Core curriculum remains an integral part of the college experience

Tam Cheetham-West

For some students, the core curriculum is seen as just a set of requirements to fulfill and is not seen as an opportunity to gain relevant life skills as opposed to developing skills specific to a career path. However, the core curriculum, especially classes in American history and government, provides students with a unique opportunity for self-discovery and engaging constructively with other students who see the world in a different way, an opportunity that students would not have if they took only major and interest specific classes.

In my second semester at UT, I took an American history class solely to fulfil the core curriculum requirement. Besides exams and quizzes, the class had a weekly discussion section, so I found myself with a small group of students from different majors. We had several engaging discussions on controversial issues like eugenics and the temporary suspension of civil rights during national emergencies — discussions I would not have otherwise experienced. More importantly, I benefitted from the many different perspectives represented in that classroom.

One of the aims of a comprehensive education is the cultivation of informed and engaged citizens. Core classes provide students with the opportunity to re-acquaint themselves with history, gain deeper insight into the origins and setup of the system of government in the state and nation and most importantly, learn how crucial civic engagement is to the preservation of the benefits of democracy. This knowledge is not only relevant, it is transferrable as educated people are in the position to enlighten those in their circle of influence.

Core classes provide the opportunity for students to practice constructive dialog, an attribute which is becoming more and more rare in our society. In discussion sessions students from differing academic backgrounds, drawn together by a combination of graduation requirements and personal interests, can find their voice while listening to others. It is necessary for students to learn how to respectfully express and disagree with unpopular opinions, an ability which will serve them well in the personal and corporate sphere.

Most importantly, core classes help us think. Self-discovery seldom happens without reflection. My own views have been shaped by reflecting on some of the agreements and disagreements I had with college peers and professors in my core classes. This is very different from my experience in most math classes I’ve taken where the flow of information is — for the most part — one-way. Interactions in core classes provide the student with the opportunity to challenge deeply held beliefs, examining the personal and ideological foundations of what one holds to be true. In so doing, one develops and maintains a framework for decision-making in life consistent with tested personal values and for which one can claim full responsibility. This is an indispensable part of a good college education, as important as the pursuit of specialized knowledge.

Cheetham-West is a pure mathematics senior from Lagos, Nigeria.