Lessons From the New QRR
New category justified, but more departmental classes should fulfill other Cores
The past semester was the maiden voyage of the Quantitative Reasoning area of the Core Curriculum, a replacement for the infamous statistics test of yore. It seems too early to judge the success of a Core area in which only six classes were offered this year and which is expected to double in size in coming years.
However, the idea of a Core requirement for mathematics, statistics, computer programming or other areas involving quantitative reasoning does make sense. The Quantitative Reasoning Core area provides a good opportunity for non-concentrators to take courses in fields that would normally be inaccessible--those who could not sacrifice their lives to CS 50 can now learn basic programming skills in QR 20. While we are generally opposed to extensions of the Core because of the additional requirements they place on students' already tight schedules, the Quantitative Reasoning requirement does not represent a true imposition because students are still required to take only eight Core classes. Most important for student choice, those who take any of a number of introductory mathematics or statistics classes will have fulfilled the requirement and will not need an additional course.
Unfortunately, those who made an effort to respect student choice in the design of the Quantitative Reasoning Core area neglected to apply the same principles to the rest of the Core. Many departmental courses are listed as fulfilling the Science A and B requirements as well. But only very few Core areas outside of the mathematical sciences explicitly accept departmental courses as fulfilling Core requirements, placing those who must meet humanities requirements in the ironic situation of being forced by the University to follow a watered-down curriculum instead of pursuing higher-level material on their own initiative. In order for the Core to make up for the loss of student choice it represents, the wide range of substitutions of departmental courses allowed in the science core requirements ought to be granted to the humanities as well.
The intent of the Core has been described as teaching "approaches to knowledge" rather than simple content. Indeed, many of its courses employ interdisciplinary techniques that might be lacking in a more narrowly focused departmental course. Yet it seems that departmental courses not explicitly accepted in lieu of Core classes would often fulfill the same mission. No departmental classes at all, for instance, are listed for Historical Study, Social Analysis, or Literature and Arts. It is difficult to believe that no classes on music theory or appreciation confront students with a new "approach to knowledge" as well as First Nights, or that a history course on Reconstruction teaches less of the historian's approach than a history Core on the Civil War.
Accepting a greater number of departmental courses to fill Core requirements would reduce the size of overflowing Cores. It would free students from the unwieldy and frequently unsuccessful process of filing special petitions. And it would enable students to explore the many rewarding courses listed in the course catalog without worrying whether they also happen to be listed on page 37 of the Handbook for Students. Without questioning the need for broad education--even for exposure to different "approaches to knowledge"--there are ways to serve students better without the Core's confusing and seemingly arbitrary barriers to course choice.