As more than twenty Colgate students begrudgingly funnel into their 8:20 clutching copies of Plato’s Republic, it becomes evidently clear that not only did no one do the reading, but everyone is also perfectly fine with sitting walleyed as a Physics professor drones on for 75 minutes about their afternoon plans (and asks each of the students what they plan to do to pad time).
The “discussion” allows the professor an opportunity to slide in a possible answer to a completely arbitrary exam question—something along the lines of “What is the definition of mimesis?”—before assigning some sort of journal writing to be submitted on Moodle that everyone will wait until the last minute to submit, each personal blurb sounding like the most recently submitted one ad nauseam. After writing a four-page final on their favorite piece of art and how it relates to Plato, every student finishes the course with either a B+ or an A-, ultimately celebrating that they will never have to take a class like that again. For the most part, they’re right, seeing as how each Core course is awful in its own special way.
This, of course, is an observation fueled by my own experiences with the Core Curriculum; I don’t doubt that plenty of people had a great time reading the Book of Job to confirm their own disbelief in God. I find issue with the Core Curriculum in that while having my friends read that first paragraph, they identified fully with the issues that are commonplace in a Core classroom: overcrowded classes, nonexistent discussion, and a simple lack of interest in the subject matter; who could blame them? What does a biology student gain from studying Nietzsche, especially if the instructor likewise couldn’t be bothered to study up on Nietzschean notions? Why should an English major take a course on the history of the scientific method? No one in these classrooms is really concerned with what the Core Curriculum should be and what it should accomplish, and as such, I don’t understand why we shouldn’t get rid of the Core in its current state: a hodge-podge of useless courses taught by unenthused professors with only a few actually taking the time and effort to motivate their students to learn about a niche subject. Also, there is no possible way these credits would transfer to any institution as anything worthwhile.
I will say that the Core does quite a few good things. For example, Communities and Identities is a stellar idea in that I feel everyone benefits from taking a course about another culture in a space as homogenous as Colgate.
However, Legacies and Challenges both prove to be the center of attention in their problematic nature, focusing primarily on Western texts to represent the culmination of human thought and philosophy—courses taught by old white men about old white men to educate the next generation of old white men. I also find Legacies specifically interesting inasmuch as I didn’t even really take it because my professor decided he just wanted to read things from Challenges instead. There’s a lot of liberty that a professor can take in leading these classes, and at some points, the lack of structure of the Core proves to frustrate. Simultaneously, the structure that is there is outdated, much like a lot of Colgate’s administrative practices.
I think it’s important to qualify that I love the liberal arts education, and I want more than anything for the Core to be a welcome part of Colgate. The issue at hand is that the Core Curriculum is currently an incredibly poor representation of what the liberal arts education represents. Instead of having the liberty to pick courses that interest them, Colgate students are arbitrarily forced into required readings of Montaigne and the Catholic Bible for the sake of hitting a check mark on their Degree Works page, never looking back on the supposedly illuminating works that they read through three minutes before class.