Rethinking the Arts and Science Curriculum

Every 15-20 years, the College of Arts and Sciences evaluates and revises its curriculum. Last week, I attended a focus group discussing potential changes in the upcoming revision.

Currently, classes are categorized into KCM (Knowledge, Cognition and Moral Reasoning), CA (Cultural analysis), HA (Historical analysis), SBA (Social and Behavioral Analysis) and LA (Literature and the Arts).  We’re required to take 5 classes, satisfying atleast 4 of these categories. In addition, we have to take atleast one class focusing on non-European/north American geographies and one before the 1800s.

The alternatives we were presented with were:

1) Columbia style core
All undergraduates would be required to take classes focusing on foundational literary and philosophical texts and study art and music. While I am very attracted to that curriculum(perhaps so I won’t look like an idiot when I don’t recognize some famous Rembrandt painting), it seems to overlook pretty much all that’s not in the western canon. The elitism of western knowledge and art is what attracts me to this kind of core curriculum but it’s also what I am trying to overcome.

2) Cross Disciplinary Problem Solving
Classes focus on breadth and teach the multiple disciplines required to understand the central topic. For instance, a class on climate change might include anything from geography, global  development and politics, ethics and environmental chemistry to statistical analysis. Ideally, they would teach more professionally useful skills, while being true to the liberal arts. These sound very similar to the cross-disciplinary University courses currently offered. While they’re all very interesting, these courses are often not rigorous and are treated more like grade-booster courses. Modern curricula are moving away from being subject-less, to being topic-focused, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way to approach the liberal arts.

I’ve confessed my commitment to the liberal arts several times on this blog. At the focus group, there were other equally passionate Arts and Science students. We shared our experiences and discussed the options proposed. If there wasn’t a time limit and if I didn’t have a class afterwards,  our group could have discussed the matter for hours. At the end, I left content with the current curriculum and also the fact that the college involved interested students at various levels in the revision committee and process.

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