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Opinion: In Defense of the Core

By Matthew Wojtechko

The core curriculum at SVC gets a bad rap. I’m not going to say it’s perfect – Saint Vincent itself seems to agree that it needs changed – but I think it is better than people give it credit for. I want to convey what I think is great about the core as it is, and with that as our guide, demonstrate a way it can be revitalized.

I found the commentary in Jonathan’s piece to be compelling, and we agree in many respects – the core should be restructured, high school education should (and sometimes does) make core classes less needed in college, and qualified students should be able to test out of certain requirements. However, he experienced the core curriculum as somewhat wasteful, as I think many students do, while I have experienced it as largely beneficial.

Like Jonathan said, Liberal Arts is about making a person more well-rounded and knowledgeable – for their professional life, sure, but also their personal life. As such, I have strived to fulfill my core requirements by taking classes that interest me.

Some of the classes I’ve taken are valuable in the sense they better inform my opinions and let me understand the world deeper, such as Etiology of Mass Violence, Astronomy, and Aliens/Monsters/Heroes/Jesus. Other courses complemented my professional interests, such as Logic, Creative Writing, and various psychology courses.

Others have had less importance to me. I sometimes feel guilty over my past study of Spanish because, despite courses from first grade to Freshman year of college, I’m still far from fluency. And, like Jonathan alluded to, some core classes can feel like a repeat from high school.

This is the analysis I want to draw upon when formulating my own idea of what a core curriculum at SVC should look like: currently, there’s the great potential of enriching us personally and professionally, but also pitfalls of redundancy and inefficiency.

So, first, let’s eliminate these pitfalls. I agree with Jonathan that students should be able to test out of certain core classes that instill vital skills. If someone comes into SVC with college-level skills in literature and composition, do they need to take three English courses here? Or, if someone has had lab experience from high school, do they need to take two sciences with labs in college – especially if they’re, say, an art major?

Second, let’s make the core classes we do take tailor-made to students. Like I said, I have enjoyed most of my core classes because I’ve found courses that interest me personally and professionally. So, how can we make that more the norm for all students?

One way, I think, is to have classes that are designed with a certain audience in mind – the “outsiders.” My impression of some core classes is that they are a little bit of a deep dive into certain topics. However, someone not initiated in a given field may need a different focus and approach to get anything out of a course in that field.

Br. Norman’s new math class may be on the right track in that regard. I have not taken it, but I understand it as a new alternative to students, particularly freshman, who need to fulfill their math requirement, but are pursuing a major that doesn’t use much math. This class seems to discuss how math is manifested in nature and looks at what math is, in a philosophical sense. This seems exactly like the type of math class a non-STEM student would find interesting, and would enrich their understanding of the world without getting too deep in the weeds of a subject they will likely never be expert in. This class seems like a better use of time for, say, a communication major, as opposed to a class of elementary functions – after said student has already underwent years and years of math in elementary, middle, and high school. (More information about Br. Norman’s course can be found on The Review website in the article From president to professor by Irina Rusanova.)

Another way to make the core curriculum tailored to students is to have a list of core classes specific to each major. By this, I mean that if, say, you are a computer science major like me, your core curriculum could look something like this:

Technical Writing (English)

Digital Layout and Design (Communication)

Website Design (Communication)

Organizational Behavior (Business)

Management Information Systems (Finance)

Corporate Finance I (Finance)

Electrical Circuitry (Engineering)

Acting (Fine Arts)

All of these classes may broaden computer science majors’ skills past the edges of their professional expertise, which not only helps them become more knowledgeable individuals, but provides them a competitive edge in the workforce. The English class would make sure the student can communicate their work in a written format, which is paramount in computer science. The communication, business, and finance classes could give students more comprehensive views of different utilizations of their discipline, as does the engineering course, which would also help students understand what’s going on “under the hood” of the computers they use. Finally, the acting class could help students utilize empathy, which is necessary for understanding users’ and clients’ problems, as well as designing products that help them.

This exact lineup of classes may not be feasible for a computer science major (maybe some are too hard, for example) but it demonstrates how core requirements could take into account students’ majors in order to give a more fitting liberal arts experience. Such classes could be required or recommended by the department. There could be several optional courses. But the underlying idea is that each student is presented with a list of curated courses that complement their professional interests.

As for personal interests, advisors should work with students to find courses that suit them personally. Perhaps that requires an update to the advising system, too.

I’m not sure how such a core curriculum like this can be implemented – I know making changes to academic requirements can have major ramifications on, say, the number of professors needed for certain departments – but I think this is the way to do liberal arts.

Now, I should offer a sort of disclaimer. I have very broad academic interests. I graduated high school having completed college-level writing and computer programming courses, entered SVC as a computer science major, and became a writer (and recently, editor-in-chief) of the student newspaper. I considered a second major in philosophy before deciding on a minor in psychology. And, I’ve decided to pursue a career in video game development and design, which is suited for individuals with a multidisciplinary background.

This is all to say I have a very distinct perspective that makes me feel an education that lets me take all kinds of classes is optimal – but this might not be the case for everyone. Therefore, I think it is important to question not just how the college should provide liberal arts to students, but which students should attend a liberal arts college.

I think it is also important to hear from these other perspectives, so I would like to invite you to send The Review your own written piece about SVC’s curriculum. SVC itself is also interested in hearing from you. This December, the Core Curriculum Committee, tasked with restructuring the core, will issue “an open call (to faculty, staff, students, and alumni) for proposals for student learning outcomes that reflect the priorities” identified by a survey they have administered, according to information on the Portal. Especially if you’ve been unhappy with the curriculum on this campus, I think this is the time to let your voice be heard. Let’s help shape lasting change on this campus.

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