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A Symposium on the
Common Core
Curriculum

Over a decade since the Sonnenschein reforms, our
contributors examine The Core, where it succeeds,
where it fails, and what should be done now.

Josh Lerner

            The issue of the Core comes down to two separate, yet equally important aspects of educational direction: the general education requirements themselves, and the courses that fulfill those requirements. The reforms introduced under President Sonnenschein fundamentally altered both, and any serious discussion of changing those reforms must deal with both. With regards to lessening requirements, the Sonnenschein reforms were largely successful, and, for the sake of the college, necessary. However, the expansion of what could fulfill those requirements served only to further distract from the original purpose of the Core, and in doing so, continued the watering down of the Great Books tradition at the University of Chicago.

            As per the requirements, the first thing these reforms did was to allow more students the opportunity to graduate on time. What is important to remember is that the University of Chicago in the 1990s had an on time graduation rate comparable to third tier public universities: the whole reason the euphemism of “first year” instead of freshman exists here was the shear number of students taking fifth and sixth years. Referring to them as “super-seniors” or anything else would be somewhat demeaning. But how many schools have to adopt an entirely new language about the relative seniority of students because there are so many who stay far longer than is the norm at other schools?

            This model, unfortunately, was financially unsustainable for the university and students alike. The cost of an education at the University of Chicago comes in at around $56,000 a year if you are in university housing. The financial burden placed upon students who require a fifth or sixth year is a truly severe one, and there are too many students who cannot finish a degree on time and are paying their way through college, all of which provides a tremendous disincentive to prospective students who lack the financial means. While we still have an on time graduation rate that is considerably lower than other elite institutions, it is no longer as disproportionately low. Expanding the prospective student pool for the university is beneficial not only from a financial perspective, but from an educational one as well, especially when one considers the prevalence of Socratic Seminars on campus. A student body that reflects a myriad of interests can partake in discussions of the big questions from differing perspectives; an attempt to narrow it, or scare away people who seek careers in the sciences, can only hurt this. But on time graduation is not only a function of getting enough credits to graduate, but also for having enough technical experience to study at the graduate level.

            The problem with the way the Core was designed was that it necessarily punished students who study cumulative, hierarchical, knowledge growth based studies, like a hard science or mathematics, because it didn’t allow them enough time to complete all of the requirements necessary to study their discipline at the graduate level. The biggest problem for many students in such fields is that there is a lot of technical knowledge that must be acquired before being able to conduct research, the raison d’être for graduate school; if said students are unable to take all of their Core classes, and fulfill requisites for studying the discipline at the graduate level, they are forced to stay at the University of Chicago longer or forgo graduate study. One of the major red herrings in the liberal arts debate is the line that it is unwise or even destructive to think of an education as in anyway practical, rather than as an introduction to the “best that has been thought.” While this is certainly one important part of education—an oft-neglected part, I’ll grant you—it is far from the only part. What many of the reformers of the core fail to consider is that many disciples have real prerequisites and a real cumulative component to its acquisition. There is a danger in treating all elements of the Core as essentially interchangeable with respect to the way they are taught. No one should be recommending that the University of Chicago emulate St. John’s methodology for teaching mathematics or the sciences; building a core curriculum around the great texts in these fields introduces students to far too many errors—knowable and clear errors—without requiring them to work out the logic of the current knowledge. Besides, there is a palpable humanities bias in most discussions of Core education—humanistic in that it focuses on non-quantitative fields of study—because of the very nature of humanistic versus positivistic pedagogy. The way one accumulates knowledge in the sciences is nothing at all like the way one would do it in the humanities or the social sciences—the nature of the respective disciplines necessitate this.

            What, however, does need to be changed are the choices offered within the revamped Core. For each class that properly presents what should be desired in a liberal arts education, there are at least three that openly defy it for the sake of political correctness or a misguided intellectual pluralism. Within each of the three sections of the Core originally designed to study the great ideas of the West—the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Civilization Core sequences—are courses that seek not only to offer an alternative to that very vision, but rather to deny the validity of any such vision itself.

            The present form of the Social Sciences core is a good example of this detrimental tendency. Besides “Classics of Social and Political Thought,” one is not introduced to a single pre-modern thinker in any of the other classes; the best remaining class, “Power, Identity, and Resistance,” acts as if social thought began with Hobbes and the social contract theorists of the 17th and 18th centuries. The worst of the bunch, “Mind,” is essentially a continual diatribe in favor of the conventional wisdom of current intellectual trends in psychology. This class somehow avoids any text reading at all and instead fills in the blanks with excerpts from modern psychology articles and papers.

            Ultimately, however, the intent of the Core has become muddled and has conflated an introduction to interdisciplinary analysis and study with the original purpose of the Core, which was, as stated by former President of the University of Chicago Robert Maynard Hutchins “to reassess the tradition in which it lives, to discard what it cannot use, and to bring into context with the distant and intermediate past the most recent contributions to the Great Conversation.” The purpose of the Core was laboring over the Great Conversation; a methodological overview of the social sciences, although interesting, does little to advance the Great Questions or the Great Conversation. It was why the Core classes were always to be Socratic Seminars and not lectures; it was why they were to be structured around Great Books and not great social movements; it was why the classes were structured to ask the great questions of our civilization not answer them; and it is why the Core today seems so adrift, so purposeless.

            The Core today cannot tell if it is designed to introduce people to as many disciplines as possible to give them an idea of what they want to study, or if it does this simply because there are things that should be known, questions that should be asked, and problems that should be scrutinized. It has become (with some exceptions) trite, topical, and pluralistic: attributes that are characteristic of sophomoric college students (and I speak as one), not those that teach them.

            There are reasons to be weary of the Core as it is currently constituted, but one would be wrong to suggest that it is an unredeemable mess. Simply by limiting the choices in the Social Science, Humanities, and Civilization core sequences to two or three properly designed classes, we can make much headway into reviving great books education. And, of course, bringing back Western Civilization as a requirement. But we must, at the same time, be wary of venturing too far into the realm of a St. John’s; the University of Chicago is as much a great Research University as it is a Liberal Arts College, and to return to the original requirements would be absolutely detrimental to our abilities to function as an institution dedicated to providing world class research.

What concerns me most is, however, the institutional drag and the ideological resistance to anything approaching a classical conception of the liberal arts amongst the faculty. For this, unfortunately, I do not see an easy solution. But if we somehow regain a collective appreciation for the original intent of the Core, and are able to balance that with an understanding of the needs of those studying modern cumulative disciplines, the University of Chicago can better serve its students as both citizens and scholars.

 

Bryant Jackson-Green

The University of Chicago admissions website has a charming description of the common core. Reading it again as a second-year, I recall that this was precisely what I found so enthralling about the University. The idea of a rigorous liberal arts education – one in which I would have the opportunity to study the social sciences, humanities, hard sciences, and other academic fields as a means of crafting an intellectual basis to extend the “life of the mind” well beyond my college years – seemed appealing.

I was, I feel, rather quickly disabused of this illusion not long after I began my studies here. To clarify, it’s not that I did not always enjoy my core classes – I consider the ideas discussed and debated in the social science and humanities sequences I took to have been well worth studying. I can also appreciate the usefulness of language instruction and some degree of exposure to the sciences. The problem is, rather, the nature of my own interests. Broad core curriculums are useful for those who have no idea of what fields they are interested in and perhaps for aspiring “renaissance men,” as well. I, however, am primarily interested in the humanities and social sciences, and discovered that, although the core is designed to widen my academic horizons, its burdensome, unfocused nature prevents me from pursuing my interests to the fullest extent possible. Instead of being able to take the class on Hellenistic philosophy that I’m interested in, I need to complete a second quarter of core biology or physics, courses I have comparatively little interest in and that have no relevance to my academic or career goals whatsoever. That the core takes up approximately a third of our course distribution requirements borders on insanity. I admit that, in principle, the breadth the core offers may in many ways be beneficial for certain students, but it should not be so expansive that we be forced to forgo self-directed inquiry - what education is truly about.

The core curriculum appeals to a specific sort of student, one who seeks a “well-rounded” education, which is perfectly fine for such a student. However, the core, in its conceited paternalism, artificially imposes a uniformity of experience and program on a student-body with diverse intellectual inclinations. The University of Chicago describes the core as designed “to cover the whole scope of human knowledge, and to teach not facts but the tools of inquiry.” This is surely a nice sentiment, but there are severe consequences for disregarding the freedom to direct one’s own course of study. With all due respect to Robert Hutchins, nether he nor any individual or collection of academics can possibly know what series of courses will best enrich the educational experiences of their students. If an aspiring biologist has an interest in learning about the history of Near-Eastern art over cell biology, this is all well and good. If he would prefer to take the latter – or a course in any other field he deems appropriate – the University commits two sins: squandering the student’s resources in time and money, and also preventing him from acquiring the knowledge he was compelled to forfeit on the basis of arbitrary distribution requirements. The same applies to the English major trudging through calculus. To the extent that her time and academic potential is wasted, the University has done her a great disservice under the guise of education. The knowledge of personal academic preferences, and where efforts for fulfilling them should be applied, lies only with the individual student, unknown to those who design such programs, who imagine themselves as omniscient in matters of education. 

I cannot help but look at universities like Brown and feel a hint of envy; free from the restrictions of any course quotas to fill (save for those of their major), students may take whatever class best suits their interests. Some may reasonably criticize their system for its supposed laxity in academic standards. I would respond that this is largely the result of Brown’s concurrent (with the adoption of its “New Curriculum”) abandonment of pluses and minuses in their grading system and allowance of taking any class “pass/fail,” a virtual invitation for rampant grade inflation. I would, of course, propose nothing of the sort here. Freedom need not mean lack of rigor. Yet there is something to be learned from their commitment to academic freedom.

            This ideal is, of course, nothing more than a pipe dream at the University of Chicago, but I do believe that some reform in this direction is called for. First: an option to choose between several core programs could be a possibility, with each one emphasizing a different theme or discipline (for example, a social science discipline), including the option to study under the current system for those so inclined. The best thing about choice is that it maintains the possibility of a rigorous core course of study, while opening up the range of academic study all too frequently denied to inquisitive minds. Second: while I do believe that it is unacceptable to dictate to students which fields they are to study, I do not assert that the knowledge and experience of academic professionals are not a resource to be taken advantage of.  There is certainly a role for such figures to play (particularly college advisors and faculty) in an advisory role: discussing and engaging with developing intellectuals to assist them in exploring where their academic interests lie and consulting with them on the optimal strategy to pursue them. This is a constructive relationship, preserving the freedom of inquiry and informing it with the insight of experience. The “life of the mind,” in order to fulfill what we expect from our education, should in this way be more concerned with the facilitation of our intellectual pursuits, rather than hindering it by placing obstacles in our way.

 

Jeremy Rozansky

The Common Core Curriculum at the University of Chicago is neither common nor core, to the detriment of the University and its students. It is not common when very few texts and experiences are shared within the core classes that one attends. Additionally, the many choices of classes are rarely core—they narrow themselves into strange subdivisions and knowledge of ephemeral importance.

Imagine the first few weeks at the University. Two roommates have just met, they are from opposite sides of the country, have different upbringings and dispositions, and are thrilled to be, at last, of the Academy. They must first register and they each choose a humanities, civilization, and social science sequence. One roommate takes “Language and the Human,” “Ancient Empires,” and “Power, Identity, and Resistance” while the other takes “Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities,” “Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization,” and “Social Science Inquiry.” They do not share any common books which they can discuss while preparing for the next day’s classes. Their struggles are theirs alone. The first must grasp Franz Fanon by himself. The other has questions about The New Atlantis but has no immediate companion to discuss it with. They are each alone. Even worse, there are very few of the generations of students before them who have taken the concocted core they set upon. They are not linked to university students past and others who confronted the great conversations that endure to this day. Instead, the conversation they study is an imagined one in which quasi-general classes touch on the concerns and use the methods of single disciplines: “Islamic Thought and Literature” for Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, “Mind” for Psychology, and on and on. There is no aspiration to well-roundedness, only to dabbling. The unity of knowledge is denied in favor of broad “exposure.” Their friendship, cultivated by the mutual joy of learning, is sacrificed at the altar of Choice.

The Core is not core when it educates in narrow fields, samples of the disciplines. It is not core when a student can, without much strategizing, avoid Plato and Shakespeare, Homer and Hobbes. It is not core when obscure ethnographies and vogue treatises are assigned. It is not core when we read the Nichomachean Ethics as an example of Greek ethical thought and misplace its reflections on how we can be good. This is the case on both sides of Ellis Avenue. While “Language and the Human” passes as core on one side, “Global Warming” is accepted in lieu of teaching core principles and methods of physics, chemistry, and geology. A Core which denies that certain things must be taught and that certain ideas are both eternal and monumental cannot even justify its own existence.

In the humanities, civilizations, and the social sciences, the aim of a liberal education is to liberate the student from vulgarity and ignorance—to allow for excellence. A liberal education goes beyond edification, beyond making the student a closer reader and a more dexterous thinker. Most importantly, the liberal education sets us upon an actual life of the mind, a life in which we apprehend the greatest matters with the greatest teachers as our guides—it is a life immersed in greatness. The liberally educated man is given leave from the mundane; he can be excellent. These greatest teachers are not the PhDs or tenured professors who are our instructors. We need those who began the chains of teaching with original and profound thoughts. We need great texts by the most discerning authors and we need time to read them deliberately. Some Core classes, “Human Being and Citizen,” “Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities,” and “Classics of Social and Political Thought,” come close. The Common Core should look to establish single sequences in its various veins that each student takes, with a few exceptions for science majors who wish to bypass their area’s core sequence. For the humanities and social sciences especially, this means yearlong confrontations with the great teachers.

            They should be registered in a common core: a set of shared texts determined by the faculty—not a hodge-podge of registration week whims. This brings us back to our two roommates, studying in isolation, with no central knowledge from which their studies may expand. The university is built based on the view that the life of the mind is best lived communally. We should not be alone in our venture, we should have help, and we should help. Xenophon recollects Socrates saying, “Just as others are pleased by a good horse or dog or bird, I myself am pleased to an even higher degree by good friends... And the treasures of the wise men of old which they left behind by writing them in books, I unfold and go through them together with my friends, and if we see something good, we pick it out and regard it as a great gain if we thus become useful to one another.” For the University to fulfill its aims—the shaping of the ignorant into the excellent—it must provide an education that links its attendees, forming friends and thinkers.

 

Meir Dardashti

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.

            The Common Core is an ambitious venture.  Its stated goal “to cover the whole scope of human knowledge, and to teach not facts but the tools of inquiry,” is generally reflected in the courses and topics mandated.  However, the Core is only as strong as its weakest component.  While nearly all of its disciplines maintain high standards and rigorous requirements, languages, despite their centrality to the development of an inquisitive and worldly personality are disappointingly deemphasized and their requirements surprisingly lax.  So much of a culture is tied up in its language.  How can one really understand another culture thinks without understanding how it speaks? In order to truly educate for today’s competitive, globalized world the College must shore up its core language requirement by raising placement standards and personalizing language requirements for each major.

            In today’s Core, scoring a 3 out of 5 on a language Advanced Placement test or passing a placement test created by each language department exempts a student from the core language requirement.  No other core discipline has such low placement standards.  In order to pass out of biology, for example, a perfect AP score is required, and for some core topics such as social sciences no test or previous experience suffices to place a student out.  As it stands today, many students with minimal linguistic experience graduate having gained nothing from the University in the study of languages.

            Furthermore, the study of language holds a unique position among core studies as a discipline broad enough that no amount of previous experience precludes further study.  To return to our example of biology, once one has mastered its study in high school, there is little to be added with further study in college.  Simply put, once one understands biology, repeating the curriculum in core biology produces frustratingly diminished returns. The same is not true of languages. Even after having mastered Spanish, one still has much to gain from the study of Arabic, Swahili, Yiddish, Hindi, etc.  Each language is a world of its own, a glimpse into a foreign mindset and culture, as well as an alternate vantage point from which to observe our own idiosyncrasies. Despite the core’s emphasis on social sciences and civilizations, can a student truly understand the inner social workings of an ever shrinking globalized world without a broad understanding of world languages and culture?

            Therefore, I propose that the University either dramatically raise core language placement standards or, (as is true in core social sciences and humanities,) preclude the possibility of placing out of languages altogether.  Every effort should be made so that languages, often seen as irrelevant and difficult, are made more approachable.  The beauty of language is that its value transcends any specific department and can advance students in nearly any field.  A student drawn to classics should be encouraged to learn Greek.  Another drawn to psychology should be encouraged German.  Though few debate the worth of languages, surprisingly few are willing to voluntarily put in the requisite efforts to learn them. The University, in its conviction that knowledge of fuller scope enriches life, ought to see to it that no major avenue of intellectual enrichment go underemphasized.  Let us not add a fourth line to the above joke: What do you call someone who speaks one language and might be able to put a sentence together in a second? A UChicago Alum.

 

Cory Liu

Before I’d even set foot on the University of Chicago campus, I was already intimately familiar with the impressive language used to describe the Core curriculum. The college admissions website describes it as familiarizing students with “the powerful ideas that shape our society” as part of a liberal arts curriculum concerned with “the moral considerations that we come across in our daily lives.” But after hearing this grand, sweeping description repeated over and over, I began to wonder to myself, “what exactly makes the Core so great? What’s so special about having everyone learn a few subjects and read classic texts?” I spent last quarter studying abroad in Beijing, and I learned some interesting things about the Chinese education system that taught me how unique and empowering our Core curriculum truly is.

At Chicago, every single undergraduate is required to take seminar courses where they discuss texts addressing issues fundamental to the human condition: from the nature of happiness to the role that government should play in society. But in China, higher education is primarily career-based and students rarely take courses outside their field of study. The name of a typical university in Beijing reflects this. Two of our study abroad program’s Chinese instructors graduated from Beijing Normal University (schools of education are translated “normal university”), and another is a doctoral student at Beijing Language and Culture University. One of my cousins attends the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, while another is a fashion designer who recently graduated from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology. Other institutions include the Beijing Institute of Petrochemical Technologies and the China University of Political Science and Law.

            As I mentioned earlier, there are a few courses that a typical Chinese college student will take outside of their field of study. Much like the Core, these courses are required of all students and form a shared experience in college. But quite unlike the Core, there is only one set of powerful ideas and only one perspective of moral consideration taught in these classes. These are the courses mandated by the Chinese government that students must take during all four years of college, which deal with topics such as “Mao Zedong’s Thought” and “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” These classes are nothing more than political indoctrination by the Chinese government. The damaging effect of this on the educational environment did not fully dawn on me until my Chinese roommate told me one day that plagiarism is rampant in these classes as well as others. When he told me that, it suddenly dawned on me that if students were neither taught nor actively encouraged to formulate their own ideas and express them in writing, how would the professors even know if these students were plagiarizing? I could not imagine this happening in the Core humanities and social science classes at Chicago, simply because, to perform well on any assignments, students must be able to argue about their own ideas. It would be extremely obvious if students copied each other, or copied from another source.

            After experiencing the lack of intellectual diversity in China, I realized that the Common Core is unique in the way it empowers students with an education that, although likely unrelated to their eventual career, teaches them to personally consider important moral questions, and gives them the skills needed to discuss them clearly and persuasively.

 

K. Paul Dueck

The University’s policy toward our common curriculum can only be dictated by the College’s purpose. The split between those who would loosen or dispense with the core and those who would tighten it largely shows the deeper split between those who see the College as a credentialing service/social club/job training program and those who see the College as an engine of personal development and transformation.

Master Drive, a defensive driving school that helps students get their driving licenses, typifies the first kind of institution. The difference between the students at the beginning of the program and at the end is minute, a couple of skills and six square inches of plastic laminate. Kids all over the country may have fun for a couple of weeks in programs like Master Drive, but those programs don’t change anyone’s life. The skills are the thing that matters, and every institution that teaches driving skills is basically the same.

On the other hand, the United States Marine Corps fundamentally transforms the people who participate in it. It doesn’t take ‘marine-people’ and give them certain skills, it takes people from every kind of background and transforms them into Marines – a transformation that studies have shown will last a lifetime. Marines earn more money, volunteer more, are less likely to commit crime, and generally behave better in every social metric than do people of similar academic achievement who were never Marines. Being a Marine comes to define the people who have passed through the Corps, long after their active service commitment is over.

Faced with these two institutional patterns, I believe the College should desire to be transformational in the lives of its students – that the Core should cajole and exhort us to become something more then we were when we first arrived in Hyde Park. Obviously, the fact that graduate programs require a certain degree of preparation limits the scope of the Core, but its intensity – and the intensity of the College generally – can be changed. The fact that people can take three classes, and that they can make them easy classes like Core Bio or “Media Aesthetics,” undermines the ability of the College to shape students into disciplined and focused students who are well prepared to engage all sorts of ideas.

Two brief examples of how we could bring that about.

First, the College should strip from the Core any alternate sections for Humanities, Social Sciences, or Civilizations, and replace them with year long reading studies (with a writing program that isn’t a joke), where every student is forced to read Plato and Aristotle, Marx and Locke, and come to a firm grip on the History of Europe and America from Ancient Greece to the Second World War. Such a curriculum would also require the College to get serious about preparing instructors to lead real discussions, and develop and unified set of assignments that force every student to do the reading. Imagine that, instead of the blizzard of Humanities classes we now have, third week of fall quarter next year saw the entire first year class wresting with The Republic. We could have a campus culture where sarcasm about Plato could be joined by a general discussion of what justice really is. A campus where we recognize that we are an American University, and that we must prepare our students to be American citizens, and in service of that aim show them the Western world from which we come.

Second, the College should strip Nat Sci and Core Bio and Math Stat and every other way students try to run from doing studying actual science or math. Instead the college should require every student to receive three quarters of Calculus (and not 130s either) and to take the introductory Biology and Chemistry (or Physics) classes that majors have to take. Since Anaxagoras, it has never been the case that a person could be counted well educated if they were ignorant of the science of their day, and that remains true today. The fake “science” of the Core devalues the University, and robs those who participate of the profound good they might have gained.

Essentially, if the University wants to have a transformative effect on the lives of its undergraduates it must reinforce today’s culture of curiosity into one of transdisciplinary achievement and inquiry. In light of the brilliant students the University attracts, that requires a core curriculum that is demanding across all disciplines – one that maintains its difficulty, and that difficulty’s ability to challenge students, no matter the gifts or preparation of the student. By supercharging the Core, the University can ensure it challenges the weaknesses of all its students, and does so in a corporate way that feeds a common culture of achievement.

Building a transformative institution is hard, and doing so while our peer institutions long ago abandoned a core of their own would take courage on the part of the administration and discernment from students and faculty to see that the rough and narrow path is the one where the true prize is found. We are already one of the great universities of the world, but we could be special.

Michael Talent - Online Exclusive

There is a general trend of specialization in American society. Increasingly complex technological and scientific discoveries demand workers who know the ins and outs of their specific field. To a degree, this specialization is necessary and good. As a general rule, the greater the specialization, the more efficiently people work. However, our society walks a fine line between specialization and tunnel vision—a lack of knowledge outside a particular field. The Core at the University of Chicago addresses this concern, forcing students to study a wide variety of subjects.

It is true that many careers require a high degree of specialization, such as quantum physics. As technology advances, the number of specialized jobs will only increase. However, this is not the case for a multitude of other occupations. Take politics for example. Politicians make decisions on issues that range from the scientific to the economic to the social. Knowledge of these subjects makes a better politician, one who is able to see past the junk logic provided by demagogues from one side or another. For example, a scientifically and philosophically literate politician will be able to make a better decision about environmental policy. Many careers have overlap between law and science as well. A competent patent lawyer, for example, must be able to understand the engineering and science behind his client’s inventions. An entrepreneur will need t know the details of the produce he is creating. A doctor who studies the humanities has a better bedside manner because of the social capital he gains. These are only a few of the jobs in which knowledge of a plethora of subjects provides significant advantages to worker in that field.

It is also important for the citizens of a country to understand the history and development of their nation. One of the greatest complaints about the average US citizen is that he does not understand his civic duty—that he is an ignorant voter. Specialization is partly responsible for this. It can narrow people’s interests and lead them away from viewing themselves within the larger political and historical context. Knowledge of what America has done, and why it has done it, would go a long way in creating a knowledgeable electorate able to understand the flow of history and make wise decisions about who gets their vote. History, specifically Western Civ, must be a central part of the core.

The previous arguments have laid out a basic, self-interested argument for why an individual should seek general understanding. However, knowledge for knowledge’s sake should be just as powerful a motivator as money or country. The ideal of the Renaissance man has disappeared, replaced by the committed scientist, computer technician, criminal prosecutor, etc.; someone who knows every minute detail about their profession, but cannot understand the simple workings of anything else. Society once honored men who actively sought knowledge about many things, and it was this honored that encouraged people to pursue wisdom. However, the social consciousness that honors pure knowledge is conspicuously absent today, and the result is that people learn only enough to get by.

The question, then, is whether the University of Chicago’s core gives students the ability to become literate—both generally and culturally. A quick glance at the course catalog indicates that the answer is, basically, yes. However, it is up to the students to choose what classes they take. This means that the initiative is on the individual student to choose classes that will teach him or her the broad range of knowledge necessary to cultural literacy and proficiency. However, the one missing core requirement is a Western Civilization sequence. Western though has irreversibly influenced the world. To allow any student to cruise through college without acquiring political-historical context through the serious study of Western Civ, is unacceptable.