4.0984 Politics of a Core Curriculum (1/48)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 5 Feb 91 15:58:37 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0984. Tuesday, 5 Feb 1991.

Date: Tue, 5 Feb 91 17:34 O
Subject: Politics of a Core Curriculum.

This is a subject which has been on my mind for a while, & which is
connected with the debate on eurocentricity. At the American University
in Cairo, we (? one? the administrators?) are in the process of
installing a Core Curriculum. This is to meet a perceived need that the
students have not enough "general education" to be able to read academic
literature successfully. So there is to be a Core, with components in
the humanities & the sciences. The humanities part of it looks very
like a Western Civilisation course + a few token Arabic books.

Some questions: firstly, the perceived need is probably quite real,
coming from the fact that Egypt is not a very literate society (even if
people are technically literate, they do not tend to possess or read
books. Many of our students first read a book -- in English or Arabic --
at the age of 19, when our English program forces them to.) And the
indigenous high school educational system is under- capitalised, with
enormous class sizes, teachers without much training, a lot of rote
learning, etc. One can describe all this in "objective" terms, without
trying to import ideological or cultural biases. But diagnosing it as a
"lack of general education" seems to me to be inappropriate. But how
does one describe it better?

Secondly, what is the political effect of such like core or Western civ.
courses? Coming from Britain, where we don't have such things, it all
seems a bit strange. It inherently seems to deal in terms of a Great
Tradition, even if you put a few token Arabic works on it, & thus it
seems to maintain the cultural hegemony of the West. And it seems to me
that a lot of debate about Black Athena is about the attempt to set up
an alternative Great Tradition. But can you get away without talking of
a Great Tradition at all? (Incidentally, the Arabs also make this move,
of setting up a Great Tradition of their own -- their high school text
books, it seems, all talk of the Middle Ages as a golden age of Islamic
culture, & also insist that then the West was stuck in the "Dark Ages".
Western medievalists have more or less given up using the term Dark
Ages, because of its inaccurate value-laden connotations, but it is very
difficult to make that point here.)

Thirdly, what is one to do in my subject, philosophy? You can go two
ways here, you can either teach philosophy as a Great Tradition or as
mental skills of some sort. Seems to me that the latter is probably not
so ideologically suspect, for the obvious reasons. But am I right?

There must be a discussion in the literature about some of these things,
but it may not be easy to find for us here in Cairo (particularly
journal articles). What's the current state of play?

Graham White
American University in Cairo.