general education

The Perils of Student Choice

The release of SAT scores last week gives strong ammunition to proponents of a core curriculum. As reported in the Wall Street Journal , reading scores hit their lowest figure in four decades. Writing scores hit their lowest number since a writing component was added to the exam six years ago; in fact, writing scores […]

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Why Common Core Standards Are Likely To Fail

< I argued yesterday that the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is both necessary and a good thing–but I must add that it just can’t work now. It has the potential to transform American K-12 education, but the plain fact is that it is destined to fail because current teacher education programs neither prepare […]

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Common Core Standards Can Save Us

  It’s no secret that most high school graduates are unprepared for college. Every year, 1.7 million first-year college students are enrolled in remedial classes at a cost of about $3 billion annually, the Associated Press recently reported. Scores on the 2011 ACT college entrance exam showed that only 1 in 4 high school graduates […]

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ACTA Examines General Education Requirements

ACTA has published its 2011-2 edition of What Will They Learn?, a study that examines, in basic terms, what 1007 colleges and universities around the country require from their students. The entire study is worth reading–and features an easy-to-use website–but I consider two aspects of ACTA’s findings particularly significant. First, military academies fare quite well […]

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The Usual Suspects Attack a Reformer

Today’s New York Post features a strong editorial praising the work of CUNY chancellor Matthew Goldstein, whose record of improving quality over the past decade is virtually unparalleled among university heads nationally. The Chancellor’s proposal, called Pathways, seeks to establish common general-education requirements at CUNY’s senior and community colleges, largely to smooth the transfer process […]

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‘Defend the Humanities’–A Dishonest Slogan

College foreign language and literature programs have been in decline for some time, first shrinking, then being consolidated with other departments, and now in a growing number of cases actually closed down. But the recent decision to eliminate French, Italian, Russian and Classics at SUNY Albany appears to have struck a nerve, and caused an […]

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Shaky New Standards for College Readiness

A mesmerizing phrase regularly rolls off the tongues of education experts these days. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used it in a recent speech to the National Conference of State Legislators, saying that Common Core’s new standards will try to make certain that high school graduates are truly “college- and career-ready.” Sounds impressive, but he […]

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An Open Letter to New Professors

Dear Assistant Professor: Congratulations on your new job! Whether you’re a visiting professor or on the tenure-track, consider yourself among of the lucky. As someone who ran the academic treadmill for eight years—I taught at a community college, at two four-year liberal arts colleges, and at a state university until I landed a permanent position […]

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ACTA & Its Critics

ACTA’s new, expanded survey of college general education requirements has earned justified praise. Here’s Pulitzer Prize winner Kathleen Parker, from her column this Sunday: “The study and Web site do fill a gap so that parents and students can make better choices. As a consequence, colleges and universities may be forced to examine their own […]

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Building a Curriculum Around a Plane Crash

My last post looked at the latest troubling educational initiative from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). The organization is especially pernicious not simply because of its agenda—which is, after all, quite mainstream in the contemporary academy. What distinguishes the AAC&U is its contempt toward students at non-elite schools, its belief that such […]

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Message to Freshmen: Let’s Start with Kafka and Darwin

In the wake of the National Association of Scholars’ report on summer reading for college freshmen—the report found many of the assigned books trivial and politically one-sided—we asked Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, to explain his institution’s unusually rigorous approach to summer reading. For the past two years, Bard College has asked first-year students […]

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Why the Great Books Aren’t the Answer

For several decades, conservative critics of higher education have argued against trends toward the elimination of “core” curricula and with equal ferocity against their replacement by “distribution requirements” or even open curricula. They have, in particular, defended a curriculum in “Great Books,” those widely-recognized texts in the Western tradition authored by the likes of Plato, […]

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Another Success Story

A recent report by American Council of Trustees and Alumni entitled “What Will They Learn?” makes clear that the steady deterioriation of general education at the best colleges continues apace. The report studied general education requirements at 100 top schools and found that “Topics like U.S. government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become […]

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The University Of Chicago – What’s Been Lost

The University of Chicago met widespread national opposition ten years ago after it instituted a new, less demanding core curriculum to make way for more electives. It was part of a plan to make the curriculum significantly less demanding (more “fun”) to attract more students and improve the school’s bottom line. Instead of 21 required […]

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The Modern Academic Cauldron

In the 1950s, Hamilton College, where I now teach, had no marketing arm to speak of, but the New York Times provided a good deal of favorable coverage. A few years ago I stumbled upon one such item in a June 1950 issue. The headline said “Hamilton Program: College Curriculum Is Revised to Provide the […]

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Wonder How The Clout Scandal Happened?

ACTA’s latest publication, “For the People: A Report Card on Public Higher Education in Illinois” has unearthed more of the usual disappointments. In a series of rankings, General Education requirements earned an F, with only three public universities (out of eight) indicating a foreign language requirement “and not a single institution received credit for Literature […]

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Restoring A Core

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has released a trustee guide Restoring a Core as a follow-up to What Will They Learn, their recent survey of core curricula (more about that here) Take a look at the “How Will A Core Benefit My Institution” section beginning on page 4 for some interesting examples from […]

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Wonder If There’s A Core Curriculum?

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has unveiled a new site, www.whatwilltheylearn.com, that provides a survey of core curriculum requirements at 100 American Universities. They evaluate the existence of requirements in 7 areas: Composition, Literature, Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Science. Suffice it to say that most colleges required don’t […]

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Is The Core Curriculum Really Coming Back?

The good news: A survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) announcing that “distribution requirements” in undergraduate education are out and “general education” is back. Translated, that means—or ought to mean—that colleges are reinstating the idea of a core curriculum of essential courses, conveying essential knowledge, that every well-rounded college graduate ought […]

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Why Students Flee The Humanities

On February 25, 2009, an article by Patricia Cohen appeared in the New York Times: “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Its thesis was a familiar one: an economic downturn will lead to a decline in the number of college majors in the humanities because in hard times enrollments shift toward majors […]

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Lax? Couldn’t Be.

Harvard faculty maintain that additions to the courses that will fulfill General Education requirements (a replacement for the Core) are not growing easier. Subcommittee chairs maintain that their standards have not grown too lax. Here’s a defense, reported in the Harvard Crimson: Subcommittee chairs maintain that their standards have not grown too lax. “I don’t […]

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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 […]

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Worth A Look

– Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy wonders why some prominent universities don’t have law schools – Princeton, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Rice, and Tufts are law-school-less. As is Brandeis, ironic as he notes, “for a prominent university named after a Supreme Court justice.” He’s surprised they haven’t made the leap. Take a look. – Harvard’s new […]

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University Of The Absurd

Recently I sat down with a young woman who shared with me the experience of her first year at Thurgood Marshall College, one of the six colleges of the University of California at San Diego. She explained to me that regardless of her major field of study and in order to graduate she was required […]

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Fishing For Purpose

When asked about the theme for December’s annual MLA convention- “The Humanities at Work in the World” – Yale comparative literature professor and MLA president Michael Holquist spoke of the need “to raise the consciousness of people outside the academy about the importance of the work that’s done inside the academy.” Acknowledging that the humanities […]

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