Phi Beta Cons

Belmont U and Small College Curricula

Belmont University has been under some criticism in the blog world for accepting (or encouraging?) the resignation of an employee in the public-relations office for posting a snide cartoon of Mohammed on a web site. The man’s name is Bill Hobbs, and he’s a prominent blogger in the Nashville area.
The facts are unclear on how much political pressure was involved, though Hobbs has absolved Belmont of any blame. But if we look at the educational policy of this Christian university (from which I just returned), we see a curriculum that is anything but politically correct. The core requirements are deep and wide, and the individual goals are traditional. Among the latter are:
-You will be a clear, compelling writer.

-You will be able to face a group and deliver a persuasive speech.

-You will be well versed in the arts, humanities, religion, social sciences, and natural sciences.

-You will be able to reflect on the question ‘What is a meaningful life?’
Nothing here about social justice and tolerance.
Among the course requirements are:
-Two writing classes, one in the freshman year and one in the junior year.

-One freshman seminar on an epistemological theme (example: “Knowing When to Laugh: The Epistemology of Humor”)

-Two freshman course from different disciplines that address the same subject (the example is “classes in art and religion that examine the iconography of Biblical studies”).

-Four “global studies” courses that cover the history, arts, and current affairs of other nations.

-Two religion courses

-One junior seminar that emphasizes general knowledge, not specialized knowledge, and one senior seminar that asks students to take their previous three years’ of course work and “articlulate . . . what a ‘meaningful life’ might look like . . . in the 21st Century.”
There is little about student empowerment and none of the trepidation of prescribing a common body of knowledge, which we find abundantly in the Harvard Report of the Committee on General Education from last Fall.
The requirements of the core curriculum are the best indicator of the philosophy of education at a university, and what we see often at the flagship universities is a separation of teaching and inquiry from the broad liberal education that young Americans need. Indeed, in the humanities, universities with prestige ambitions recognize that achievements by the faculty that raise their reputation have virtually nothing to do with undergraduate learning.
The divergence is stark. On one side we have a body of humanistic research that is esoteric, specialized, and largely incommunicable to the students enrolled at the university. On the other side, we have a general education philosophy filled with solemn abstractions about critical thinking and multicultural awareness. Meanwhile, our graduates proceed with dismal knowledge levels in the traditional areas of history, civics, geography, and the arts.
One of the policies under consideration by the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education is a test to determine exactly what students have learned in their four years on campus. If such tests were administered, it would be interesting to compare the knowledge learned and retained by graduates from across the higher ed spectrum.

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