Wednesday, October 04, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Curricular anti-academic coup

An English professor and a philosophy professor have chaired a committee that has created a drastically new proposal for a

and so far I find it shocking. The philosophy describing it is full of meaningless political mumbo jumbo such as
  • Revamped philosophy seeks to tie general education to global citizenship and real-world responsibility
  • The report is tying liberal education to life outside the university and the challenges of a modern, globalized society
  • The role of general education, as we conceive it, is to connect what students learn at Harvard to life beyond Harvard, and to help them understand and appreciate the complexities of the world and their role in it
Jesus Christ. ;-) The Harvard students will be required to study religion and U.S. history; Harvard will fortunately be the only Ivy League school with this "new" requirement. In the case of religion, this apparently means a declaration of the end of the Enlightenment that has started a steady decline of the role of theology and religion at the universities.

Religion and U.S. history may be unusual but the global citizenship seems even harder to swallow.

If you look at the goals above, one thing is clear: universities have no business in manipulating the students in these purely political questions. Whether one should be a global citizen or not depends on the political ideas - and their politicians - whom the student prefers. A school is not supposed to be teaching you whether you should like the United Nations or not, whether you should feel as a cosmopolitan or not. Also, it shouldn't be telling you how complex the world is: on the contrary, it should be doing its best to make the complex world as comprehensible as possible.

We can also learn that the report
  • rejects the Core’s emphasis on approaches to academic inquiry.
Wow. Saying explicitly that the education at America's most well-known school should "reject the emphasis on approaches to academic inquiry" sounds as very strong tea. I would understand this at a college in a village in Montana - but at Harvard? The students are supposed to complete one half-course in each of the following seven areas:
  1. “Cultural Traditions and Cultural Change,”
  2. “The Ethical Life,”
  3. “The United States,”
  4. “Societies of the World,”
  5. “Reason and Faith,”
  6. “Life Sciences,” and
  7. “Physical Sciences.”
Add a foreign language and expository writing plus a "third critical skill" which is analytical reasoning but it doesn't have to be mathematical, in fact, it is probably most legal. Wow. It's like 2 out of 10 requirements that have something to do with rational thinking at least remotely similar to science.

In the previous proposals, science and technology represented 3 topics out of 9: another group of 3 were arts and humanities; the last group of 3 were social sciences. I think it was already a hardly acceptable low proportion for sciences but the new proposal reduces all science and technology - all kinds of science-like rational thinking, I would say - to 2 out of 7. That's just completely mad.

Needless to say, the report was prepared by a committee whose two humanity representatives were the only experienced members of such committees, and the other four new professors were completely unable to stop them.

The description also says:
  • These fields conform to the four goals of general education set out by the report: teaching global citizenship, the ability to adapt to change, and an understanding of the ethical dimensions of life, as well as making students aware that they are both products and participants of cultural traditions.
Terrible. The people are primarily products of the laws of Nature and they should be participants in various practical enterprises as well as the attempts to understand various aspects of the world better - not just participants or even products (!!) of cultural traditions.

As you can see, one hundred percent of the "goals" are meaningless ideological clichés and brainwashing. We also learn the following:
  • But in a marked difference from the current program, general education courses under the proposed system would have to present students with “a broad range of material, rather than focus in depth on a single topic or a small number of texts.”
In other words, the Harvard committee explicitly states that the school should educate superficial alumni who don't understand anything properly. How is exactly Harvard supposed to differ from average colleges besides the price of the tuition and the good name that fortunately continues to attract extraordinary students?

All these memes constitute a frontal attack on any kind of academic approach to reality and any kind of academic excellence of Harvard students. What would I say about the seven categories? (1) is redundant because it is just an umbrella for (3) and (4). Moreover, (2) and (5) is very much the same thing because religion and ethics can't be separated. The categories (1) - (5) should be compressed into two categories only. That would be much more reasonable: life sciences and physical sciences would have at least one half of the topics. Also, they could be moved to the beginning instead of being an appendix #5. ;-)

But still, there would be no mathematics, no information technologies, and, indeed, no economics because they also want Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics”, not to be counted for general education credit. Anything that resembles hard science must apparently go.

To make things worse, the humanity committee leaders and their silent science and social science collaborators are not even satisfied with 5 out of 7 fields dedicated to unscientific topics. They also want to partially fill the remaining 2 scientific categories with their soft material:
  • “Life Sciences” and “Physical Sciences”—both under the general heading of “Science and Technology”—are designed to teach key scientific concepts and place them in the context of contemporary social issues.
Wow. Science can't be placed in the context of social issues, by the very definition of science: science and its results are completely independent of the social context, and if it is not independent, it is no science. Technology might be placed in the context of social issues but those who know primarily how technology is placed in the context of social issues are not those who really contribute much positive to the society in the field of technology.

Indeed, as a commenter mentioned, the future is already coming and the students will take a course on global warming to satisfy the science criteria. What kind of society will you get if an "elite" - and I am sure that the students who go to Harvard will continue to be an elite for some time - will have this kind of education?

Is Harvard supposed to educate the leaders only - people who are skillful in getting to the top but who never want to go to the depth? Note that Bill Gates is no cheap leader. Bill Gates has actually created many of the essential programs himself at the beginning of his commercial software revolution. He has composed BASIC for Commodore personal computers. He knew how to do programs and he certainly knew how to place them in the social context. ;-) But you don't want to create alumni who are primarily interested in putting things in the social context. Someone must also be creating the actual values.

I think that the fact that something so painful was proposed - or at least leaked - may be viewed as one of the brutal consequences of the average pseudoscientific pseudoacademicians' victory over President Lawrence Summers.

Summers has been the main person who was vocally pushing for science literacy at Harvard. Despite being viewed as a Mass Hall supporter, Louis Menand, the professor of English in the recent committee, did his best to argue that science literacy cannot even be defined: and they finally succeeded - even the shrunk science is just a slave of a social ideological landlord. Alison Simmons will have all the tools in (5) to sell the Cartesian obsolete ideas about the world to be on par with physical sciences (7). The students will learn more Islam than biology, more Aristotle's misconceptions than modern physics. In evolutionary psychology, they will teach you that we are just products of cultural traditions because this general absurd proclamation is even used in the definition of core. Instead of chromosomes, they will learn about the culture of Intelligent Design, as I just read.

Harvard may be marching towards a very different era. Maybe the "Veritas" in Harvard's logo (see the upper corner of the blog) should be changed to "career and global leadership"?

And that's the memo.

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reader Halfamonkey said...

>I think Harvard's intention is to increase the group cohesiveness of its students...

Like a flock of brainwashed sheep maybe. The curriculum described above is high on mindless cant, but places very little emphasis on hard reasoning. It seems designed to produce people who cannot follow an independent train of thought, but will be easily led by the sloganeering and posturing of some demagogue. Reason is the first line of defense against the raw will to power. Once that falls, then you are left with the choice between war or slavery.

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