A recent article in The Harvard Magazine explores new models for an “educated core” curriculum centred on the liberal arts. “We have to think about a future-ready graduate…able to zoom out and zoom in…to identify problems, define options, and build relationships that span cultures and boundaries.” In the article, Harvard Magazine Editor John Rosenberg highlights three very different examples that expand the range of possibilities for HASS Futures discussions:
Yale-NUS College: The Yale-NUS College is not well-known in North America. Its aim is to build a common core around “articulate communication”. Writing largely for a North American audience, the article positions it as “the latest step in Singapore’s purposeful pursuit of progress in higher education…First came an emphasis on training professionals…on a disciplinary model borrowed from the British. Then, the education system supported more research and development, though still with an eye on the economy. Now, in this millennium, resources have been poured into…experimenting with general education for students pursuing certain professions: a liberal-arts halfway house” as Singapore “raises its sights from problems of engineering to problems of social understanding”.
Viewed from my North American perspective, there are two striking features in the new curriculum:
Methods-Oriented Core: A different take on revising the core curriculum in HASS, the Methods-Oriented core curriculum, is a proposal from John Lemann, former Dean of the Journalism School at Columbia University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. The 2016 article detailing the proposal is behind a pay-wall, but there is a thoughtful and comprehensive summary by Tony Picciano freely available. Lemann’s proposal encompasses eight core courses on specific ways of thinking.
What strikes me about this proposal is that it looks more like a list of desired graduate attributes than a set of courses that my students could understand. For example, consider a course on Thinking in Time. As Picciano notes, this is in part “a course on the historical method, but it’s meant to do more than teach people to do historical research...To most students arriving at college, the past often seems safer than it actually was, outcomes more inevitable than they were, and operative assumptions closer to the ones we use today. Historical thinking…can make students see that everything could have turned out differently, that individual people always operate within social, economic, and cultural contexts.”
For my students, the best structure is likely to be two of these course modules taken per term in their first two undergraduate years, and applied in more traditional topic modules being taken in the same term. That would put the methods to work by transferring the ideas to multiple contexts, where the goal is to apply a particular lens for seeing the world and tools for engaging the world. Some of these lens + tools combinations will have more immediate value in some settings, and our learners need to develop their meta-capability of discerning what works where, when and why.
Minerva Schools: The final intriguing development in core curriculum cited in The Harvard Magazine article is at Minerva Schools, where the focus is on liberal education as “practical knowledge” which students can use to adapt to a changing world, along with a novel integration of pedagogy based on scientific research on learning, a new technology platform to deliver small seminars in real time and a hybrid residential model where students live together (rotating term-by-term through seven cities around the world). This description is adapted from the MIT Press announcement of a book by the founders to appear in October 2017.
The Curriculum structure includes a common first year of “rigorous interdisciplinary courses”, a second year with core courses in a major area – for Arts and Humanities, those are Global History, Morality and Justice and The Arts and Social Change – and then a Concentration with specific career paths in the final two years. For Arts and Humanities majors, the overall program philosophy focuses the outcomes on personal formation: with career implications but an equal emphasis on how the capabilities impact learners’ other roles as community members and global citizens.
“The arts and humanities take the history of human creative thought and expression and apply it to understanding and contextualizing events, ideas, policies, and human relationships. They foster an appreciation for other ideas, other times and other cultures, as well as new ways of looking at the world. Arts and humanities scholarship produces better-informed leaders, innovators and global citizens with a social conscience, who are able to express their views persuasively and through different media and forms.”
Have a look at the Concentrations for Arts and Humanities, which provide learners with sample pathways to understanding and its applications. For example, the Humanities Foundations concentration might be applied as a ‘Social Commentator” while the Historical Forces concentration might lead be applied in a role as “Investigative Journalist”.
All of these three very different models share the goal of renewing the vision of Arts and Humanities education without sacrificing the distinctive spirit and ethos. All can thrive in their specific contexts. What about your context? How are you revitalizing Arts and Humanities education while educating whole persons for the whole of life?
Dr. Tom Carey works as a “connector, coach and catalyst" in leadership strategy and faculty collaborations for exemplary teaching and learning environments, across higher education institutions and systems in Canada and the U.S.