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Archive for Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Core knowledge

September 11, 2012

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To the editor:

Druids memorized all essential knowledge of their civilization. What is written, they argued, is forgotten. The point is that all knowledge must be in the mind. That it is written somewhere is meaningless. To be of use, what is known must be in the individual mind. Association and correlation are essential to thought, to thinking, and are the source of all creativity. Da Vinci, Newton, Washington, and Einstein (picking an arbitrary few) were taught the Western Canon, the core knowledge, our cultural memory.

Before Einstein was Einstein, he was a college student. He did not choose to learn the Canon; it was required. What if he had not been required to learn the Great Books? Would we have his theory of relativity?

The argument for doing away with the Western Civ requirement at Kansas University is that students will continue to be required to take humanities courses but will now have the opportunity to better orient what they learn to their specialized course of study. But is such specialization really good? Computers operate on a binary code that needs only a 0 or a 1. Should we allow computer science majors to limit their study of numbers to the two digits they will most frequently use?

While teaching Western Civ for 20 years, I never deluded myself that my students came voluntarily. But I know, in the end, they were glad of the experience. I also know the Great Books made them better doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and managers — and, more importantly, better citizens.

Comments

Abdu Omar 1 year, 10 months ago

While I agree with this argument, is it not important to study the history, culture and events of the Eastern World? If the west was dropped off the earth, there would still be the east, would it not?

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SnakeFist 1 year, 10 months ago

On the one hand, the Western Civ classes are, in my opinion, some of the the best classes students take at KU. They won't improve students' chances of getting a job, but then, ideally (though not practically), that's not the primary focus of a university education.

On the other hand, KU micromanages its degree programs more than any other school I've attended, and, as tuition goes through the roof, students will want more and more freedom to choose their classes. For example, when I was an unfunded masters student, I couldn't have cared less what my department wanted me to take - as long as I was paying for it, I took whatever appealed to me. Furthermore, practically (though not ideally), the primary focus of a university education has to be a well-paying job in order to afford increasingly exorbitant student loans.

I my opinion, continue to require Western Civ, but cut the requirements for, e.g., foreign languages that few if anyone will ever use. I realize the language departments won't like this, but then I've never known a professor who didn't think his subject was the most important one to know.

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Abdu Omar 1 year, 10 months ago

Cutting the foreign language requirement is a touchy subject when speaking about Wester Civ. You see, the language study introduces the student to the culture of the language studied. Those who take French for example, learn about the culture, food, manners and colloquialisms of France and Francophone countries, not just the language.

At University of Maryland where I went, we had a choice, however, to take a core group of classes for general education that included language or not. But if we chose not to study a language we had to take more science or math. I chose the language.

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