Should colleges teach ‘the classics’ or allow students to choose their own paths to learning?

The Washington Post reports on an ongoing debate in higher education: a ‘core curriculum’ of ‘great works’ and orthodox topics, such as civics and literature, or a more diverse, less-structured curriculum?

College faculties taught from the same, fairly static list of Western scholars until the late 1800s, when the American research university took shape and students began to choose their own majors.

A wave of immigrants in the early 1900s prompted a return to “core” academic programs that surveyed the Western intellectual tradition for students who hadn’t learned it in high school. The academic freedom movement of the 1960s set off another pendulum swing.

Today, only a handful of national universities require students to survey the span of human knowledge.


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