Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Core Curriculum

I've signed up for a Saturday workshop at school on "core curriculum" and, having just read the "materials" for this monstrosity I'm probably going to drop out--even though they give us $100 and a free lunch for going. The stuff is sickening--inflated, vacuous, pious bullshit.

So what do I think about "core"? I prefer "general ed" of course because it isn't core or central to the mission of a university, which is vocational training for professional occupations. General ed courses are a wonderful luxury. However one of the items I read did ask us to reflect and get clear about what we thought the role of core/GE was. So I did, and here it is:

(1) Brain-Candy. The primary role of GE is to stock students heads with amusements and give them the skills for a lifetime of intellectual entertainment. It takes work to be entertained by art, literature, science and all the good stuff of culture but it pays off magnificently. Uneducated people simply can't enjoy themselves as consistently or intensely as we can if we've learned to understand and appreciate high culture, to understand things that are difficult and intricate. Anna Karenina, the Bach B Minor Mass and San Vitale just pack a much, much bigger hedonic punch than any pop cultural crap, but to get the thrill you have to do some work.

(2) Intellectual Jewelery. We want to adorn ourselves, turn our lives into works of art by acquiring beautiful things--by decorating our houses, having fine furniture, and decorating ourselves with skills and knowledge. We decorate ourselves by learning to play musical instruments and to draw, by reading works in the evolving "canon," by learning about history and politics. The aim is to become what used to be called "cultivated" or "cultured." It's narcissism and snobbery--and I'm all for it.

Of course this won't fly because, incredibly, even though we are vastly wealthy most Americans seem convinced that we're on the edge of economic disaster and have to engage in endless belt-tightening. We're told we can't afford universal health care, can't afford to pay public school teachers decent wages, can't afford decent working conditions or shorter hours. And of course we can't afford hedonistic, narcissistic luxuries like a liberal education. So we have to sell it as something edifying, religious, and "core" to social well-being.

If that's so I suppose colleagues who run projects like core curriculum revision are doing their job, persuading the general public that there should be courses other than business and engineering, that people like me, who don't do anything useful or of practical import should be employed. So these noises, I suppose, have to be made--and in order to make them credibly, they have to be made by true believers. Cynical actors fail because acting is hard.

But I'm a person of little faith and a poor actor. So I think I can do without the $100 and free lunch: time for strategic withdrawal.

2 comments:

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