Visiting with parents and prospective students always reinforces what is most important. The Core Curriculum at our university is a very good one, and provides many options for students to experience a range of intellectual exposure to ideas and subjects that are basic to the human condition.
Simultaneously, with the flexibility available, our Core Curriculum allows and encourages students to investigate specific areas of interest that may relate to their choices in career field and study options. These are important aspects of university life, that go beyond the student wanting to become a teacher, a chemist, an engineer, or a doctor. They are aimed at helping the student become what my father would have referred to as “well-educated,” and that I describe as understanding the complexities of the human condition and our relationship to it through the things we know.
This is all brought to mind after a few visits that I have had over recent weeks with students transferring from Community Colleges, or seniors in high school asking, “What courses should I be taking to prepare for my university program?” Invariably I suggest to them additional courses in the basic arts and sciences. The discipline specific coursework that we provide is carefully considered and developed to provide the technical and specialized expertise necessary to become whatever it is they want to become.
I have never, not once in 33 years of university life, told any student at any level, that they were too proficient at biology, or their understanding of the relationship between the industrialization of agriculture and its impact on American family life was unimportant, or those differential equations were interesting to look at, but not of much use, or how about this one, you write too well and your public speaking and presentation skills are far too polished.
These statements will not happen.
When I used to do my homework at the dining room table, I would constantly say to my mother, who was usually in the living room reading something, “Mom, how do you spell this or that word?” She could have given me the answer to almost any word I would ask. With a good high school education, put to use on a regular basis, she was articulate. But she did not spell the word for me.
She got a dictionary and brought it to the table. She said, “Look it up.” And every time I did I got more than I bargained for. I found out something about a word beyond its spelling. She knew the value of a core curriculum.
Mortimer Adler, a great American philosopher and one of the strongest proponents of the Core Curriculum helped build the Core at the University of Chicago. Chicago’s core was long held to be the best in the nation. Those days seem to have evaporated, too many arguments about what should be in it, and what value it added, and who determined why this course or subject area was of more import than that one.
Frankly, my mother was right, learn to look, to analyze, to add and subtract, to read and write, to think, and build an educational experience not a training regimen.
At Our University, Professor Jim Allen, Director of the Core Curriculum says it this way: “Courses in the Core introduce you to the traditional riches of western civilization as well as to the contemporary perspectives of interdisciplinary and multicultural studies.”