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Clueless about the Core

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Many words, few relevant details

Prefrosh: would you like to have some idea of what classes you'll be required to take in the next four years?  If you're going by the Harvard viewbook, you may not know that Harvard is undergoing its first curricular overhaul in over 30 years, and you'll be the first class to fall under Harvard's new General Education program.  The viewbook's vague and contradictory information follows after the jump.

On page 33, the viewbook reads:

Harvard structures students' academic experiences to afford the greatest possible freedom to design individual programs.  Students normally enroll in four classes each term.  Their plan of study includes work in their concentration, the Core Curriculum, Expository Writing, and Foreign Language.

The first sentence is the usual Harvard spiel about how much flexibility everyone has with their schedules (though freshmen in Life Sci, Ec10, and Justice may beg to differ).  Granted, it doesn't sound blatantly wrong.  But then why would they mention the Core Curriculum to the class of 2013 when they won't be falling under the Core at all...?  If the viewbook is bothering to mention the Core, they are going to explain the transition to Gen Ed right about now--right?

Right.  After explaining that everyone at Harvard takes classes in the Core Curriculum, the viewbook describes Gen Ed in enormous detail:

The Program in General Education

One course from each of the following 8 areas:

Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding

Culture and Belief

Empirical Reasoning

Ethical Reasoning

Science of Living Systems

Science of the Physical Universe

Societies of the World

The U.S. in the World

If I were a prefrosh, I would feel like I know so much about Gen Ed.  Are these a restricted group of classes or courses that can be drawn anywhere from the (online) course catalog?  How is Gen Ed different from the Core in structure?  In philosophy?  What is Gen Ed supposed to be all about?

Being a brilliant high school senior who just got into Harvard, I would be able to guess all of this from the categories alone.  It's called being ready to B.S. your way through any section at Harvard.  Too bad if I listed these categories to my high school friends or AP Statistics teacher, I'd get one of the names wrong--it's Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, not Empirical Reasoning.

Photo: Screenshot of digital Harvard Viewbook, from Harvard College Admissions Web site