A New Core Curriculum

Two of the colleges I have taught at are revising their core curriculums substantially right now. Because of that, an article caught my attention.

My own immodest proposal models a core curriculum that centrally includes critical thinking about, and analysis and practice of, public rhetoric, at the local, national, and international levels. Far from being a radical proposal, it is a conservative one in returning to something like the 18th-century rhetoric-based curriculum in American education.

That curriculum, as the historian of rhetoric S. Michael Halloran describes it, “address[ed] students as political beings, as members of a body politic in which they have a responsibility to form judgments and influence the judgments of others on public issues.” Halloran and other historians have lamented the modern diffusion of studies in forensics, literature, composition, and other humanistic fields, as a result of the hegemony of disciplines and departments oriented toward specialized faculty research, which have become the tail that wags the curricular dog. Those forces and a depressing array of others have caused the study of political rhetoric to fall between the cracks of most current curricula, almost to the disappearing point.

So let’s envision how a revived curriculum for civic literacy might be embodied in a sequence of undergraduate courses that would supplement, not supplant, basic courses in history, government, literature, and other humanist staples. These could be interdisciplinary offerings, with at least a partial component of English studies. Within English, they would follow, not replace, first-year writing—which in recent decades has focused on generating students’ personal writing rather than critical analyses of readings or public rhetoric—and a second term in critical thinking and written and oral argumentative rhetoric.

Something which isn’t mentioned here, but which I personally find appealing about this is the increased relevancy and need for English that this would bring. There are tons of professors available to tech these topics in the evergreen fields. If many schools went to this kind of core curriculum, the students would be well-served and some good teachers would be employable.

As a good teacher, I’m particularly happy with that idea.

Others acknowledge this as an issue. In a review of The Marketplace of Ideas, Peter D. Salins says the work asks, “why do we produce more than four times as many PhD credentialed graduates in the liberal arts than the academic marketplace can absorb?” [Because we can?- Dr. Davis]

O’Connor mentions that it would be difficult to find conservative faculty, as per Minding the Campus’ “Why So Few Conservative and Libertarian Professors?”

If leftists have a lock on many fields, it means that non-left applicants will tend to be screened out. Awareness of that feeds back to the non-left student’s thoughts about the future. Self-selection is a function of the screening.

We found that Republican-voting members of the scholarly associations were significantly more likely to have landed outside of academia. For example, in Anthropology/Sociology, 43% of the Republican scholars were working outside academia, compared with only 24% of Democrat scholars. In History, it was 47% versus 27%. In all six disciplines overall, it was 41% versus 25.

It is definitely something to consider. There are conservatives and libertarians in academia; there are just far fewer of them than there are liberals.

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