Core Curriculum Should be Overhauled
THE CRIMSON STAFF
It is increasingly clear that the term" core" is a misnomer. The name implies that what is learned in the core is basic, essential knowledge for a liberal arts education. the reality is that the core is a selection of poorly administered classes of peripheral importance to students educations.
Considering that students are required to spend a quarter of their undergraduate academic careers in the core, the situation is in the desperate need to help.
The problems with the current system come from all sides. Logistically, sections in the core are often overcrowded and undersupplied. Though professors and teaching fellow believe that 15 students should be the maximum, many sections now top 20 students. This size largely defeats the purpose of sections. Professor Larry D. Benson, who teachers Literature and Arts A-13 says "It is no longer a section at 20 or 25 students. It is a lecture.
The problems do not stop the at overcrowding, though. Many TF's have complained of inflexibility and an uncooperative attitude from the core office. TFs have often had trouble getting the necessary books for classes leading to delays and obstacles in teaching the course material. Several TF's also charged that the core office does a poor job of acquiring the necessary numbers of TF's for classes that are larger than expected.
Yet the flaws in the core go deeper. The Program created in 1979, was intended as a means of teaching students "approaches to knowledge." The idea was that with the rapidly changing body of knowledge, such an approach would keep the core relevant as a teaching tool.
But if the core is supposed to teach "approaches to knowledge," many of the actual teachers don't appear to understand how. Numerous TFs and professors say that they are unclear on how to teach "an approach."
Professor Charles S. Maier, who teaches Historical Study B-70 says, "I don't think that I personally would do much different in a core course than a department course."
The misunderstanding of the core could imply that instructors are not adequately briefed on how to teach the classes. More likely the difficulty in realizing to the core's mission is a symbol of the difficulty in putting an ideal into practice.
Yet the focus on teaching "approaches" has made its mark. Very specific courses on small time periods and narrow subject areas are common in the core. The logic is that an approach to history can be taught as well or perhaps better, in course on the Darwinian revolution as is can in a broad survey course.
Students who wish to take broader courses are usually unable to receive core credit for them; this leaves many in the position of taking a curse of little interest, or value to them.
The University could right the wrongs of the core in several ways. If the administration in intent on keeping the current structure, it could at least provide the funds to keep sections sizes down and to ensure that courses have the resources they need.
To broaden the core's horizons, the University could insert more survey courses among the current offerings such a change would at least give those who seek these courses the chance to take them for core credit.
Change is also possible outside of the current structure. A system of distribution requirements, used at so many other universities, would ensure that students receive a truly broad liberal education.
Ways of improving the core are out there. Unfortunately the administration doesn't seem to be looking for them. Dean for Undergraduate Education Lawrence Buell has said that the core is "functioning very well." He doesn't foresee any large-scale review of the porgram.
His complacent attitude towards the core is at odds with that of Harvard students, two-thirds of whom express dissatisfaction with the present system.
If the University believes that the core is an essential part of a Harvard education, them administrators should ensure that the program lives up to its name.