October 16, 2009

Six-year Core impractical

I admire Ari Allyn-Feuer’s lofty ideals of education, but I consider his proposal for a six-year core unrealistic and impractical.

I admire Ari Allyn-Feuer’s lofty ideals of education (“The Case for a Six-Year Core,” 10/9/09), but I consider his proposal for a six-year core unrealistic and impractical. His generalization that “humans are capable of rising to meet challenges” does not sufficiently address numerous problems of implementation.

A six-year Core would be prohibitively expensive. Allyn-Feuer fails to specify the incoming class sizes; new dorms and classrooms would have to be constructed for the additional students. He mentions nothing about financial aid. Would regular tuition fees apply to his six-year program? If so, a $300,000 college experience seems like an indulgent fantasy in light of the awe-inspiring debt that many students graduate with.

A six-year Core is unnecessary. Allyn-Feuer points out that talented high school students often languish in mediocre academic programs, waiting to go to college. These students have an existing outlet: Finish high school early and apply to U of C. Contrary to Allyn-Feuer’s argument, the fact that some underage students matriculate to the U of C at the present does not imply that more should be admitted in the future.

In fact, most 11th- and 12th-graders are not ready for college and lack basic life skills. Even the most comprehensive admissions process could not fully assess their maturity levels. The majority of underage students in the proposed program would likely be socially retarded, precocious, pretentious, insecure, and immature. They would contribute to an insufferable, toxic culture of imagined “intellectual superiority” and degrade our excellent standards of academic discourse.

So what would the new University of Chicago be like? Some ideas: R.A.s and R.H.s would escort students on regular stomach pumping trips to the ER and mediate absurd, petty conflicts between immature residents. Or, imagine sitting in a Philosophical Perspectives Core class, discussing Descartes with arrogant, inarticulate 16-year-olds.

I think Allyn-Feuer should modify his proposal to make it more realistic. He could argue in favor of reinstating the old, extended Core in a four-year program. I would still disagree with him, but the quality of the debate would be improved. Also, he fails to define the University’s mission. Is it “reminding U of C students how resilient humans are”?

Allyn-Feuer’s goal of “graduates with deep command of every major intellectual discipline” is admirable in theory and, I think, fulfilled within reasonable limits in the current four-year B.A. program. His desired level of intellectual perfection is better pursued in graduate school.

Isaac Molho

Class of 2010