It doesn’t take a Harvard degree to conclude that American education changes in response to changes in systems of labor and employment. But one proposed change that might surprise is the so-called “60-year curriculum.” Challenging the notion of education as something that stops in one’s early twenties, the idea of the 60-year curriculum promises to put the “life” back in the “life of the mind.”
As the retirement age rises to levels not seen since the 1960s, and the number of jobs the average American worker has in their career takes a parallel leap, doubling for millennials as compared to their Gen X predecessors in the decade after college alone, it’s clear that economic change is mandating innovation in how we prepare students, both young and old, for productive, meaningful, and dynamic careers. While the liberal arts prerogative of intellectual enrichment as such remains an ever-relevant endeavor, today’s students need more than a one-time preparation for a singular career. Harvard, as a leader in education, must also lead the charge in exploring non-traditional routes to continuing education.
Let us be clear: We are in no way negating — nor have we negated — the value of a liberal arts education. The intellectual exploration and genuine life of the mind institutions like Harvard facilitate at their best is not only essential to the personal fulfillment of students but also an innovative and lively economic and social society. Still, Harvard can and should serve a wider student body and a larger purpose.
Indeed, a form of the 60-year curriculum has been championed by Huntington D. Lambert, dean of the Division of Continuing Education. In this vein, it’s worth noting that the Division of Continuing Education has done important work in striving to fulfill the needs of students seeking education at all stages of their professional and intellectual journeys, and we applaud its efforts. From the communal experience of the Institute for Learning in Retirement, which hosts peer-led seminars, to professional development programming that helps professionals to enhance and buttress their skills, to the Premedical Program which provides students who might not have had the opportunity to prepare for medical education in college to do so at a more advantageous juncture, the Division of Continuing Education has and should continue to broaden our sense of education and at what stages of life it belongs.
To the same end, we encourage the expansion of open curriculum projects that can make available the knowledge that we are so grateful to have access to. The online course provider edX, pioneered by individuals from MIT and Harvard, allows anyone to access material taught at the two schools. Many other institutions have since joined the initiative, which provides a mix of liberal arts-serving and career-oriented courses offerings, many of which are completely free.
In continuing with their important work, the Division of Continuing Education could also look at the ways other institutions have contributed to great social mobility, more so than many elite institutions like Harvard. After all, why isn’t Harvard in the list of top ten colleges for social mobility?
If rising movements toward lifelong learning represent a radically democratic impulse — one in which age is no barrier to self-improvement — then it will only be successful if made available to those of all backgrounds and socioeconomic positions.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.