Phi Beta Cons

The Ripple Effects of the Hollow Core

The evisceration of core curriculum is nothing new. It’s been happening for decades, and the notion of a college education as an academic menagerie has more or less metastesized in the popular imagination. It’s what makes tweets like this unremarkable:

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RT @alfredom2012: The number & diversity of classes at @Stanford is incredible. Picking which ones to take isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege.less than a minute ago via SocialFlow Favorite Retweet Reply


Is it right that we should leave 18-year-old college freshmen, unmentored, to sort out a coherent curriculum on their own?

Core requirements are the soul of education, providing common ground between students of diverse majors. It seems there’s enough respect for the notion of core studies that they’re rarely, in the words of Stanford’s president Donald Kennedy in 1988, directly “banished or devalued.” They’re simply diluted.

And when you dilute a person’s understanding of his civilization enough, distorting his perspective of his place within its narrative, is it any wonder that affection for that civilization diminishes?

This is what ISI’s Civic Literary test has sought to prove about the fracturing nature of the American identity.

We live in an age that imagines itself beset at every turn by historically unique and enormously complex challenges. Paradoxically, rarely are effective solutions themselves complex. In education, much good could be done simply by restoring affection for our own canon.

Perhaps our institutions are too complex to see this. Perhaps we’ll have to do it on our own.

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