July 10, 2001
Calvin Core Nears Launch
For the new core curriculum at Calvin College the third time was the charm. But it was almost a case of three strikes and out.
In the late 1980s Calvin tried to revise its core -- the central and common courses that all students must take -- and failed. It tried again in the early 1990s and failed again.
But the committee that came together in 1996, mindful of the previous two failed attempts, persevered. And now, half a decade later, the new core at Calvin is less than two months away from launch.
"President Woodrow Wilson once said that trying to revise a college curriculum is a lot like trying to move a graveyard," says Calvin professor of philosophy Lee Hardy (above), who headed the core revision project. "He didn't expand on that (remark). But he likely had in mind the fact that both projects will encounter the resistance of the living as well as the inertia of the dead. For the last few years Calvin College has been doing its fair share of educational earthmoving. And it now has something to show for it."
Four years of labor have brought significant changes to the core at Calvin, the first changes since the old core was built in the late 1960s.
"The old core had not kept up with the world," says Hardy, "with the spectacular growth in media and information technology, with the cultural diversification of North American society, or with the process of globalization."
Thus the new core has a required course in information technology to be taken in the first year. It not only is designed to bring all students up to certain level of computer competency, it also addresses ethical questions that arise in connection with the capabilities of information technology. To address the process of globalization, courses dealing with non-western regions of the world now have core status. To prepare students for the cultural diversity in North American society, the new core has a cross-cultural engagement requirement. The new core has also created a category of courses entitled "Rhetoric in Culture" which include both oral and visual rhetoric, recognizing that much of the communication in our society takes place by way of images.
The old core also did not keep up with Calvin's changing student body, which in the 1970s was 90% Christian Reformed, but now stands at 50% CRC.
"As Calvin has attracted a more religiously diverse student body it became clear that the old core was falling short in communicating Calvin's mission as a Reformed college," says Hardy. "In a core assessment pilot project of 1997, 33 sophomores were interviewed and asked if a Calvin education displayed any particular faith perspective or worldview. One third said they weren't aware of any such thing."
A new first-year Interim core gateway course has been created to address this.
"All students will read a monograph written by Calvin Dean of the Chapel Neal Plantinga that sketches out in broad and compelling strokes the holistic interpretation of the central Christian doctrines of creation, fall, redemption and restoration," says Hardy. "With their instructor, students will explore how this worldview applies to contemporary issues such as bio-technology, the environment, the media or the political arena. These themes are revisited, at the other end of the core, in upper-level integrative studies courses, which form a kind of capstone to the entire core education."
In addition, between the initial orientation at the beginning of the fall semester and the first-year interim course, all students will participate in a "Prelude" program. This program, a cooperative venture of the Student Life division and the Academic Division, provides a progressive orientation to the culture and demands of Calvin as a Reformed Christian academic community. Wellness and self-management, vocation, responsible freedom and cultural discernment are among the issues that will be addressed in the Prelude program.
Hardy notes that the new core at Calvin connects to a very old tradition. Liberal arts education had its beginning in ancient Athens and was designed for those destined to participate in the political life of their community. The classical liberal arts education was to make people virtuous, effective and intelligent.
"The new core at Calvin," he says, "carries all three of these traditional elements into the project of Christian liberal arts education. It is divided into three components: knowledge, skills and virtues. There are things about God, the world and ourselves that we want all Calvin students to know. There are skills we want to impart and enhance. And there are certain traits of character we want to foster in the classroom and in the community at large. Each of these three components is shaped by the aim of preparing students for lives of Christian service in contemporary society. Such is the purpose of the new core. Such is the purpose of Calvin."
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