Aca­demic ‘ve­neer’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

“To be sure, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of all Amer­i­can col­leges adopt a gen­eral dis­tri­bu­tion re­quire­ment. Usu­ally this means that stu­dents must take a course or two of their choos­ing in the nat­u­ral sci­ences, so­cial sci­ences, and the hu­man­i­ties, with per­haps a dol­lop of fine arts thrown in for good mea­sure. [. . .] But this ve­neer of struc­ture pro­vides stu­dents only the most su­per­fi­cial guid­ance. [. . .]

“Take two po­lit­i­cal science ma­jors at al­most any elite col­lege or univer­sity: It is quite pos­si­ble for them to grad­u­ate with­out ever hav­ing read the same book or stud­ied the same ma­te­ri­als. One stu­dent may meet his gen­eral dis­tri­bu­tion re­quire­ments by tak­ing classes in geo­physics and phys­i­o­log­i­cal psy­chol­ogy, the so­ci­ol­ogy of the ur­ban poor and in­tro­duc­tion to eco­nomics, and the Amer­i­can novel and Ja­panese his­tory while con­cen­trat­ing on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions inside po­lit­i­cal science and writ­ing a the­sis on the dilem­mas of transna­tional gov­er­nance. An­other po­lit­i­cal science ma­jor may ful­fill the univer­sity dis­tri­bu­tion re­quire­ments by study­ing bi­ol­ogy and as­tron­omy, the so­ci­ol­ogy of the Amer­i­can West and ab­nor­mal psy­chol­ogy, the fem­i­nist novel and his­tory of Amer­i­can film while con­cen­trat­ing in com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics and writ­ing a the­sis on the chal­lenge of in­te­grat­ing au­ton­o­mous peo­ples in Canada and Aus­tralia. Both stu­dents will have learned much of in­ter­est but lit­tle in com­mon.”

Peter Berkowitz, writ­ing on “Lib­eral Ed­u­ca­tion, Then and Now,” in the De­cem­ber/Jan­uary is­sue of Pol­icy Re­view

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