The Core Curriculum of Calvin College
- 6.1.1 Findings of the Assessment Project
- 6.1.2 Proposal for a Revised Core Curriculum
- 6.1.3 The Central Goal
- 6.2.1 Core Gateway
- 6.2.2 Core Competencies
- 6.2.3 Core Studies
- 184.108.40.206 Biblical Foundations, I or II
- 220.127.116.11 Theological Foundations, I or II
- 18.104.22.168 History of the West and the World, I or II
- 22.214.171.124 Philosophical Foundations
- 126.96.36.199 Mathematics
- 188.8.131.52 The Natural World
- 184.108.40.206 Literature
- 220.127.116.11 Arts
- 18.104.22.168 Persons in Community
- 22.214.171.124 Societal Structures in North America
- 126.96.36.199 Global and Historical Studies
- 188.8.131.52 Cross-Cultural Engagement
- 6.2.4 Core Capstone
In the core curriculum assessment project of 1997, 33 Calvin sophomores were asked to write guided essays in which they identified two important social issues and then indicated how a Christian might respond to them. These essays were evaluated by faculty members, who later interviewed the students. In the interviews, the students were asked if a Calvin College education displayed any particular faith perspective or worldview. One third of the students said they weren’t aware of any such thing at Calvin; a little over one half said they thought there was one, but couldn’t say what it was; the remaining 15% said there was one, could use some of the language in which that perspective is typically expressed, but, in the words of the assessment report, “none were able to give a complete or thorough account of the Reformed perspective of Calvin College” (Report on a Pilot Project: Year Two of the Core Assessment Component of the Assessment Program of Calvin College, 1997).
The findings of the assessment project corroborated one of the suspicions that prompted Calvin in the fall of 1996 to initiate a thorough and comprehensive review of its core curriculum--the suspicion that, for all its public self-representation as a Reformed Christian comprehensive institution of higher learning, Calvin may be doing a less than wholly effective job in communicating its central vision to its own students.
Surely part of the reason for the sobering results of the core assessment project resides in the fragmented state of the present core curriculum. The founding document of the current core, Christian Liberal Arts Education, indicated that the Christian Perspectives on Learning course was to serve as the entry course for all Calvin students, orienting them to the vision and project of the college. But no sooner was the core implemented in the late 1960s than CPOL was converted into an option in the contextual disciplines. Thus the core came on line without a center. Today CPOL captures only half of our students and is often taught by first-year and term faculty members who are themselves newcomers to Calvin and its tradition. The rest of the courses in the present core curriculum are to function, according to CLAE, as introductions to particular disciplines. The full presentation of the Reformed perspective that informs the college is not their primary objective. It should come as no great surprise, then, that for many of our students the animating idea of the college--its sources, motives, content, and implications--has become somewhat vague and indistinct, difficult to articulate, a hazy ring around their academic consciousness, ever present but ill-defined.
The problem of fragmentation afflicts not only the college’s ability to convey its central vision to it own students. It is pervasive, and in many areas prevents the college from delivering a true core of common learning, a shared body of knowledge and skills deemed essential for all its graduates. So many uncoordinated options in the fulfillment of core requirements are now presented to our students--often for pragmatic reasons--that it is in fact difficult to maintain that the current core curriculum guarantees much at all by way of common learning. Take the core requirements in history for example. Students may take either History 101 or 102 for core as first or second year students. But if they manage to avoid or evade history in their first two years, they can fulfill core by taking any 200 or 300 level history course. So a student could fulfill core by taking an ancient world history course, a modern western civilization course, or a course in the History and Society of West Africa since 1800. In their theological studies at Calvin, students may fulfill core by taking Religion 103 and 201. But they may substitute any 200 level Biblical studies course for 103; and they may substitute any 200 level systematic or historical theology course--or 301 or 332--for 201. The result: students may satisfy core by taking Biblical Literature and Theology (103) and Basic Christian Theology (201); but they may also satisfy core with one course in Old Testament wisdom literature and one course in Eschatology. Similar tales can be told about many other areas of the present core as well, where options abound or where cognate courses have come to count for core but contain very little, if any, perspectival content.
One might think that fragmentation is at least not a problem where the same core course is taken by many students in multiple sections. But here, as elsewhere, appearances can be deceiving. In certain categories of the core it is not unusual for various sections of same course to share little by way of content. Individual faculty members are left to invent their own courses with little guidance from their departments, and virtually no guidance from the college. As a result, a common course title in the core does not guarantee a significant amount of common course content or even common course objectives.
Such fragmentation of the core curriculum through the proliferation of course options and course content has implications for the degree to which we, the faculty, can coordinate our efforts in the core education of our students. Courses in a major area of concentration are usually adjusted to each other for content, coverage, and level. Those who teach intermediate courses in a particular discipline can presuppose the knowledge and skills acquired in the introductory courses, while those who teach advanced courses can in turn presuppose the knowledge and skills conveyed in the intermediate courses. As a result, students make progress in their chosen disciplines. Such a thing rarely happens in the core. There we can assume little, if anything, by way of common learning at any level of instruction. For that reason we cannot build upon a foundation of knowledge and thus move ahead with our students in our core courses, pursuing beyond the introductory level themes and issues that are shared and central to the college. Moreover, the core curriculum as it now stands provides for no integration of its various thematic strands toward the conclusion of a student’s career at Calvin. Typically, a Calvin student’s education trails off in evermore specialized studies.
The loss of common learning due to the pervasive fragmentation of the core curriculum is compounded by the local complexities that have come to inhabit various corners of it. Consider the social science requirements. Normally students are required to take one course in either sociology or psychology, and one course in either economics or political science. But students in communication disorders take only one social science, either Psychology 151 or Psychology 204. Students in the nursing program will take both psychology and sociology but not economics or political science. Students in the social work program will take four instead of two social science courses--one from each social science discipline. Students in the med tech program can take any two of the four social science courses. Students in the occupational therapy program will take either economics or political science and both psychology and sociology, while students in architecture must take economics, and can substitute a course in political science, sociology, or psychology for a course in history or natural science. In many cases, the core curriculum has come to be treated by professional and pre-professional programs as a flexible fund of cognates, freely adaptable to specific requirements of career preparation. As a result, the core has at least as many incarnations as there are professional programs at Calvin. No wonder our Registrar claims that there are today only two or three people on campus who fully understand the core. Advising errors abound; and dispensations for desperate seniors must be granted all too frequently.
The fragmentation and complexification of the core curriculum, its lack of sequencing as well, reflect a lack of coordination between the hundreds of courses that count for core now scattered across the semester offerings of some 25 academic departments. Our professional programs and disciplinary majors are thoughtfully constructed and regularly scrutinized by the departments. They are typically composed of courses attuned to each other for content so that there will be no serious gaps or overlaps in the more specialized education of our students. The core curriculum, on the other hand, receives no such attention from any particular department or all-college committee. After its birth some thirty years ago, it was left largely to fend for itself on our campus. Pushed and pulled in different directions at different times, mobilized for different purposes when its own purpose was unclear, it grew to become ungainly. In its present state, rarely does its left hand know what its right is doing--and with no legal guardian, it is bound to become only more dissolute in its behavior.
In the classical liberal arts curriculum, the first level of study was composed of the “trivium”--grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The intent of grammatical studies was not simply to acquaint students with the mechanics of their own language, but to shape their character through exposure to the canonical texts and narratives of their culture. Logic was to enable them to construct and evaluate knowledge claims. Rhetoric was to make them effective in their own society. In short, liberal arts education aimed to make its students virtuous, intelligent, and effective. Genuine liberal arts education in any age will remain faithful to that original threefold purpose; but its content will vary from culture to culture. What counts as canonical, what passes for instruction in logic and right method, and what it takes by way of knowledge and skills to be effective in society--all change as society itself changes.
Our own society has changed in the last thirty years in ways that have led many faculty members to the conviction that the present core no longer does an adequate job in preparing our students for effective lives of service in contemporary society. The growth of information technology, the multiplication of communication media, the cultural diversification of North America, and the increasing inter-dependence of nations around the globe--to name a few of the more dramatic changes--call for new skills and forms of knowledge that are largely unaddressed in the current core.
Christian Liberal Arts Education did a great service to the college in the mid-1960s by setting the stage for the rigorous pursuit of disciplinary knowledge and bolstering departmental autonomy. Much of what is good and strong about the college today is due, in part, to the impetus of that founding curricular document. In its ambition to highlight the disciplines as the basic units of collegiate education, however, CLAE gave less thought to the unique role and potential of the liberal arts core curriculum. Having established the disciplines, it assigned to core the ancillary role of providing introductions to the disciplines. Why students should be given an introductory tour of the disciplines--most of which they do not intend to pursue--is not explained in CLAE. Liberal arts education is not narrow, not limited to professional preparation, but well-rounded. That seems to be the basic idea. But well-rounded to what end? Beyond stating that the disciplinary tour will serve to broaden a student’s horizon, CLAE has little to say. Many members of the faculty have indicated that the purpose of the core curriculum is less than clear, and that it is thus unclear exactly what their core courses are supposed to accomplish. That lack of clarity filters down to the students as well, who, unsure of the rationale behind the core curriculum, often speak of getting core courses “out of the way”--as if they were obstacles to their real education.
Failure to communicate the central vision of the college, fragmentation, complexity, lack of dependable sequencing, lack of oversight, gaps in certain skills and forms of knowledge now required of a liberally educated person in our society, lack of clarity in purpose--these are the several weaknesses of the current core that prompted the college to initiate a comprehensive review and--where advised--revision of its curriculum. The Proposal for a Revised Core Curriculum is designed to solve these problems without--it is hoped--creating new ones just as troublesome as the old. It seeks to create a core curriculum at Calvin College that is rigorous, balanced, coherent, and thoroughly Reformed in its orientation; a core that grounds its students in the Christian tradition, acquaints them with the various strands of their cultural heritage, enables them to reflect critically upon the many bids for their belief, and prepares them for informed and effective service in the world that God has set before them.
Part of the mandate of the Core Revision Committee was to review and restate the purpose of the core curriculum at Calvin College. The committee devoted itself to that task between the fall of 1996 and the fall of 1997. The new Statement of Purpose for the Core Curriculum was passed unanimously by the Faculty Senate last November. That detailed statement--some 40 pages long--makes a distinction between the ultimate and proximate purposes of the core curriculum. The ultimate purpose of the core curriculum, like to the ultimate purpose of a Calvin education generally, is to prepare students for lives of informed and effective Christian service in contemporary society. In pursuing that goal, the core enters into a kind of partnership with the disciplinary majors and professional programs: while the latter typically prepare students for lives of effective service within a particular career, the core seeks to prepare students for responsible involvement across the basic domains of life, domains in which they will all participate irrespective of their particular jobs. In short, the core prepares students to respond to their callings, where the scope of their callings is understood to embrace the non-professional as well as the professional dimensions of their lives. Thus the ultimate purpose of core refers beyond the disciplines, beyond the academy, to the world. The proximate purposes of the core, on the other hand, pertain to its intra-curricular functions: in relation to the rest of a student’s studies, the core is to be foundational, contextual, central, continual, and confessional.
In addition to identifying the purposes of the core curriculum, the Statement of Purpose maps out three broad areas of core instruction: knowledge, skills, and virtues. It proceeds to enumerate categories within these domains, specifying the content and objectives of each. In so doing, the Statement provides specific guidance for the design, development, and assessment of core courses as well as the entire core curriculum.
The Proposal for a Revised Core Curriculum is based upon the new Statement of Purpose. It seeks to create a core curriculum that is balanced and coherent, that both covers the content and realizes the objectives specified in the Statement.
Consider one of the curricular differences in the proposed core made by the shift from the “disciplinary orientation” of CLAE to the “world orientation” of the Statement of Purpose. In the present core students are asked to select between several social scientific disciplines: one course from either psychology or sociology; one course from either political science or economics. The proposed core reformulates the distribution requirement in terms of three object levels: persons, institutions, and global horizons. Students are asked to take one course that examines the person from a social scientific point of view, one course that focuses on societal institutions, and one course that addresses either a region of the world outside North America or common global conditions that are drawing the regions of the world into relations of increasing inter-dependence and exchange. Here the distribution requirements are not defined by the disciplines, but by object domains which a range of disciplines can serve to illuminate.
The re-orientation called for by the Statement of Purpose has implications not only for the structure within which core courses are offered, but also for the kinds of courses that can be offered for core credit. The overall aim of the present core, as articulated by CLAE, is to introduce students to the academic disciplines. Thus the current core curriculum is largely filled with “Introduction to...” courses. The primary aim of the new core is not to introduce students to the disciplines, but to provide them with insights into the world they inhabit by utilizing the resources of the disciplines. This means that basic core offerings need not be limited to introductory surveys of a given discipline. Core courses from the Sociology Department, for instance, need not be limited to multiple sections of Introduction to Sociology, but may also include--if the department so chooses--courses on the sociology of the family, the sociology of religion, or the sociology of race and ethnicity. Contributions from the Psychology Department need not be limited to multiple sections of the Introduction to Psychology, but may also include--if the department so chooses--courses on the psychology of human development, or the psychology of sex and gender. As long as a core course meets the general objectives of the category under which it is offered, it need not commit itself to a textbook tour of a particular discipline. Thus the proposed core makes room for variety and innovation in the core curriculum, while at the same time safeguarding its integrity by holding all core courses accountable to the relevant goals articulated in the Statement of Purpose.
The proposal for a revised core provides all first-year students with an early and vivid introduction to the central intellectual project of Calvin College. Rather than offering a Christian Perspectives on Learning course as an option in the contextual disciplines, the revised core calls for an interim course --”Developing a Christian Mind”--designed and reserved for first-year students. This course is to serve as an invitation to academic work at Calvin College by acquainting students with the nature, tradition, and aims of a Reformed Christian liberal arts education, sketching out the contours of a Christian worldview, and examining, in some depth, the bearing of that worldview on some salient issue or cultural phenomenon of contemporary concern. Like CPOL, the Developing a Christian Mind interim course will contain a number of common readings that map out and explore the shape of Christian belief and its worldview implications; unlike CPOL, it will allow faculty members to propose their own versions of this course, choosing specific topics and applications according to their areas of interest and expertise. This revision will provide for a broader base of informed all-college participation, as the specific topics addressed in the DCM course are not restricted to those that fall most naturally under the headings of religion and philosophy; at the same time, it will make for greater investment on the part of students, as they may choose sections of this course according to their areas of interest. This course also addresses two other concerns: first, it reserves an array of quality interim courses for first-year students, who are often left to pick among the remains of the interim offerings after the second, third, and fourth year students have already registered; second, it will help foster academic community by providing first-year students with a common fund of intellectual experience.
A well-designed core must balance the curricular need for common learning with the human need for creativity and choice. Common learning achieved by a maximally large roster of common courses with regimented syllabi is likely to lead only to alienation on the part of faculty members called to teach core courses and resentment on the part of the students who have to take them. The Educational Policy Committee seeks to strike the mean here by recommending a small number of common courses together with a complement of core course categories unified by common themes and objectives. The categories allow for significant choice, but avoid fragmentation by specifying certain goals that courses in the category must achieve. Faculty members, departments, and divisions most closely associated with these categories--where the real expertise lies--will be called upon during the implementation phase of the new core curriculum to work out the common elements of the core categories in more detail, perhaps specifying common concepts, methods, topics, or readings.
Examples of this attempt at balancing common learning and distribution can be found in the proposed history and theology core offerings--areas highlighted earlier for their fragmentation. The core proposal encourages work in both the ancient and modern periods of history and at both the introductory and intermediate levels. The current core requires one course in history--either a survey of ancient/medieval history or a survey of modern history. A second course in history is optional, and could be in the same period as the first survey course. The core category covering the intermediate courses in history--”Global and Historical Studies”--does not belong to any one department, but may include historically oriented courses from a variety of disciplines and departments (the history of art, the history of science, the history of theater, for example), thus ensuring broad all-college participation in the historical education of the Calvin student.
In theology, the core proposal guarantees work in Biblical and systematic theology at both the introductory and intermediate levels. The current core requires a biblical theology course at the introductory level and a systematic theology course at the intermediate level. The new core proposal offers both biblical theology and systematic theology at the introductory level, requiring the student to take an intermediate course in theology in the field not covered by the introductory course. Which plan the student elects is left as a matter of advising. Some students enter Calvin with a good deal of Bible knowledge, but not much by way of instruction in Christian doctrine and theology. They would benefit from a basic course in theology and later a more focused course in Biblical literature. Other students have had a significant exposure to Christian doctrine, and could benefit from a fresh approach to the Biblical text as a whole. Still other students come to Calvin with little background in either category; general courses at the intermediate level would be available to them. All courses in the intermediate core categories for theology will share common themes, aims, and elements, even as they focus on different topics--thus ensuring common learning while allowing for significant choice.
Other categories of core courses--not tied to the “criss-cross” model described above--specify common themes, aims, and objectives while allowing for diversity of content and application. All courses that serve in the “Societal Structures in North America” category, for instance, are to acquaint students with the methods of the social sciences, with the role societal institutions play in shaping the character and quality of human life in North America, and with the meaning of such normative requirements as justice, freedom, and stewardship. Courses in this category are then free to focus on particular social, economic, or political institutions and practices as long as they fulfill the overall objectives of the category under which they are being offered. Such categories are unified not so much by discipline as by object domain, and thus allow for disciplinary contributions on the part of a number social science departments.
There is at least one other feature of the revised core that will make for a greater measure of common learning. The revised core calls for common readings in a first-year course for all Calvin students. These readings--which will include a monograph written by the Dean of the Chapel in consultation with members of the faculty and the Core Curriculum Committee--can then serve as common reference points in subsequent instruction in core courses. To these basic readings others may be added during the implementation phase as departments and divisions decide on common readings within certain categories of core courses. For instance, the History Department might recommend a common history text that can be used for background readings in all historical courses offered under the “Global and Historical Studies” rubric. The Religion and Theology Department might name a common text in church history for use as background reading in all its intermediate systematic theology courses. Once these common texts are named--constituting a “Calvin Bookshelf”--faculty members at large can make reference to them in their own courses as the occasion arises. (It should be noted here that the Calvin Bookshelf need not be limited to books, as certain works of art may also be recommended.)
The Proposal for a Revised Core Curriculum provides a new specification of core reductions for Professional Programs--reductions that safeguard the “non-negotiable” part of the core and at the same time make it possible for professional programs to graduate their students in four years. The reduction plan is simple and workable, and should prevent the over-complexification of core that results when each program freely tailors the entire structure of core in order to suit its own cognate requirements.
The core proposal provides for significant intermediate study and for integrative work toward the conclusion of a student’s college career. Again, because the aim of the current core is to introduce students to the disciplines, core courses tend to recede in the background as students make progress in their majors or professional programs. Thus, with few exceptions, a student’s studies tend to trail off in evermore specialized concerns. Such categories as Global and Historical Studies are designed to provide a range of core courses that go beyond the Survey and the Introduction, that allow students to dig into a particular field of study. The “Integrative Studies” category is designed to promote reflection on the central themes of a Calvin education at a higher level by requiring an upper level course in which students consider again the meaning and implications of such ideas as the wholistic interpretation of the doctrines of creation, fall, redemption and restoration, the idea of vocation, the ethical challenges they are likely to face in their professions and in their lives generally, the deep issues of some particular domain of life-practice. Again, this category invites participation of a number of departments and disciplines. It may, in many cases, include capstone courses in professional programs and the disciplines; it may also include such courses as Christianity and Culture, Medical Ethics, Philosophy of Law, Aesthetics, and the like.
To address the problem of “drift” in the core, the Proposal for a Revised Core Curriculum recommends the formation of a standing faculty committee charged with implementation, development, oversight, and adjustment of the core curriculum at Calvin College. This committee, like the Teacher Education Committee, reports to the Educational Policy Committee. See “Core Governance“ below for a description of the mandate and composition of this committee.
The core proposal prepares students--by way of knowledge and skills--for effective participation in a society that has, over the past thirty years, changed dramatically in at least these four respects: the spectacular growth of information technology; the ascendance of the image as a means of communication; the internal cultural diversification of North American society; and the increasing global interdependence of nations, cultures and economies.
In the current core, instruction in information technology is handled in the fourth hour lab attached to sections of Written Rhetoric. This lab has become somewhat of a logistical nightmare for the English Department; and the content of the lab is circumscribed by the aims of the Written Rhetoric course. The proposal relocates instruction in information technology to a course offered by the Computer Science Department, to be taught with the advice and co-operation of the English Department, the Hekman Library, the Engineering Department, and the Center for Information Technology. In this course students will receive instruction in computer hardware and software concepts, a number of computer applications, database and web-based research strategies, plus the site-specific resources of the Hekman Library. They will also be alerted to the ethical principles that apply to the use of information technology. In this one-hour course, allowances will be made for the spread in computer competencies among our entering students by taking a modular approach to lab assignments and creating opportunities for peer-mentoring.
The power and presence of the image as an agent of communication has long been overlooked by the academy, an institution whose career has been intimately connected to the traditions of the printed and spoken word. The explosion in the use of the image in our culture, brought about by the new technologies of the camera, cinema, television, computer, internet, and scientific visualization, has created a situation where this dimension of human culture and communication can no longer be ignored or treated as irrelevant to liberal arts education. Accordingly the core proposal has created a category entitled “Rhetoric in Culture” which contains courses in both oral and visual rhetoric.
The Cross-Cultural Engagement requirement seeks to enhance skills in cross-cultural communication and understanding. Piggy-backing on many existing off-campus and academically based service-learning courses, it requires that all Calvin students, at some point in their college education, spend significant time in face-to-face contact with members of a different culture. Similarly, the Global and Historical Studies requirement covers courses that introduce students to the culture, history, and traditions of nations or regions outside of North America--or to shared global conditions that are now drawing the regions of the world into contact with each other. This category invites participation from a variety of departments, and may include courses on regional economies, regional politics, international politics, regional histories, world regional geography, cultural anthropology, the global environment, and the like.
With the creation of a number of trans-disciplinary course categories and a standing core committee charged to develop the core curriculum, the revised core will foster a greater degree of all-college participation in the project of core education. It will encourage bridge-building among departments on the basis of shared and related categories of core instruction, thus creating communities of disciplines and stimulating cross-disciplinary conversation, course linkage, innovation, and cooperation.
The proposed core makes a substantial contribution toward fulfilling one of the key objectives from the list of objectives of the First Year Program adopted by Faculty Senate in the spring of 1996, namely, to “become familiar with the central affirmations of the Reformed Christian confession, understand how these affirmations can inform a worldview, and experience this confessional perspective in and outside the classroom.” It does so by creating a first year interim course for all Calvin students where a monograph by the Dean of the Chapel that lays out Calvin’s Reformed identity will serve as a common text and central discussion piece.. In addition, the Educational Policy Committee has referred the issue of first-year programming to the Academic Development Committee for specific recommendations.
When the Faculty Senate adopted the Statement of Purpose for the Core Curriculum in November of 1997, it embraced an ambitious set of goals for liberal arts education at Calvin that cannot be met by a small or minimal core. Is the proposed core too large? Let us assume that a core curriculum is too large when it a) prevents students in some programs or majors from graduating in four years, and/or b) it reduces--beyond some reasonable threshold--the number of free electives in which students can explore their interests unrestrained by programmatic requirements. With respect to the first point: initial feasibility studies showed that the proposed core is compatible with four-year graduation in all professional programs. Furthermore, the proposed core provides students pursuing disciplinary majors with an ample number of spare semester hours--in most cases enough for a double major. The proposed core allows for a good deal of “double-dipping”--where the same course can count for core and a major or professional program. Thus the core overlaps most majors and programs to a significant degree, reducing its “actual” size. In addition, some of the new elements of the proposed core incorporate courses that many students are already taking--capstone courses, off-campus interims and programs, and the like. With respect to the second point: the proposed core does not regiment a student’s program with a large number of common courses; many of the intermediate core requirement (e.g., Global and Historical Studies) can be filled by a wide variety of courses offered by a number of different departments. These core requirements can be legitimately thought of as “guided electives.”
Beyond the quantitative issues, important as they may be, there lies the issue concerning the quality of liberal arts education at Calvin College. In an age that demands greater and greater degrees of specialization, technical education, and narrowly focused career preparation, perhaps Calvin should be willing to stand out and to reassert in no uncertain terms that it is seeking--as a comprehensive Christian institution in the liberal arts tradition--to prepare students for a broad and faithful engagement with the world at large, not just a successful career in one of the professions. Such an education involves serious--not passing--consideration of the basic contexts in which we live out our lives, be they historical, socio-political, cultural, metaphysical, or natural; it involves a deep knowledge of our traditions, the acquisition of a broad range of skills, and the cultivation of dispositions to respond to the needs and challenges of our age with insight, courage, and compassion. To prepare students for lives of informed and effective Christian service in contemporary society is the central goal of Calvin’s educational mission. The core, by organizing the resources of the departments and disciplines around this mission, should be thought of as the all-college major, a major that is foundational, central, contextual, continual, and confessional.
The course listings and category descriptions below are recommended to the faculty on the following two assumptions: that the semester hour designations reflect current practice, not the final determinations made by the departments and the Core Curriculum Committee during the implementation period; that not all courses offered in a particular category will cover all of the objectives listed for the category, but rather that all courses will strive to capture most of the objectives.
Description: sequence of a) a one-credit, seven-week, first-year fall course—Prelude—with multiple sections, devoted to a hospitable intellectual introduction to new students; and b) a three-credit, first-year interim course—Developing a Christian Mind (DCM)—with multiple sections, devoted to the delineation of a Christian worldview and its implications for issues of contemporary relevance.
Objectives: to provide students with a) hospitable learning environment within which to explore learning, listening, discerning, obedience, hospitality, and awareness through a Reformed Christian perspective in the company of other new members of the Calvin College learning community; and b) an early and vivid introduction to the central intellectual project of Calvin College--the development of a Christian mind and a broad, faith-based engagement with the ambient culture; to introduce students to basic readings in a Reformed Christian worldview from both the past and the present; to explore, in some depth, the bearing of the Christian faith on some issue under current public debate; to introduce students to the nature, tradition, and aims of Reformed Christian liberal arts education; to foster academic community by providing a common fund of intellectual experience for all first-year students.
No HS exemptions; all first-time college students (FTIAC) and all transfer students with 12 semester hours or less of transfer credit will be required to complete Prelude. Some regular semester sections of both the Prelude and the DCM course will be offered for transfer students and students taking required courses during interim.
Description: a first-year introduction to the computer and to college-level research skills, making full but discriminating use of current electronic information technology with a discussion of the cultural impact of computer technology and the ethical responsibilities of its users.
Objectives: to introduce students to the basic concepts of computer hardware and software; to familiarize students with the potentials of the computer as a “universal appliance,” capable of storing, locating, transferring, manipulating, analyzing, and presenting information; to establish a viewpoint from which students can make ethically responsible judgments regarding the appropriate use of information technology.
Exemption via test; transfer credit accepted.
Description: a first-year course in college-level composition which introduces students to the resources of the Hekman Library and addresses the larger issues of writing: rhetorical structure, social context, ethics, worldview, and interpretation; this course serves as the foundation for the college writing program.
Objectives: to develop and enhance the student’s ability to write solid expository prose at the collegiate level, with special attention to the process of revision through multiple drafts; to develop the skills of reasoning and analysis, reading and discernment; to guide students through the requisite steps in executing a research project; to acquaint students with the resources of the Hekman Library and various discipline-specific research strategies; to familiarize students with criteria for the critical evaluation of information sources; to develop skill in the judicious use of technology in research and writing; to make students aware of the complex transactions involved in the writing and reading of texts; to deepen students’ understanding of their own voice and the forms available for its expression; to anticipate and revisit themes central to the first-year interim course, Developing a Christian Mind.
Exemption via test; transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core courses devoted to the practice of oral and visual rhetoric in contemporary culture which also address the larger issues within these modes of communication: rhetorical structure, social context, ethics, worldview, and interpretation.
Objectives: to enhance students’ ability to communicate in a chosen field of rhetoric; to develop skills in cultural discernment and analysis; to cultivate the ability to listen and/or see and respond with understanding and informed judgment; to develop skill in the judicious use of technology in oral and visual communication; to promote understanding of the effect of technology on communication; to promote insight into the complex transactions involved in the acts of communication and reception.
Exemption via test; transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core courses in which a student’s skills in a foreign language are developed to a degree equivalent to a fourth semester college proficiency; normally this means the completion of a 123 or 202 foreign language course.
Objectives: to equip students with the basic skills of understanding, writing, and speaking a modern foreign language (or reading and writing an ancient language); to help students understand the cultural importance of language in the formation and expression of human identity on both the individual and social levels; to make use of a foreign language as a point of access to the history, people, experience and traditions of the host culture; to develop students’ skill in cross-cultural communication.
HS exemption for 4 years of any one foreign language; exemption for all students whose native language is not English; transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core courses designed to enhance the physical skills and knowledge requisite for living healthy lives.
Objectives: to gain and develop skills in sports and leisure activities that will lead to active lives of health and physical fitness; to convey knowledge of principles of health, training, and nutrition as a basis for informed decisions on matters of diet, conduct, habits, and activities conducive to health and physical fitness.
Exemptions: students participating in inter-collegiate sports for one or more seasons may be exempt from the core category most appropriately aligned with the specific sport activity. Transfer credit accepted.
Description: Students must take one introductory or intermediate course in Biblical Foundations. BF I: An introduction to the Bible, studied within its literary, historical, and cultural settings in order to understand its central theological themes and teachings, which serve as a foundation for Christian faith and life. Intended for first or second year students. BF II: A careful and detailed study of a key division of Biblical literature at the intermediate level in which the central issues of canon, authority, and interpretation are also investigated. Students who take the Theological Foundations I course should fulfill this requirement by taking an intermediate course from BF II.
Objectives: to open up the complexity, depth, richness, and unity of the Biblical text as the Word of God, the rule of Christian faith and life; to acquaint students with the principal themes of Biblical theology; to introduce students to the main elements of informed Biblical interpretation: cultural setting, literary genre, intended audience, location in salvation history, and the like; to familiarize students with the ways the Bible is read and used in the life of faith and the tradition of the church.
Transfer credit accepted for one of the two religion requirements.
Description: Students must take one introductory or intermediate course in theological foundations. TF I: A study of basic Christian theology, understood as the central teachings of the Christian church drawn from reflection on the sense and import of the Biblical text. Here basic doctrines are studied in the context of the historical development of Christian thought, with particular attention to the Reformed tradition. Intended for first or second year students. TF II: A careful investigation of a key Christian doctrine or theme at the intermediate level in which the central issues of the nature, task, method, and purpose of Christian theology are also addressed. Students who take the Biblical Foundations I course should fulfill this requirement by taking an intermediate course from TF II.
Objectives: to deepen students’ understanding of the triune God, the person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world; to deepen students’ understanding of the basic doctrines of the Christian church--their historical origins and theoretical coherence; to acquaint students with the Reformed strain of theological reflection--its themes, emphases, and implications; to enhance students’ skills of analytical reading, theological reflection, and informed expression in matters of faith.
Transfer credit accepted for one of the two requirements in religion.
Description: Students must take one of the following two courses. HWW I: Beginning with the emergence of the major societies in the river valleys of ancient Eurasia, this course traces the development of the world's chief historical and religious traditions down to the European exploration and colonization of the Americas circa 1500. Primary source readings from various cultures are emphasized, with a common secondary text providing an overview. Intended for first or second-year students. HWW II: Beginning circa 1500, this course traces the rise of Western societies to prominence in the context of other world cultures in the emerging modern world. Primary source readings from various cultures are emphasized, with a common secondary text providing an overview. Intended for first or second-year students.
Objectives: to familiarize students with the development of Western civilization within a global context; to provide a framework of historical knowledge which will serve as a basis for assimilating and understanding the historical import of subsequent studies at the intermediate and advanced levels; to deepen students’ understanding of the contexts, forces, and traditions that have shaped and continue to shape the world they inhabit; to provide temporally and culturally distant vantage points from which the contemporary world may be viewed and assessed.
Transfer credit accepted.
Description: a consideration of perennial questions pertaining to the existence of God, the basic makeup of the world, the nature, origin, and destiny of human life, the source and status of moral judgments, the basis of justified beliefs, the structure of human knowledge, and the relation between religious faith and human reason. Intended for first or second-year students.
Objectives: to introduce students to the realm of basic philosophical questions about God, the world, and human nature; to gain some familiarity with the basic types of responses to these questions--their historical origins, their development over time, and their relation to the Christian faith; to develop a sense for the key contours of a Christian worldview and its bearing on an account of the structure of the world and the point of human life; to develop the skills of close textual analysis, critical reflection, careful reasoning, cultural discernment, and expository writing.
Description: an introduction to the nature and variety of formal and quantitative structures, to mathematical models and their applications, and to the role mathematics has played in shaping science, culture, and society.
Objectives: to deepen students’ understanding of the nature of formal mathematical structures and their range of applications; to understand how mathematics serves as a common tool and unifying language for a broad array of scientific disciplines; to gain some insight into the role and influence of mathematics in shaping our understanding of reality; to enhance skills in mathematical reasoning.
Transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core studies covering courses designed to acquaint students with the fundamental entities, structures and systems of the natural world and the nature of the sciences that study them.
Objectives: to examine the behavior of physical and living systems through the methods of the experimental and observational sciences; to gain an appreciation of the wisdom of God through exposure to the vast, complex, and elegant systems of the natural world; to understand the project, methods, and cultural impact of the natural sciences; to develop skill in the judicious use of technology in the natural sciences; to prepare students for informed participation in a society that has been deeply shaped by science and technology; to trace the implications of scientific theory for our understanding of the world and our place within it; to consider the findings of natural science from the perspective of Christian faith.
Students may fulfill the Natural World requirement by taking one 4 hour lab course in physical science and one 4 hour lab course in life science; or, any two natural science lab courses (totaling 8 hours) that are major-sequence courses in Biology, Chemistry, Geology, or Physics.
High school exemptions and transfer credits are accepted, but every student must take at least one lab science course at Calvin.
A high school exemption is available for satisfactory completion in grades 10-12 of three appropriate full-year courses in the natural science disciplines. Students completing a full year of chemistry and a full year of physics are exempted from a physical science course; students with two full years of biology are exempted from a life-science course.
Description: a category of core studies covering courses designed for intensive engagement with works of any literature.
Objectives: to develop the discipline of reading with attention, imagination, and precision; to enhance writing skills beyond the level achieved in the first-year written rhetoric course; to deepen knowledge of literature in its historical development and cultural context; to engage in the critical analysis of literature with both breadth and depth; to understand how literary works both capture and shape our sense of human life and the world we inhabit; to discern, confront, consider and assess visions of life that permeate literary texts, and thus to gain in wisdom and understanding.
Transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core studies covering courses designed for intensive engagement with music, visual art, film, theater, and the like, attending to both the productive and receptive aspects of the medium selected.
Objectives: to develop the skills of observing and listening to the arts with understanding and discernment; to develop skills in visual and/or aural communication; to deepen knowledge of artistic traditions and their social contexts; to understand how the arts disclose, inform, and affect our sense of life and the world we inhabit; to learn of the human condition from the arts--in its promise and its brokenness, its sufferings and its reasons for hope--and thus to grow in insight and wisdom.
Transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core studies covering courses that introduce students to the various components of human identity and behavior within their immediate social contexts, and to the nature of social scientific methods as they apply to the study of persons.
Objectives: to acquaint students with the biological, affective, cognitive, and social components of human development and identity; to understand the relation of these components to human behavior; or, to study the effect of such factors as race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social class on human self-understanding, behavior, and relations; to gain some understanding of the experimental and observational methods of the social sciences as they bear on these issues; to apprehend the complexity of human beings as image bearers of God, existing in communities of persons, subject both to the distortions of sin and the healing power of grace.
A student may not present two courses from the same department for core credit in Persons in Community and Societal Structures in North America.
Transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core studies covering courses that address the broad social, economic, and political institutions of North American society, as well as the basic concepts, theories, and methods of the sciences that study these institutions.
Objectives: to provide students with some insight into the origin, structure, promise, effects, and limitations of the basic social institutions of North American society; to understand the central concepts and theories of the social sciences; to gain some familiarity with the use of research methods in the social sciences; to examine the effects of technology on society; to understand the meaning and requirements of such norms as justice, freedom, and stewardship; to introduce students to the traditions of Christian reflection on social life.
A student may not present two courses from the same department for core credit in Persons in Community and Societal Structures in North America.
Transfer credit accepted.
Description: a category of core studies covering courses that deal with issues and developments extending beyond the confines of the modern North Atlantic world. Included in this category are courses that focus either on 1) the historical development of some premodern civilization, region, or culture; or on 2) issues of global diversity and interdependence, including the traditions, history, culture, and current status of regions and cultures outside the North Atlantic world, with an emphasis on the common global conditions, practices, and forces that are working to foster the increasing interrelatedness of peoples and nations, and the means and methods of global cross-cultural understanding and communication.
Objectives: to deepen students’ awareness and understanding of the larger global and historical contexts of contemporary life; to provide students with temporally and culturally distant vantage points from which to assess the North American society and their own lives as members of that society; to complement studies of pre-modern history and culture with studies in the modern period, or vice versa; to enhance students’ facility in understanding and communication in a global context.
Transfer credit accepted.
Prerequisite: HWW I or HWW II and one course in Persons in Community or Societal Structures in North America.
Description: a core requirement that can be met by any course of at least one credit hour in which students interact directly with members of a different culture over a significant period of time. Courses fulfilling this requirement may also satisfy other core requirements.
Objectives: to gain skills in cross-cultural communication; to understand how the world might look from the standpoint of another community of interpretation and experience; to learn how to discern and, where appropriate, adapt to the cultural expectations of the other; to learn how to distinguish between the enduring principles of human morality and their situation-specific adaptations; to witness other cultural embodiments of faith, and thus to reflect on the substance and definition of one’s own faith by comparison.
Prerequisite: one course in either Persons in Community or Societal Structures in North America. Exemptions by petition: students for whom a Calvin education is itself a cross-cultural experience; students who have significant prior experience with a foreign culture.
Description: a category covering upper level courses that seek to draw students into critical reflection upon the deepest assumptions, commitments, and issues in some domain of human inquiry, belief, or practice. Courses in this category would include those dedicated to an examination of ethical and religious issues in the professions; to inquiries into the nature and grounds of scientific or religious belief; to an exploration and critique of ultimate accounts of human culture and society; or, at the most general level, to an inquiry into the relationship between Christian faith and cultural stance. Intended for third or fourth year students.
Objectives: to provide an opportunity for students to examine the sense, direction, and contexts of some domain of life-practice, be it health care, communication, the arts, law, business, religion, scientific investigation, or the like; to gain skills in decision making under constraint; to re-visit, at a more advanced level, the contours of a Christian worldview and their implications, thus integrating at a higher level the themes and concerns introduced in the first-year interim course.
No transfer credit.
Prerequisite: DCM, Philosophical Foundations, Biblical Foundations I or Theological Foundations I.