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Core Curriculum or Amazon Package? Send it Back?!?!

Have you ever read a product description on Amazon only to decide that this is the product for you and place the order? You wait patiently at home. Then that fateful hour comes when it finally arrives. You rush to the door after waiting for the Amazon truck to drive away to avoid an awkward “thank you.” Finally, you can open that sweet, sweet package. But to your dismay, the product you find inside is exactly like the product in the description. In fact, it is the exact product you ordered. It’s not even a cheap knock-off. Not even damaged. It is literally the thing you ordered in perfect condition, no strings attached, exactly how they advertised it when you willingly entered your credit card information and pressed the “order” button to confirm your purchase.

Now you indignantly say to yourself and tell anyone who will listen, “the audacity of this company to send me exactly what I asked for! As if they thought I wanted this. Outrageous! Injustice!”

You’ve experienced this all the time, haven’t you? I can’t be the only one who buys something and then gets upset when the product I purchased is exactly what I expected. Really, it’s a common human experience.

So I guess it makes sense that when some students encounter a core curriculum steeped in Catholic and western tradition at a Catholic university in a culturally-western country, they tend to be utterly dumbfounded and flabbergasted. I suppose that we should be equally surprised that these European ideas all came from apparently old white men.

Mind you, I don’t know a single person who thinks the core curriculum is perfect. I certainly don’t. Indeed, the core curriculum is constantly changing and evolving, which is an opportunity to make it better.

Thus, a fair criticism of the core would be that it does not sufficiently juxtapose European ideas (even though Christianity is an Asian religion) with ideas from non-white continents (so every other continent besides the majority of North America). But more on that later. For now, it has been proposed that the core must be purged of all these “old white man” ideas. But that seems to fall into what Karl Marx called polylogism--the dogma that one’s ideas are only good if they come from the oppressed class, race or gender.

Polylogism is problematic because it rejects and accepts ideas based on the author’s class, race or gender. The idea is systemically anti-diverse, discriminatory and xenophobic. Marx derailed the bourgeois attacks on his own victim-blaming philosophy not with a sound and reasonable defense, but because any idea from the bourgeoisie was fake news.

With this idea, it seems that some want to reject the core’s “old white man” ideas not with sophisticated and honest answers to life’s most pressing questions, but with an over-simplistic judgement of the authors’ race and gender. Is now a good time to mention that Marx was an old, misogynistic, racist, antisemitic, white man from the elitist class? So I guess his ideas are off the table, too. Yikes!

The fact of the matter is that rarely do students who bemoan the core and demand diversity actually pursue the opportunities afforded them.

When I look back at my own education at the Mount, I realize that my classes have dug deep into cultures, traditions, ideas and philosophies from all over the world, ranging from all parts of Africa, the Islamic world, Hindu India, Shinto-Buddhist Japan, Taoist and Confucian China and more.

No one forced me to take these courses. And honestly, comparing and contrasting them with the “old white man” ideas from the core has given me a greater appreciation for so many things we take as a given. I took it upon myself to do this interdisciplinary study as a way to better understand a diversity of ideas and people. I didn’t need to be told, forced or shamed into seeking diversity. You could say that my initiative to combine the core’s “white man ideas” and “non-white” ways of thinking has helped me check my privilege.

But I guess taking the initiative is uncommon, even for students who claim to love diversity but do not pursue the readily-available non-white courses. Instead of engaging in the deepest questions of life, they lazily accept an over-simplistic worldview driven by the idea that everything is a power struggle, and that you are either on the right or wrong side of history. That’s a rather depressing paradigm to live in if you ask me (it’s also Marx’s view).

So let’s criticize the core with some useful ideas for a change. Maybe the solution is to cleanse the core of “old white man” ideas. But that gets us nowhere, and it was actually the old white men of the Enlightenment who first proposed that solution. It didn’t get them very far. Maybe the solution is to include more comparative approaches in the core. That’s a step in the right direction, but there is more to scholarship than basic compare and contrast. So maybe, just maybe, the solution is to integrate an interdisciplinary variety of ideas (which includes the “old white man” ideas) and to allow students to debate, discuss and discern them together in a genuine, honest and sophisticated pursuit for truth and beauty.

Darn it! That sounds exactly like the liberal arts education I paid for! I better send it back.


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