Students provide diverse perspectives on curricular issues at Williams

It is my opinion that there really is no need for a core curriculum. Students will take a multitude of vastly different courses regardless of whether it is required or not.

By removing the “core curriculum” the College would allow students to take courses in what interests them without having to take anything as a requirement.

Michael Gioiello ’02

One of Williams’s strengths as a liberal arts school is the freedom of choice in what classes students take. The divisional requirements allow for diversity of studies while at the same time letting students sculpt their own education.

People who want a core curriculum can go to other schools, but Williams should definitely keep its current system of requirements.

Granted, I’m a freshman and so I don’t know how it all works out in the end. I do know that one of the major attractions for me was the freedom allowed within the divisional requirements, and the ability to really follow things that interest me rather than being forced to take classes that someone else thinks are worthwhile.

Rebecca Parker-Johnson ’02

I think that the presence of relatively few requirements here at Williams is one of this college’s most valuable aspects.

We all came to college with a good base of knowledge, including math, science, language, English, and writing, or else we wouldn’t have been accepted.

Now is the time for us to be given the opportunity to explore any avenues of interest without the ties of required courses in which we can barely stay awake.

One of the reasons I chose Williams was for its lack of a core curriculum and relatively few distrubution requirements, and I am happy I made that choice. I hear constantly about friends at other colleges who are forced to take subjects they hate, and therefore aren’t getting anything out of that experience.

We came to Williams very well-rounded, and we still have a solid enough foundation to attack life after college. And the fact of the matter is, if we depise a subject enough to avoid it completely (which a large percentage would never do anyway), we will probably have no use for it in the future.

Therefore, in order to get the best college experience and be able to explore as much as possible outside of our majors, in order to truly discover what we love and could devote our lives to, the minimal requirements should remain as they are. But if that isn’t convincing enough, statistics show that most students fulfill what would be a more rigid distribution requirement anyway.

Jennifer Simon ’02

I like being able to choose only classes that interest me. Who will decide what courses are more important than others? It seems fine the way it is.

Eric Getty ’02

The whole point of the Williams education is that it provides freedom for the student to pursue his own academic interests. There are only 32 courses that an average Williams student will take in his or her tenure.

Of these 32 courses, he must then take nine courses in different areas ensuring academic diversity. To start demanding that students take certain classes is really to limit the academic freedom that makes Williams so appealing.

If you want to solve the class size issue, there should be more expectation placed on the professors to teach either more classes or more sections of those classes.

Plainly put, there are not enough classes at Williams. The college can either increase the number of professors or increase the number of classes they must teach.

Mike Hacker ’00

I don’t think a core curriculum is a good idea; the divisional distribution (the current system) is the way to go because it provides enough “core-like” results: students get a very similar background in key things, just not identically.

For example, most students have taken at least one if not more of popular intro classes like Psych 101, Bio 101, Art History 101 and English 101. Logistically speaking, how would this be decided? Who is to say that “everyone” should take Psychology 101 but English 101 or Philosophy 101 is not “important” enough to be mandatory?

Besides, this happens without having the system set up so that everyone “must” take certain courses, even if they are really uninterested in the material.

That’s something I hated about high school, having to take things I didn’t want to take when there were plenty of other courses I would otherwise take (that I was interested in) if I had space in my schedule.

The distribution requirements give us that “try it, you might like it” encouragement, but with sufficient flexibility that we can explore what we’re actually interested in. It’s hard enough finding time and space in my schedule to take the classes I want to. It’s especially difficult for those of us who are pre-med or are doing double majors to “branch out” and explore the liberal-arts combination of classes.

If someone wanted to go to a school with a “core” curriculum, they would. There are plenty of them, but it’s good that Williams isn’t one of them.

Sara J. Levy ’00

I think things are pretty good the way they are now — distribution requirements, no required courses.

There are plenty of areas that, when I think about them individually, I think Williams should require everybody to take a course of their choice in them, i.e. enivronmental studies, but which ones they are is very subject to my personal opinion, and there are too many very valuable areas to require courses in all of them.

Required courses would come to be seen as the least enjoyable; plenty of people would be in them who wouldn’t really want to take them. Requirements here are certainly not strict and I think that’s good because what one person needs / should take is not what another person needs / should take.

Irena Hollowell ‘02

I think a course on a reading of some of the more “important” documents in western culture is necessary. These would be texts that anyone and everyone, independent of their background or major should have some knowledge of. Which ones? That’s a separate debate. But I think the Bible would be one choice. There are others that are alluded to in our day to day lives that helped shape our culture and common knowledge in which I wish I were better versed.

Perhaps it could be called ’The West’s Greatest Hits’ and would cover movers and shakers in various fields. Some personal suggestions would be the Federalist Papers, Adam Smith, The U.S. Constitution, the Communist Manifesto, Malthus, Darwin, Freud, Chuck Berry, and Homer (Simpson, that is). I think such a course, broad and interdisciplinary, would be in agreement with the “missions and objectives” of Williams College as stated by President Sawyer in the Williams College Bulletin:”The most versatile, the most durable, in an ultimate sense the most practical knowledge and intellectual resources which they can now be offered are those impractical arts and sciences around which the liberal arts education has long centered.”

Dan Shirai ’00

I think that all students should be required to take a three of five courses their freshman year, or perhaps three of six.

Art History 101-102: If a person comes to Williams, no matter what their interest, without taking this class, they are missing out on a major part of the school, the cultured education it provides, and one of the top departments, if not the top department, in the country.

A basic American history or European history course: It is essential for students to know where they are coming from before understanding where they are going.

A computer science course: Even if it is just understan
ding the Internet, it would be foolish for any Williams student to avoid this major part of our country’s future.

A Shakespearean course: Anything on the master. Awesome prose, knowledge, and a great deal of symbolism.

A basic mathematics course: It can be of any kind, probably something statistical or algebraic. A certain lifetime confrontation, math is a basic precept for understanding our more mechanical and basic world.

Finally, an economics course: Our economic understanding of situations offers an alternative viewpoint, and oftentimes a pragmatic way of dealing with our inefficient or efficient lives.

John Moorhead ’00

I think that the current system is good. Students across the country are getting more and more freedom with what courses they can take, and I think it would be a backward step for Williams to actually require more courses. Also, I think required courses lead to courses like Psych 101, which is sort of contrary to our small college paradigm.

Thomas Grant ’00

I think the idea of having a core curriculum counters the entire point of what a liberal arts education should be. Education here at Williams should be about discovery and questioning what we learn, not being told who to listen to, who to read, and who is right.

Education is in the hands of the individual, and things such as core curriculums and required readings can only establish a canon of meaning which will serve to take learning out of the hands of the individual.

Williams College is a waste of money for me if I’m just told what I’m supposed to learn. I think that the basis or at least some sort of familiarity with diverse subject matter is also key to the liberal arts experience, but this should be achieved with a relative freedom of movement within the system.

Stephen Taylor ’01

I am a graduate student in the art history program here at Williams but did my undergraduate work at Stanford. They had a program which provided a core curriculum but allowed for personal interests to be followed. Each freshman had to take C.I.V. (Cultures, Ideas and Values) but could choose from seven different tracks: History, Lit and the Arts, The Americas, Science & Technology, Philosophy etc.

I thought it was a pain in the butt at the time, but realize now that it was a good model and taught me some really crucial stuff.

Elizabeth Mangini

While the end to which a core curriculum aspires is honorable and in some ways justified, I think that the erosion of a definable “Williams” education or really a core of knowledge has to do more with the lack of survey courses in many of the departments in Division I rather than a lack of course requirements.

Moreover, I question whether the integral component of a Williams education is the knowledge and information itself or whether it is something more abstract, like a mode of thinking and addressing problems, ideas and challenges.

Frankly, I know that in a few years (or months) I will have no idea of the progression of Brancusi’s sculpture or the particular names of each piece, but I will remember the skills I learned in Art History 101, i.e. how to analyze art, how to judge quality or workmanship, and how to think about a building, its functional purpose and aesthetic value.

Pomona College has taken a novel approach in this direction by outlining course requirements for graduation not in terms of content, but in terms of skills developed.

I think this idea would be a more useful and effective improvement to the curriculum, because it would assure that every Williams student graduates having gained skills that will carry him throughout his life. If someone has no desire to learn the western literature canon, I see no reason why he should be forced to.

But I do think that he should have to learn about literature, how to analyze it and think about it. What literature it is does not matter. That it is literature is essential.

Daniel Morales ’02

I think the students should be able to take whatever four or five classes they want to take. There should be NO REQUIREMENTS! We pay a lot to come to this school, and it is pointless for us to be forced to take classes that do not interest us and have no bearing on the rest of our lives. I honestly believe this, and if this ever happened here, I think the learning process would be much more enjoyable, and choosing classes would be a great deal easier.

Kevin Reilly ’02

I would say that it is a very bad idea to end the divisional requirements at Williams.

That is one of the things that allows Williams to stand out. It also provides for more diversity in the education of students.

Core requirements would homogenize the students at Williams and destroy the idea of a liberal arts education by hindering exploration in fields that may not be included in a core curriculum.

Marcus Robinson ’00

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