EDITORIALS

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May 19, 2009

Examining the Core: Hum, Sosc, and Civ

Few subjects capture both the unassailable strengths and glaring weaknesses of the Core as the Sosc, Hum, and Civ sequences.

This is part two of a four-part examination of the state of the Core.

Few subjects capture both the unassailable strengths and glaring weaknesses of the Core as the Sosc, Hum, and Civ sequences.

Sosc and Hum aim to provide students with a foundation that far surpasses their high school educations. Many students are not exposed to classic philosophers in their high schools, and of those who were, few did more than dabble in them. Fewer still made much sense of the texts. At their best, Hum and Sosc are transformative educational experiences that live up to the lofty aspirations of the Core.

But for all the successes of Philosophical Perspectives and Self, Culture, And Society, the Sosc and Hum requirements are diluted by less foundational courses. Classes like Readings in World Literature, Reading Cultures, and Media Aesthetics are undoubtedly interesting to many students, but they cannot fairly be classified under Hum’s umbrella. The Media Aesthetics course description, for example, promises a discussion of The Matrix—a neat movie, but hardly a cornerstone of modern thought. Meanwhile, Reading Cultures studies travel writing and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, again falling out of line with Hum’s stated purpose as a course in literature that helps define how one thinks.

Similarly, sequences like Mind and Social Science Inquiry (formerly known as Democracy in Social Sciences) are out step with Sosc’s goals. The former would be more appropriately placed in the Psychology Department; the latter offers a second quarter that is essentially an intro-level statistics course.

Both Hum and Sosc offer sequences that try too hard to cater to the myriad tastes of students while shirking the central mission of the Core Curriculum. The aim of the Core is not to put forth entertaining electives; it is a statement by the College that there is a right way to begin an undergraduate education.

Civ, meanwhile, is constrained less by its excesses than by its limitations. The Civ Core should not just develop an understanding of one civilization; it should provide a uniform foundation from which to understand a civilization in relation to others—the same principle that has Hum and Sosc students read both Marx and Smith, Machiavelli and Locke. The Civ curriculum should be tweaked to include a comparative element, and to give students a framework for understanding all civilizations, rather than just one.

Sosc, Hum, and Civ provide the Core’s best offerings, but are afflicted by watered-down offerings. Going forward, the College should restore the trio to its more rigorous, fundamental beginnings.