What Would a Two-Year Program of Essential Higher Education Look Like?

About This Logbook

Intended Audience: Those in interested in the liberal arts and higher education.

In some ways, this post is a practice of imagination and idealistic dreaming. On the other, it’s also a sort of painful nostalgia.

At one point in my life (2018), I was not only department chair but Chief Academic Officer (Academic Dean) of a small liberal arts college, and responsible for revising the core curriculum. Being a bit progressive and curious, my perspective differed with other faculty who saw the “liberal arts” as being “the classics” of western literature. I enjoyed and benefited from my liberal arts education at Dordt University (though I don’t recommend anyone go there, or anywhere else, where debt is required for such an education) and that experience undoubtedly had some influence on my thinking. But I never thought that was ideal either. And countless new disciplines came into existence in just the last 150 years (most of the social sciences, for example), and they should have a place in any proposal.

I forget what exactly we settled on, but it wasn’t what anyone truly wanted anyway because of various limitations (especially faculty; we were too small to have all the qualified profs necessary to pull everything off). But ever since then, I continued to toy with the idea of what an AA in Liberal Arts might look like, especially if the U.S. offers free community college someday (haha!…That was a depressing laugh. Like, “someday we’ll have free healthcare like the rest of the world and not have anxiety attacks about going to the doctor,” that kind of humor…) The question is, after, all, an interesting one: what courses should everyone take and experience to be “transformed” as a “whole person”? We may say (with just cause) that “well, we cant ever make that judgment. Especially globally.” And there’s truth to that. Our perspective is situated and limited; no one is in a position to say with absolute objectivity (an impossibility) or truth what “Everyone should know.”

The problem is, we have to do this anyway.

Someone has to decide what is taught, what is “essential,” what we want young minds to not just be exposed to, but to engage with. That’s true for any school or education system. We are forced to make such hard choices.

It’s been years since I was in that challenging position. But I’ve continued to imagine and revise an ideal curriculum for an AA of Liberal Arts. I won’t explain my reasoning at all, because that would take forever. But here’s what I finally settled on. (Note: Some of the specifics are undetermined, but the general outline is straightforward; the summer terms are also required pass/fail 1 credit 4-week courses). Enjoy! Criticize! Collaborate!

AA Liberal Arts (64 credits)

  1. Year 1: Fall Semester
    1. Math I (Applied Math)
    2. Rhetoric I (Speech)
    3. Language/Linguistics (e.g., possibly a foreign language, but if it were up to me I’d give students a choice between linguistics and either Esperanto or Python)
    4. Philosophy I (Formal and Informal Logic)
    5. Science I (Physical)
  2. Year 1 Spring Semester
    1. Math II (Applied Stats)
    2. Rhetoric II (Composition)
    3. Anthropology
    4. Philosophy II (Metaphysics/Ontology)
    5. Science II (Life)
  3. Year 2 Fall Semester
    1. Literature I (World Literature)
    2. Psychology
    3. History I (World History)
    4. Philosophy III (Ethics)
    5. Economics
  4. Year 2 Spring Semester
    1. Literature II (student’s choice from Ancient Lit, American literature, Chinese/Asian lit, African Lit, etc.)
    2. Music
    3. History II (student’s choice of Western Civ, Chinese/Asian Civ, Indian Civ, African Civ, Native American Civ)
    4. Sociology
    5. World Religions

Summer Terms (Practical Skills)

  1. Year 1 Summer Term (2 credits)
    1. Woodworking I, or Survival Training I (Food Gathering and Shelter Building)
    2.  Electrical Circuits, or Mechanics I (Metal Working)
  2. Year 2 Summer Term (2 credits)
    1. Woodworking II, or Survival Training II (Self-Defense and Bow Hunting)
    2. Vertical Gardening, or Mechanics II (Engine and Vehicle Repair)