An open curriculum à la Brown or Amherst gives students the ultimate freedom to choose courses without having to satisfy requirements. The open curriculum is grounded in the idea that students will learn most in courses that they want to take. Aside from the obvious boon to students freed from obligation, it would add to the worth of every class. Learning requires interaction between the subject and the person, and not foisting matters on students would enhance the quality of discussions in such classes. Greater choice, in short, would lead to better students, who would also pay greater attention.
The same logic applies to professors. To teach a class full of eager faces is an inspiring task; the knowledge that students simply don’t care about their subject matter is not. Professors become more likely to engage their charges in a heated debate, work closely with them, or just show up and teach rather than hand the duty down to a teaching assistant.
One of the merits of a core curriculum is the assurance of an encompassing education, yet the freedom to choose would give students a more accurate—and hence more encompassing—picture of the real world. An encompassing education is one that would take into account the complexity of the world instead of alienating students from it. There is no perfect model of an “educated person;” therefore, there is no “correct” set of knowledge to impart. The addition of electives and the ability to pursue a secondary field or joint concentration fit right into this independent spirit.
Under an open curriculum, pushover classes taken for an easy A would be no more of a problem than with the Core, which has plenty of such “guts.” Ease itself is not a problem. Under a system like Brown’s, students would at least enjoy and actually still learn from easier classes. The focus of all classes should be on learning, whatever its level of difficulty. If not, the class has no place at an elite college.
Matriculants to elite colleges like Brown or Harvard already have the skills to succeed. An elite college student is either a well-rounded jack-of-all-trades or a specialist in one discipline. The admits who have a strong background in the liberal arts have already proven their all-around excellence; the specialists have demonstrated that they can flourish on their own turf and should not be subjected to fields that may hold them back. In fact, the one thing they share is an inability to benefit from a core curriculum.
Finally, an increased flexibility would take a significant load off students’ backs. A core curriculum demands that students plan their future courses perhaps years in advance, an unnecessary additional strain. An open curriculum guarantees that no seniors will ever face a year full of as-yet-ignored requirements. By the same token, it encourages spontaneity in class selection should one’s dream class suddenly be offered in his or her senior spring.
Nathaniel S. Rakich ’10, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Greenough Hall.