The Evolution of Curricula

John Sexton:  I was educated by the Jesuits.  I value my education immensely.  For me, I couldn’t imagine a better education.  The Jesuits demanded of us many more courses for graduation than universities demand of their students today and they gave us far less choice other than the choice of a major.  At Fordham where I went to college, we had one elective.  Essentially, it came down to a choice between whether you wanted to take

history of art or history of music.  Most of us took one for credit and audited the other.  But this was a world where you had to be able to read Latin and Greek to get a bachelor’s degree.  I’m a great believer in the kind of foundation that provided.  On the other hand, it strikes me that it’s very hard to dictate what’s right for others.  As my daughter said, we walked off the Swarthmore campus as our Katie and we went around looking at colleges.  Her Southern schools, to show you what a New Yorker cartoon she was, were Princeton, Penn, and Swarthmore.  That was about as far South as she could imagine going.  We walked off the Swarthmore campus and she jumped out about four feet in front of me, put her hands up and said, “Stop.  I get it.  You don’t even have to say a word.  This is the perfect college for you.  But for me, it’s too claustrophobic.”  I have to say, “I don’t think there is any right answer about the perfect core curriculum.  I’m very ecumenical about student choice.  Now I rail against the fact that even dealing with the elite of the elite.  For example, during my time as dean of NYU law school, where I was dealing with some of the brightest and best educated young men and women in the country, there were huge gaps, it seemed to me, in their knowledge.  It’s unimaginable to me that I run into deeply intelligent people who are unfamiliar with some of what I think of as the classics.  But they probably are familiar with many things with which I’m not familiar.  I

hope that the things that occupy their mind are not simply who has won American Idol and who the most handsome person is on the Iron Chef.  I hope there’s a little more enduring content to what they know that I don’t know.  I’m certainly humbled all the time by the knowledge of my students.  I’d be very reluctant to prescribe a single core curriculum.  There are elements of an education that are critical.  So rigor, critical thinking, and insistence that ideas be defendable and defended and that we not collapse into a kind of intellectual relativism were everybody is entitled to his or her opinion.  People are not entitled to think that the world is flat.  Therefore, the capacity to engage in an iterative conversation in which the conversation extends so there’s a proposition and an answer, but then an answer to the answer, not just a repeat of the proposition.  Then an answer to the answer to the answer.  There’s a fundamental way of thinking that deepens in an iterative way, in a dialogic process the thought of each party to the conversation and the assumption of the conversation is that truth is not bipolar, that’s it’s not a simple yes or no on some nakedly stated proposition, but there’s a real appetite for nuance and complexity and frankly the kind of thing you try to

foster on this show.

Recorded on 5/19/08

Looking back at the value of a true liberal arts education.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Think you’re bad at math? You may suffer from ‘math trauma’

Even some teachers suffer from anxiety about math.

Image credit: Getty Images
Mind & Brain

I teach people how to teach math, and I've been working in this field for 30 years. Across those decades, I've met many people who suffer from varying degrees of math trauma – a form of debilitating mental shutdown when it comes to doing mathematics.

Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

How KGB founder Iron Felix justified terror and mass executions

The legacy of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who led Soviet secret police in the "Red Terror," still confounds Russia.

Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky led the Cheka, Soviet Union's first secret police.
  • The Cheka was infamous for executing thousands during the Red Terror of 1918.
  • The Cheka later became the KGB, the spy organization where Russia's President Putin served for years.
Keep reading Show less