Wednesday, May 18, 2011

at the core

One of the things that sets some great universities apart is their "core curriculum" in which all the students, regardless of major are required to take certain core subjects which are intended to bring them to a particular level of shared culture. Many schools, like the University of Arkansas, are abandoning their core curriculum to allow more time for specialized training in specific vocational fields. At Columbia University, the core curriculum is still strong, at least for those students enrolled in the Columbia College for bachelor of arts degrees. Those enrolled in engineering have a completely different set of classes, and it surprises me that you can go through engineering, get a degree in financial engineering, become a project manager and never actually making anything in your life.

Some of my long term blog readers will remember 4 years back when my daughter was first enrolled at Columbia College. I began a conversation with Alan Brinkley, provost, concerning my naive proposal to add a hands-on component to the core curriculum. Oh, well. Here we are 4 years later, and the core curriculum on the Titanic remains the same.  I would never suggest that the core curriculum be abandoned. But I will continue to suggest that if the purpose of the core curriculum is to bring us to a common point of human culture, to leave the development of skilled hands out of the formula, is to sustain one of the worst shortcomings of American education. Early proponents of manual arts understood that to teach all to create useful and beautiful objects was an important component in essential democracy, as it helped to sustain the shared sense of the dignity of human labor. What would happen if students of one of the world's great universities were to enter their intellectual engagements through the shared framework of humanity that only the hands can provide?

As today is Lucy's commencement day, I realize that I have little leverage now to continue to propose change.

Make, fix and create. Nearly everything depends upon you and me.


  1. Anonymous6:54 AM

    Congratulations to Lucy! And never give up on your quest to get people to use their hands.


  2. Mario, Thanks. Just imagine a time coming in which parents will tell their children, instead of "use your head," "use your hands!" Our true intelligence is rooted in the relationship between.

  3. Doug-
    Don't cut yourself too short on the wisdom that you beStowe upon us. We reach out to others and your effect multiplies exponentially. (This effect can probably be calculated with an engineering degree!)

    Congratulations to your family.

    Keep the faith-


  4. It may be that if we are not exposed to hands-on at a young age, at an older age exposure may not have that much of an impact. As a hands-on person myself, one of my majors and most of my employment provides for hands-on expression. I would have welcomed hands-on courses as choices for some of the silly filler courses that I was required to take.

  5. Congratulations! You must be very proud of your daughter!