Thursday, September 21, 2006

College Curricula

This article regarding Harvard's initial creation of the "core curriculum" after WWII and its now absent "core" even filters down to schools in my area. We have struggles every few year to create a uniform general education package with the idea that not only does everyone get the same core experience, every department gets its share of the money that flows with these required courses. In reality, however, there are numerous exceptions despite what faculty across campus perceive. I recently witnessed this when I attended the summer orientation session for new freshmen at my university when my friend and her daughter attended. It was quite an awakening experience to see how our work as a faculty is described to incoming students. The bottom line is that it's the same thing I tell students - any change of major past the first part of the sophomore year will most likely entail summer school at the very least or an additional semester or year in order to get not just the required courses but the proper sequence of courses.

Since I work with so many students who want to be history teachers, this most affects our department's teaching majors who have a required sequence of education courses. For example, general psych comes before developmental psych comes before educational psych comes before they see me in the methods class the semester before they student teach. So that backs you up to sophomore year just with that requirement.

A leftover of my colleagues 60s influences (they came to teach here in the 60s besides going to graduate school then), we had a system where students could take upper division history courses withOUT taking any of the American or World survey courses for freshmen and sophomores. With our new guidelines for teacher education, that was finally changed. But it was quite difficult to teach students who had no college history background at all and just saw a small chunk covered in an upper division course that was actually designed with the premise that the student had already taken the survey level course. A survey means a survey and it is also interesting when students always remark that too much was covered too fast. That's also what makes teaching history so interesting -- especially as we learn more about historical cognition.

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