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More on Language

6 June, 2007

More on Language

Ancarett is riffing off the post below, and it reminded me about a concomitant problem with the whole language requirement thing. FTEs and Gen.Ed./Core requirements. I think that the problem may be worse at smaller campuses where smaller also = financially strapped. For any given requirement of a course or courses in one department, another department whose courses are not required will feel hard done by. Sometimes the argument will be phrased as “but this is important in terms of a well-rounded education.” And sometimes, that’s true. Language certainly fits in there. But there is often pressure from above (“too many requirements mean students have too few choices, and they will leave us and go elsewhere”) and from within the faculty (“why do you think your field is more important than mine“). The former argument is dodgy. The latter, just stupid. Some fields are more necessary to a Liberal Arts education than others. Because, well, there are these things we call Liberal Arts. Seven of them, as it happens. History’s one of them. The social sciences? not. So I’m all for arguing that History should be required, but that non-majors should be able to satisfy a general social science requirement with Econ, Sociology, Anthro, Psych, PoliSci … But I also do understand that people’s egos are at stake.

In more practical terms, though, I think a lot of it is about funding. The pie is only so big, and smaller departments don’t want their budgets diminished at the expense of something as lame as foreign languages. I’ve seen this happen at a couple of places. The people who side with languages? History (usually, as long as History is already required), some kinds of Lit people, International Relations, and some of the Health Care professions. One guy from the Business School (it’s always a guy … talk about gender imbalance). A cultural Anthropologist, if there is one. For the rest of the faculty, not so much support. Note: this is not true for faculty who went to really good SLACs or universities and had to learn languages themselves. They usually appreciate the value.

But as long as funding is based on enrollments, there will be problems getting meaningful language requirements.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 June, 2007 1:36 am

    Hmmm. I guess I’d have to disagree with the idea that social sciences aren’t part of the liberal arts – just because they weren’t part of the traditional/medieval Liberal Arts doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in a liberal arts education today. This is probably heresy for a historian to say, but I don’t think history should necessarily be required. I think students should have to do various humanities courses, and various science courses, and various social science courses, but if you can fulfill social sciences with one of econ/psych/sociology/etc., then equally I think that you should be able to fulfill a humanities requirement with lit/history/philosophy/language. But I come from the “take a bunch of courses that sound interesting to you” school of undergrad requirements.There *are* some fields more important to a liberal arts education than others, agreed, but the ones I’d rule out are those that are very specifically vocationally-focused, like nursing, or pharmacy, or engineering, or social work (note: not sociology). That kind of thing. I don’t think social sciences fall into this category.(I realize this is sort of off the point you were making here, but hey, it’s what struck a chord with me.)

  2. 7 June, 2007 2:16 am

    See, I think that History and Lit are the two most important of the non-math/science fields. It’s not that I think the others are worthless — just that I think History especially offers a kind of disciplinary thinking that lends itself to so many other pursuits and really doesn’t happen in so many other fields. And History provides context. I mean, think of all those people who think that the MA were all about the Evil Catholic Church keeping down the true Christians and preventing the Common Man from reading? Think of all the horrible things people get up to — and get away with — in the name of history. Requiring history might mean that, over time, we have fewer history channel majors and more people in general who say, “hey, you’re way the hell oversimplifying this!” At least, that’s my hope.Matt says some of this far better than I do. Not that he’s trying to make the same point.

  3. 7 June, 2007 6:09 pm

    Actually, I’m sort of with New Kid on this one. My SLAC undergraduate institution (“Zenith,” for those of you who read TR) had very open-ended requirements and I loved it’s model. Departments were divided into Humanities, social Sciences, and Sciences. The only core requirements were to take four classes in each of two divisions, and two classes in the remaining division. I felt free to pursue the things that really excited me intellectually, with a minimum of required classes that bored me.

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