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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
In the 15 years since Harvard began the General Education Program, two different sets of inconsistencies have arisen in College educational policy. They have caused most of the concern for the present Program and have supplied most of the reasons for wishing it reappraised, and possibly revised.
The most obvious difficulty has been that the General Education courses offered in 1962 bear little resemblance to the policy statement which opened the Program in 1945. The initial statement called for one broad survey in the Social Sciences, required of every student, and one survey in the Humanities, also required of everyone. The undergraduate could choose between two surveys in the Natural Sciences.
The theory of this course Program was that it would teach everyone the same things, and that everyone would get at least a brief exposure to most of the academic disciplines. But now, undergraduates can choose between a half-dozen General Education courses in each area, and many of these courses involve the student in intensive work in a single discipline, rather than attempting to spread his study over several different fields. In short, General Education has become increasingly specialized.
The second inconsistency has also concerned specalization. In the past ten years the College has implemented several smaller educational programs-of which Sophomore Standing and the Freshman Seminars are the best examples-that seem to contradict the idea of General Education. General Education was designed, in part, to delay the undergraduate's entry into a field of concentration. But both Sophomore Standing and the Seminars hasten choice of a field.
Specialization and General Education are held, of course, to be equally necessary. As Dean Ford stated when he announced the new committee. "The modern world demands highly specialized talent, but responsible specialists must see the world in its full complexity and must be fully aware of the main threads if our culture." The problem is to achieve both ends.
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