my first year, we read “History of Sexuality” by Foucault and discussed institutions and the control they have over us as they construct fears and labels within us. We also read various philosophical texts about human nature by authors such as Hobbes and Rousseau. One drawback of these texts, however, is that they are old and very generalized—while the ideas are still relevant, it can be difficult to reconcile them with modern events.

But now, Core seems to be shifting into more modern and progressive issues. This year they will read in their second unit about women's bodies, how they have been subjected to brutality, and how they have become a battleground for many debates. One of the debates that the curriculum focuses on is abortion, which they will explore through the reading of “Fetal Positions” by Karen Newman. The book discusses how women and the fetuses they carry are separate entities. Later on in the semester the first years will read texts about the Trayvon Martin trial and other current events.

In general, the core curriculum still retains its philosophical roots. However, the issues it focuses on are more specific and relevant than the ones I encountered in my first year. Additionally, it seems as though they are reading more literature to supplement the philosophical theory portions of the syllabus.

As far as the writing assignments go, the first-years have to write a précis first, two papers, and a series of blog posts throughout the semester. This is different from Core last year, which only required three papers to be written. However, these papers were already enough to cause panic amongst the students. Further, the texts have a tendency to be dense. According to Nina Posner ’17, a majority of her peers had trouble adjusting to the density of the readings, as well as the amount of reading in general. However, the lectures the professors have given so far are extremely helpful in revealing the deeper meanings hidden in the texts.

For the most part, the first years find Core to be difficult and dense, yet they perceive the subject matter to be intriguing. “The purpose of the course is to give you an introduction into the critical thinking one encounters in a college level classroom and it fulfills that, as well as with pertinent issues," said Posner. The discussion of these issues and ideas is what give Core its importance and value, distinguishing it from other classes and making the readings and discourses all the more worthwhile.