By Jordan Flick

I don’t know whether the committee to reform the core curriculum intended to eliminate the theology requirement from our education, but they did. I also don’t know whether they wanted to eliminate the English requirement, but they did as well, along with the philosophy requirement. It doesn’t make sense, getting rid of the staples of Jesuit education at America’s oldest Catholic university – but then again, not a lot of the proposal itself makes sense.

You may not be able to easily get your hands on a copy of the proposal; presently it is being circulated exclusively among members of the faculty. I encourage everyone to try to look at a copy, though, because if there’s one thing you can learn from it, it’s how to rename things. The committee that drafted this proposal had a lot of fun taking the most basic fields of study and making them sound very ponderous and other-worldly.

The new proposal replaces the current College requirement of two courses in philosophy, theology and English with six theoretical questions for six new categories to answer. How do we understand the natural and physical world around us? Category One, “Science and Nature.” How do we live together in societies? Category Two, “Human Behavior and Society.” Make sense of the past? “Understanding the Past.” Imagine our world and ourselves and represent that imagining? “The Aesthetic and the Symbolic.” See God or gods in or above or beyond our world – or not? “Religion and Mystery.” And finally, how do we attempt to determine and express the nature of truth? Try your “Truth and Meaning” class.

There are also two upper level courses that would be required senior year, one in “Religion and Culture” and the other in “Ethics and Values.”

I wonder which class the committee intends to be the theology one. Maybe “Religion and Mystery.” But religion isn’t theology, it’s religion. Tufts University has a religion department consisting of one part-time professor. Georgetown has a theology department consisting of 15 associate professors, seven professional lecturers, six professors, six assistant professors, four lecturers, four adjunct assistant professors, three visiting assistant professors and one visiting professor. That makes a total of 46 faculty members attached to theology, and no wonder – theology informs one of many dynamic aspects of the Jesuit education, an education Georgetown believes enough in that they print up free 125-page books on the subject for all incoming students.

And it is important to remember that names mean things. Theology and religion are as different as history and government.

But that seems to be the theme of this new proposal. Instead of taking theology courses, they want us to take theological courses. Instead of studying philosophy, we’ll simply study the philosophical, instead of ethics merely the ethical. The difference? The religion student could study the impact of Confucianism on early modern Chinese economics. That’s not studying God. The ethical student might take “The Ethics of Shakespeare.” There’s lots of ethics in Hamlet, but Hamlet isn’t ethics.

Laboratory science is very philosophical as far as the scientific method goes, but can you really say a chemistry lab could replace a course on Spinoza or Descartes? According to the new proposal, yes. Category Six, “Truth and Meaning,” the replacement for philosophy, asks that its courses reply to such questions as, “What kind of tests should be applied to truth claims? Internal coherence? Correspondence with empirical evidence? The ability to persuade rational interlocutors?” Granted, this is an aspect of laboratory science, but only an aspect, whereas in philosophy, these questions are the very core of what is studied.

Where does this lead us? Imagine studying something Freudian in place of studying Freud. Imagine studying the psychological thriller instead of studying psychology. That may not be what the proposal’s designers intended, but if you look at the text that’s what they’ve given us.

And forget about writing. Under this proposal, the English courses we normally take are simply replaced by making an undetermined number of these new courses “writing intensive.” I’m sorry, but writing about “Science and Nature” does not make up for the complete absence of the study of literature in this new proposal. I hate to be cynical, but this new writing requirement looks more like an attempt by other departments to cut into the lucrative share of freshman courses; anyone who gets a slice of that pie gets more space in the course bulletin and more money for staff and faculty.

The people who put this proposal together are not stupid. In fact, they may be brilliant to a fault. When I look over some of the questions they think Georgetown students should be asked, I see questions I know I will be asking myself over my entire lifetime. But this is not the stuff of first-semester freshman requirements.

This proposal engages questions of aesthetics where we should simply try to give new students a foundation. I am a junior English major, and just now am I beginning to ask some of these questions within my own concentration, questions this proposal wants to ask students three months out of high school. Under category three, “Understanding the Past,” the proposal wants us to discover “Why and how do people make sense of the past?” How on earth am I supposed to understand how history works if I don’t know what happened in the first place?

Aesthetic considerations can only be constructed above empirical observations. Like any scientific experiment, you construct your theory of the novel after having read many of them; you don’t study the theory and plug the material into it. In other words, why should I study a “how” if I don’t even have the “what”? Do we expect a freshman to wax rhapsodic about “universal aesthetic standards” from the dozen paintings he’s studied in art theory? Has our education become so rote and pedestrian that we prefer to teach people theories before the stuff they are made of?

Is there improvement to be made with the core curriculum? Absolutely, and not only can it be interdisciplinary, but it should be. I would love to see a Catholic Imagination requirement you could fill by studying the poetry of Dante or the theology of Newman. And I greatly respect this proposal’s attempt to discuss “The Aesthetic and the Symbolic,” but how about just calling it what it really is – Art Theory? We should stop this attempt to rename concepts as basic as English and ethics, all because we need to make ourselves feel smarter. Let’s remember interdisciplinary education means matching disciplines so they compliment each other, not destroying them with a proposal full of vague banalities.

Jordan Flick is a junior in the College.

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