Replacing The Harvard Core

Harvard is replacing its “core” (a somewhat shaggy assortment of distribution requirements, in fact) with a set of “Program in General Education” guidelines. The program seeks to “connect a student’s liberal education.. to life beyond college.” It mandates one letter-graded half courses in each of eight categories: Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding; Culture and Belief; Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning; Ethical Reasoning; Science of Living Systems; Science of the Physical Universe; Societies of the World; and United States in the World.

As of Wednesday, the Program In General Education list now includes 51 classes, most of which seem pretty substantive. Many are modish in predictable inter-disciplinary ways, but most seem to concern serious reading. It’s certainly possible to put together a serious set of classes. All of the Math, Science, and Ethics classes look serious. There appear to be substantive offerings in each of the other fields. A pretty substantive set of classes can be selected to fulfill the other requirements. Here’s an example (categories first, classes second):

Aesthetic And Interpretive Understanding:
Poetry In America
Culture And Beliefs: For the Love of God and His Prophet:
Religion, Literature, and the Arts in Muslim Cultures
Societies of the World:
Germany In The World 1600-2000

America In The World:

Pursuits Of Happiness: Ordinary Lives In Colonial America


While a world away from a coherent core, that’s not bad. Unfortunately, it’s also extremely easy to fulfill these central curricular requirements connecting liberal education “to life beyond college” with rank esoterica.

Here’s another list of classes that would fulfill the Gen Ed requirements:

Aesthetic And Interpretive Understanding
Change Agents

Explore the arts as social resources! Starting with a “Cultural Agents Fair” to meet local change artists as possible partners for collaborative projects (on mayors, music, murals, mimes, etc.), students will consider how defamiliarization and the counterfactual make change thinkable. Then we will track how aesthetic effects and side-effects can promote social change. Theoretical readings (Schiller, Kant, Dewey, Freire, Gramsci, Ranciere, Mockus, Boal, Garcia-Canclini, inter alia) are grounded in concrete cases of agency.

Culture And Belief:
Performance, Tradition and Cultural Studies: An Introduction to Folklore and Mythology

Examines major forms of folklore (e.g., myths, legends, epics, beliefs, rituals, festivals) and the theoretical approaches used in their study. Analyzes how folklore shapes national, regional, and ethnic identities, as well as daily life; considers the function of folklore within the groups that perform and use it, employing

or

Folklore and Mythology 126. Continuing Oral Tradition in Native American Literature

or

Folklore and Mythology 111: “Embodied Expression/Expressive Body: Dance in Cultural Context”

Societies of the World:
Historical Study B-64. The Cuban Revolution, 1956-1971: A Self-Debate

United States In The World:
Social Analysis 66: “Race, Ethnicity, and Politics in the United States”

There you have it. Half of the central liberal arts requirements at America’s oldest University can be fulfilled with “cultural agents”, dance, the Cuban revolution, and race and ethnicity in US politics. Are you kidding me?

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.