7
Minimum Indispensables
of a Liberal Education

The present scene in higher education is marked by renewed concern with fundamental questions of what should be taught and why. To some the picture is one of curricular chaos. But if the chaos leads faculty members, regardless of their specialty, to recognize their role and responsibility as educators, the situation is not to be deplored. In what follows, I present considerations that bear on the construction of a liberal arts or general education curriculum. By a liberal arts or general education I mean a prescribed course of study for all students with the exception of those who can provide evidence of adequate mastery in the subject matters and skills that constitute the curriculum requirement. If our discussion is to have any point or relevance for higher or tertiary education today, we must not lose sight of the fact--deplore it as one may (and I do not deplore it)--that it must be germane to the general education not just of an elite or selected body of students at Columbia, Harvard, or Swarthmore but of all students beginning their college careers.

The first question we must face is this: If the course of study is to be related to the student's individual needs, capacities, and background, by what right or justification do we impose any general requirements upon him, aside from the power we have to award or withhold degrees? In the affairs of the mind, coercive power should be irrelevant. Besides, we do not need reminding that in education today power is a very uncertain and shifting commodity. It has been in the wake of student power--as a corollary of student strength and potential for disruption, not as a corollary of reasoned analysis--that requirements on many campuses have been replaced by an unrestricted elective system at the outset of the student's career. The situation has been aggravated

____________________
From The Philosophy of the Curriculum: The Need for General Education, edited by S. Hook, P. Kurtz, and M. Todorovich ( Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1975).

-73-

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