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In reply to proposed core curriculum changes

| Monday, September 28, 2015

I was deeply troubled by your article, “Committee prepares core curriculum changes” and its fait accompli attitude, especially when considering the amount of technical scholarship that is purportedly being jettisoned in favor of populist rhetoric and speculative studies.

First, let’s take a macro-level look at this situation. We are told the curriculum is reviewed every 10 years and that the current version has not changed in 30 years. Then we are informed that a review has been undertaken and some discussions have taken place with the some of the faculty and some of the students. The comment that these discussions “felt like a mere formality” is not surprising given the conclusory title of the article. The committee is supposed to make recommendations for curriculum changes, not to prepare to change the curriculum and then inform the alumni and students of the changes they have decided to make sua sponte. The disingenuous nature of this presumption is galling and at this moment appears to be an underhanded and intellectually dishonest scheme.

Next there is the issue of the suggested changes to the current curriculum of core courses. The courses as they stand now are traditional courses that have been studied at the university level for thousands of years in some form or another. They represent the core of actual, proven and achievable knowledge. They are the litmus test that all the alumni and our current undergraduates are being judged and graded by in seeking a Notre Dame diploma. The product Notre Dame sends out into the world is superior and it is so because employers know that Notre Dame students have been prepared to think critically, honestly and to fight for what is right and true. The Notre Dame graduate is an extremely well educated, critical thinking person of great value to their employer, their co-workers, their community and their friends. Their scholarship is measurable in meaningful and quantitative terms specifically because of a foundation that is diverse (in scope) and demands critical thinking and scholarship in a traditional university education that dates back to the beginning of the university system itself.

So as not to be close minded, let us look at the proposed curriculum changes, un-voted upon and not formally adopted, but that certainly form the desire and goal of the presumptuous review committee. Preliminary review of the topics listed include: ecological literacy, U.S. diversity, community-based engaged learning and media literacy. At first blush I would offer that every student applying to Notre Dame has probably accomplished the bulk of this work firsthand in their volunteer work from middle school and through high school. The resumes of Notre Dame students have always been abundant with service work in under-served communities and with special interests focusing on global issues. This suggested curriculum on its face appears to be redundant and preaching to the choir.

In truth I agree with the students who believe classes like these should be one-credit seminars and not the foundation of scholarly achievement. The suggested, more truthfully “announced” changes are not areas of settled science or social science and are more political in nature than the traditional and truly settled curriculum now in place. In all frankness, this is the stuff of indoctrination and not education. A well educated person can judge for themselves the need for such subject matter and its utility in their lives.  If the committee is so determined to politicize education then take it to the elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, but leave such subjective and political matters out of the proven educational underpinnings of a Notre Dame education.

Finally, the fact that there has been no public discussion on the selected/proposed changes, coupled with the fact that they have not been openly broadcast to the alumni who make the committee’s jobs possible, is the stuff of backroom political deals. Ironically, this information was dumped in the Friday edition of The Observer, the traditional day in the media where unpleasant and unfavorable news is dumped to languish over the weekend in hopes that a breaking issue on Monday will push it so deeply into the background that all dissent is muted or silenced. How is that for media literacy? And I didn’t even have to take a one credit seminar to figure that out. God save us from ourselves.


William G. Norberg Jr.
class of 1987

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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