Core Curriculum

In a post I called “A Modest Proposal”  in May of 2012 I suggested that it might be possible to devise a core curriculum that college students could take online prior to enrolling in college to pursue their degree. It is not the best of all possible worlds, because online college courses are known for their high drop-out rates and there is simply no substitute for one-on-one teacher/student engagement in the classroom. But given the fact that the vast majority of our colleges are simply not requiring their students to do much more than wander aimlessly through a maze of elective courses — with no rhyme or reason — coupled with the rising costs of higher education, my proposal seemed the lesser of evils, as it were.

Lo and behold, the group I have referred to in a number of previous blogs, including the blog referred to above, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, has proposed precisely the sort of thing I dreamed up nearly a year ago. No, I will not sue for plagiarism! I am not the litigious type. I prefer to think that great minds eventually come to the similar conclusions. Clearly, the condition of higher education — which I have alluded to more times than I care to recall — demands some sort of remedy. And the popularity and lower expense of the internet suggests the wisdom of allowing students to get the basic grounding in substantive courses they require in order to become engaged citizens in an ever-changing world. Major requirements and some elective courses can come later in a two-year program on campus.

The ACTA’s proposal is called “StraighterLine” and it allows students to take six of the seven core courses online they have determined are the sine qua non of an educated person — courses in composition, literature, U.S. government or history, economics, math, and science. This curriculum will be available later this year and will soon be followed by a second intermediate-level course in foreign language, thus fulfilling the seven course requirement the ACTA has determined will best serve the students of tomorrow. All courses will be available online at a greatly reduced cost to the student.

Indeed, the seven proposed courses will cost the students less than $2,000.00 and will therefore be very attractive in an era in which costs have skyrocketed and students are graduating with narrow vision  and huge debt. As the ACTA Newsletter said in announcing the program, “The times are changing in higher education. While ACTA’s focus remains on traditional institutions, our message of access, affordability, and quality of education extends to new platforms of learning.” I do not endorse the program without a few qualifications (as one can imagine), but I think it is a huge step in the right direction. I applaud the ACTA for making what I think will turn out to be a vast improvement in American higher education. The faculties of our colleges have fumbled the ball and the ACTA has picked it up and are heading for the goal line. (No, I am not being paid for this endorsement!)

It Must Be True

The headline reads “Secret Government Weather Machine…” and the story goes on to report that weather anomalies connected with global warming are caused by the “government.” Further, there are those who believe that we will all be asked to pay an “energy tax” of $2,500.00 on top of our normal taxes to help offset the effects of this machine. The money will be deposited in the World Bank. In other words, the “government” is causing global warming so it can collect some more money and grow rich. This is positively funny — or it would be if people didn’t actually believe it! And there are people who believe this. In fact, they not only believe it, they are spreading the word. A bus driver in Kalispell, Montana was overheard relaying this nonsense to two elderly folks who had the audacity to express concern over the melting glaciers in the National Park!

Let’s get real, shall we?? There are several problems with this story that bother me as a philosopher with a sense of humor. To begin with, it is borderline crazy. It is not clear what the pictures taken from outer space as shown on the internet reveal, if anything. Given the level of technical expertise these days it is quite possible that the images that accompany the story (on a very strange web site called “Polyton Civilization Site) are manufactured in-house — someone’s house. Or they are photo-shopped! They really don’t show much of anything except a white ring in the sky above Australia.

But we need to beware the budding paranoia here: who, exactly, is “the government”? I begin to suspect that the word has multiple meanings for people and stands, generally, for “the enemy.” I engaged in an exchange of comments with an anonymous person on the internet recently about the lack of adequate salaries for teachers and the correspondent (who never gave his or her name) kept insisting that the “government” was in control of the education system because “they” wanted people they could control. This is absurd on its face, because no government that I know of is closely tied in with any educational policy I am familiar with. The policies that are set in each state differ and they are determined by agencies that are, in many cases, elected by the voters in those states — not appointed or under the thumb of any state government I am familiar with.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not writing to defend Boards of Education. I think they are a big part of the problem with education in this country. But it’s not because “the government” wants to control our kids and turn them into robots — though they may, in fact!  It’s because these people are too far from what is going on in the classroom to know what needs to be done. I am a big fan of local autonomy and if I were Commissar of Culture I would eliminate all Boards of Education and all outside agencies and turn the running of the local schools over to parents, local School Boards, and teachers. I would reduce the number of administrators by 75% in a New York minute. That would save a bundle, and I would transfer their salaries to the teachers who do the real work.

But back to the crazies who think the “government” has created global warming for its own profit. Does this really deserve comment? Certainly not, except that people believe it is true because they read it on the Internet. Again, if I were Commissar of Culture, I would order everyone to disbelieve everything they read on the Internet — except my blogs, of course — and those of a couple of carefully chosen friends (like newsofthetimes and musingofanoldfart and a couple of others that are downright funny).

Sorry, folks, you’ve heard this before, but it all comes back to education. The fact that people believe what they read without the basic critical skills required to separate nonsense from plausible truth simply shows that they have not learned anything important in school. In a word, we are back to the fact that this nation spends the major portion of its tax money not on weather machines, but on weapons of war when real needs — such as education — go begging.