GUEST POST BY: CORINNE WHITE
According to a new report criticizing UNC-Chapel Hill’s curriculum, many course offerings are too “idiosyncratic,” and the general education curriculum follows an “all-too-typical ‘smorgasbord’ approach.”
The John W. Pope Center for Higher Education, a Raleigh-based think tank affiliated with Governor Pat McCrory’s budget director and high-profile Tea Party supporter Art Pope, published a report written by Jay Schalin and Jenna Ashley Robinson that analyzed UNC’s overall course offerings and curriculum, found flaws, and prescribed alternatives.
The report lists many classes that fulfill general education requirements and are considered by the Pope Center to be overly specific, existing only to serve the personal research interests of faculty. The classes listed include a first-year seminar on defining blackness, a class on Israeli cinema, and one on American environmental policy.
Schalin and Robinson also advocate eliminating courses that require prerequisites, cutting classes that are limited to a specific time period or place, and perhaps most troubling, shortening the foreign language requirement from three classes to two. Their proposal would also cut UNC’s overall course offering from nearly 4,000 options to just 771.
Overall, the Pope Center’s recommendations disturbingly ignore the pressing need of a modern university to prepare students to obtain a nuanced, empathetic and analytic understanding of an increasingly globalized economy.
The report included quotes that border on xenophobia, and emphasize the Pope Center’s mission of promoting the study of western civilization, including: “If we are to have a unified nation that pulls together when needed, one culture must dominate.”
Another concerning excerpt: “Not all history is equally valuable—the study of Western civilization is richer and more pertinent to U.S. students than other branches. Like it or not, we are part of the West and draw almost all of our culture from it. Furthermore, Western civilization, far more than any other branch of history, includes the vast range of ideas that influenced human events.”
Like it or not, we draw our culture from our people, who come from many places that do not make up the traditional “West.”
The Pope Center’s recommendations completely misunderstand the point of a general education curriculum by belittling enriching — albeit specific — courses as being irrelevant to gaining general knowledge. By studying microcosms of history and society such as JAPN 351: Swords, Tea Bowls, and Woodblock Prints: Exploring Japanese Material Culture or RELI 232: Shrines and Pilgrimages (both classes identified to be unnecessary by the Pope Center), students are able to learn specific applications of general, important concepts and by thinking more globally, are able to apply and recognize such concepts in their own lives.
Guest contributor Corinne White is a senior history and public policy major from Winston-Salem, who has worked at Obama For America and Amnesty International. Corinne is currently a staff writer for Synapse Magazine, a new iPad magazine launching November 12, 2013. You can follow Synapse on Twitter @synapseunc
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