April 3, 2008

Rotten to the Core

It’s easy to make an argument against the Core. I could talk about the importance of a self-directed education. I could point out how any curriculum overemphasizes the value systems of those who created it. I could claim that the Core wastes time that could be better spent studying one’s major or choosing one’s own electives.

In actuality, though, I think the best case against the Core was the first day of my drama class, which I signed up for hoping to fulfill my Humanities requirement.

It’s all a bit hazy, but as best as I can recall, it went something like this: I timidly walk into the class, ever fearful that it’s the wrong room. I look around and seeing people talking enthusiastically to each other, think everyone knows everyone else in the class. I know nobody. (Except this one girl I had Hum with first year. We do not, needless to say, acknowledge each other.)

After sending several would-be pink slippers scurrying away, our spry professor asks who knows somebody else in the class. My suspicions are confirmed; approximately every hand—minus one—is raised. Rule number one, she goes on to inform us is, “Don’t hurt yourself or others.” (Alarm bells go off in my head.)

After a couple of activities—one of which involves being led around the room with your eyes closed, and the other which invites your partner to “explore” your arms, legs, and head—we get down to “the trust circle.” Close your eyes and let a circle of people push you around. We are told to get into groups of small-, medium-, and large-sized people. Everyone awkwardly tries to determine which size applies. We begin, shoving our first victim with ruthless abandon. He falls; rule number one is broken.

My turn. I am told to trust more. I don’t know how. Class ends.

I don’t mean to attack the class, but rather to make humor of it. I admit that it is a reflection on me—my self-consciousness, my insecurities, my unfair judgments—that, for me, the class was the epitome of misery. I don’t resent the class (well, I guess I do a little bit); I resent the requirement.

I know, I know: There are other courses I can take to fulfill the Core. But still. I don’t want to take Introduction to Medieval Art or Acting Fundamentals or Visual Arts II. These subjects aren’t important to me, and taking the class won’t make them so.

And that’s the problem with the Core. At the heart of a liberal education must be the admission of educational relativism—that there is no “right” way of being educated, no “correct” curriculum. But the Core says just the opposite: These are the things you should learn, the Core tells us. According to whom, though? In all likelihood, each individual knows best how to direct his education. We know the courses that will hold our interests and the ones that will put us to sleep. Sure, we might falter in our decisions at times—drama sounded better than the alternatives to me—but they’ll still beat the one-size-fits-all mandate created by the Core.

Just about everybody comes to the U of C a fan of the Core. Then, we all start taking Core classes, and a new sensation occurs—usually a tentative combination of misery and indifference. Everybody here knows that feeling. Maybe it was your Hum class where the professor and two others kids loved the sounds of their own voices; perhaps it was a Bio topics course you never went to; or maybe it was a Sosc class that wasn’t a Sosc class as much as a Stat one.

And if you haven’t experienced it, I think there might be one opening in drama.

Matt Barnum, a Maroon Viewpoints Editor, is a second-year in the College majoring in psychology. His column appears on alternate Fridays.