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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

curricular review: philosophy or anti-philosophy?

The Crimson had a great staff ed on the Curricular Review this morning. In it, they discussed the problems that the faculty committees are having agreeing on any sort of general framework for an education philosophy (one professor told me that on the committee there were as many different education philosophies as there were people, maybe more). Rather than pushing to reach any consensus, they recommended a more pragmatic approach: go tangible, start with what works instead of an abstract philosophy:
...instead of convening more committees, the Faculty and the administration should look at what types of classes already work best. There is no tried-and-true rule for what these classes look like, but for the most part they are broadly based, foundational courses that mix approaches to knowledge with important theories and their applications.
(more in expanded post)
Clear examples of these types of courses are Moral Reasoning 22: “Justice,” Science B-62: “The Human Mind,” and Historical Study A-12: “International Conflict and Cooperation in the Modern World.” In “Justice,” students read the works of a variety of philosophers and then apply these theories to modern day controversies and debates. “The Human Mind” introduces students to the main theories of psychology and then delves into some of the more interesting problems and controversies about human action, taking students through basic genetics, biology, and neuroscience along the way. Historical Study A-12 mixes political history with theory, using each component to complement the other through case studies. All three of these courses are highly regarded by students for both the knowledge and the analytic tools that they teach.
I'm partially persuaded by their approach, and their call to action instead of continuing the debate that will not lead anywhere. However, I'm not sure there wouldn't be something healthy about having a longer, continued debate-even if no consensus could reasonably be found-about what kind of philosophy should drive the Harvard College education. I think very few of us are particularly thoughtful about our education. We complain about the core, but mostly we just go on our way, find our area of interest and go to work. But this process can shake us loose from that unthoughtful tendency. Even if the process isn't necessarily going to lead anywhere, might there be value in the process?


At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, no one seems to be taking this one up, so let's see if we can get some dialogue going.

Before trying to answer the question of what people envision as the ideal curricular structure, maybe we should ask whether people even care, and if not, why not.

On one hand, there seems to be considerable student apathy regarding curricular reform (at least among the people I've talked to; also, the lack of response on CC seems to testify that people don't have incredibly strong opinions on this).

Alternatively, perhaps students, despite their Core griping, are pretty satisfied overall with the way things are. The Crimson StaffEd, rather than advocating revolutionary reform, advocated a fairly conservative apporach in sticking to what works already. One could argue that if we all elected to attend Harvard, we probably liked the curricular structure, or at least didn't object strongly to it. So, while some may have become disillusioned and dissatisfied during their time here, perhaps the relative quiet surrounding curricular reform attests to student contentment. Realistically, though, most of us probably chose Harvard for the networking opportunities and the celebrity-ridden faculty, not because the curriculum was a 'perfect fit' for us.

So maybe we're just all uncreative when it comes to envisioning philosophies of education. Maybe we're all so focused career paths that our undergraduate experience has been reduced to stepping-stone status. Or maybe we're burned out from pulling all-nighters during term paper season.

While all of these possibilities are plausible, none are good reasons for forsaking the opportunity to discuss why our education matters in a larger sense, and what our ideal educational experience would consist of. Come on, we're Harvard students. We can at least make up some lofty-sounding bullshit. Even if it's just to jump-start the conversation.


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