May 25, 2009
a college curriculum defined by active citizenship
This is a complete list of the departments and subject areas that would be offered at an imaginary college. The idea is to provide all the most important fields of study that people need if they want to sustain and improve a community to which they belong. (That's my definition of "citizenship." The community can be anything from a small religious congregation to the earth.) Each student would major in one of the first four departments. There would be mandatory courses in all seven.
Department of Ethical Reasoning
Courses in moral philosophy, normative political and social theory, literary criticism and history (with emphasis on ethical analysis), religious ethics
Department of Cultural Interpretation
Courses in cultural history, literary criticism, cultural anthropology, history of art, musicology
Department of Institutional Analysis
Courses in economics (markets as institutions), political science, public law, institutional history, organizational sociology, social psychology, and abstract methods of analysis such as game theory and network theory
Department of Policy
General courses in policy analysis and focused courses on international relations, education, environment, health, etc.
Office of Community Partnerships and Placements
Providing an array of internships, research, and service opportunities; also, courses about the local community based on accumulated research by students
Department of Methods and Tools
Courses in statistics, psychometrics, foreign languages, qualitative research, accounting, evaluation methods, rhetoric (written and spoken), and pedagogy.
Department of Natural Context
Courses in environmental sciences, cognitive science, human development, and health, all taught with relevance to questions of active citizenship
I do not believe that this civic focus is the only valuable one. If all colleges and universities adopted this model, the natural sciences, aesthetic values, and such abstract fields as mathematics and metaphysics would become too marginal. I dissent from the instrumental pragmatism of reformers like Mark C. Taylor, who wants to focus all education on addressing "important problems."
On the other hand, I admire coherent educational programs--both for individuals and for whole communities of scholars and students. No student can learn everything; breadth degenerates into superficiality. A large university can offer practically every field of study in some depth, but then there is no common set of issues and values for everyone to debate. "Great books" colleges, religious programs, experiential curricula, and Mark Taylor's "zones of inquiry" are worthy examples of attempts to bring some coherence and focus to undergraduate education. We badly need more experimentation and more diverse models, and this "civics" curriculum seems a promising one to add to the mix.