is Only a Test, continued
disciplined: Dr. Martha Farah, Dr. Richard Samuels and Dr. Stephen
Morse mix psychology, philosophy and law in the classroom.
an incredibly depressing history. Rick Beeman is leaning over
a table in his Logan Hall office, speaking with great animation about
American curricular reform over the past two centuries, while his Bernese
mountain dog, Chief Justice John Marshmallow, presides sleepily over the
Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard who introduced an all-electives
curriculum in 1869a brilliant and bold idea which, after years of faculty
debate, got shot downto the present, Beeman says, the history of faculty
discussions of curricular proposals is one of disputation, of passionate
defense and of disciplinary self-interest.
are among the smartest people in the world, he goes on to say, and
their powers of abstract reasoning exceed those of any other occupational
group. So you get faculty involved in a hypothetical, abstract debate
of an ideal curriculum, and you get a lot of impressive argumentation
and hot air.
a result, revamping a college curriculum can be a wearying process. And
most of the time, whatever kind of incisiveness existed in an original
curricular proposal gets sort of watered down. Beeman hopes this wont
happen at Penn. The hope is that when we have the real debate on our
next curriculum, well have a lot of empirical evidence that will enable
the faculty to come to a conclusion.
faculty here is more engaged in undergraduate education than just about
any faculty I know of, he adds. The challenge is engaging their attention
in a purposeful way that will enable us to move forward consensually to
find the right curriculum for Penn: one that suits the culture of the
institution and which the faculty fervently, sincerely and uncynically
obstacle to the implementation of the pilot curriculum, he acknowledges,
is that a number of the science faculty abhor the idea.
Eric Weinberg, professor of biology, is one of the critics of the curriculum,
arguing that it doesnt give non-science majors enough exposure to pure
science. Hed like to see at least one general-requirement course delve
deeply into a physical science and another into biological science, instead
of the interdisciplinary approach that is being used. He also contends
that the general-requirement courses, while good classes in their own
right, take away from the time science majors need to fulfill their many
course requirements. And if a student is thinking of doing a biology
major, but is not doing quite so well, he says, they also have to explore
alternative majors early on at Penn. If they take the pilot curriculum,
its not possible to do that.
third objection Weinberg has, is more of a problem of philosophy. I would
rather see depth than breadth, he says. I would recommend the general-requirement
plan adopted by the University of Rochester, in which students must choose
a major along with two concentration areas, each consisting of at least
three related, advanced-level courses.
Larry Gladney, associate professor of physics and chair of the pilot-curriculum
general-requirement committee, has heard complaints from science faculty
that students wont be exposed sufficiently to the scientific method or
learn enough about an individual discipline to know if they would be interested
in pursuing it. Hes also heard arguments about the potential negative
impact that the general requirements could have on scheduling for science
majors. But, he says, I havent seen, with the students Ive been advising,
any particular concern. They come in pretty much knowing what they want
to do with science and understanding that theyre going to be exempted
from the [Earth, Space and Life] requirement anyway, and therefore take
it out of only a general interest. They relish having more freedom to
take other courses.
think we have to be more creative, adds Gladney, who created a couple
of interdisciplinary science and math courses for freshmen through the
existing curriculum. Science faculty tend to be rather set upon the specific
discipline theyre in.
have a lot of evidence, Beeman says, to suggest that this method [of
concentration], however good it may be for training students who are exceptionally
talented in a particular discipline, has only caused those students who
have entered Penn fearful and ignorant of science to leave Penn similarly
fearful and ignorant of science.
issue of science education for students who are not going to be scientists
is one, I believe, of vital importance not only to Penn but to the nation,
Beeman continues. As Frank Warner has said, Do we want members of Congress
voting on appropriations for science agencies, who are mostly going to
be non-scientists, to be as ignorant of the basic ideas in science as
most of our non-science population is today?
says hell be curious to find out if more students decide to become science
majors under the pilot curriculum. Another question to consider, Beeman
says, is whether those who do not become science majors are motivated
to take additional science classes outside the pilot requirements. Theyll
be sifting through transcripts over the next four years for clues. In
addition, Beeman says, the College should find a way to test students
on their general scientific literacy at the beginning and end of their
semester, theyve pored over texts on imperial conquest and analyzed foreign
trade, but the topic for discussion in todays Globalization and its Historical
Significance class happens to be one many students can personally relate
to: clothing. Dr. Mauro GuillÈn, a sociologist who is assistant professor
of management at Wharton, has asked the class to visit local retailers
and snoop through the labels to find out where the clothes they wear are
made. Partitions are drawn in the large classroom, so GuillÈn and the
other two faculty members teaching this courseDr. Brian Spooner, professor
of anthropologyand Dr. Lee Cassannelli, associate professor of history
can work with smaller groups.
quickly becomes clear, based on students findings in GuillÈns discussion
group, that there exists a complex relationship between geography and
price-tag. One student went to Nordstrom and was amazed to find a coat
designed in France. But when he looked at the label more carefully,
he discovered it was manufactured in Hong Kong.
a gimmick, right? GuillÈn says. Designed in Italy, made of French materials,
assembled in Sri Lanka. Because if they only say made in Sri Lanka,
it probably will be more difficult for that firm to go out and charge
a higher price. This tells you where the money is going.
show students how this phenomenon extends beyond the clothing industry,
he cites the example of the French company that sells Laughing Cow cheese.
They actually make the cheese in different places in the world with local
milk and local ingredients. But they know they can sell it for a higher
price if they claim somehow thats its a French cheese. So on the label,
they say,. Laughing Cow Cheese, printed in France. And on the back,
they say, Made in the USA.
class analyzes what goes into the pricetag on brand-name athletic shoes
and discusses how less than 10 percent of the cost comes from labor. The
students report mixed feelings about wearing clothes made by people whose
salaries fall well below the American minimum wage. My problem with it
is theres no opportunity for improvement within those countries, one
student says, while another questions what options she has. What am I
going to do, go naked?
can ask those corporations to be accountable, GuillÈn suggests. Human-rights
groups do want Nike to make money, but they want Nike and all the others
to make less money, he says. It strikes me that there is some room for
GuillÈns view, general-requirement classes in the pilot curriculum are
a great idea to broaden and expose [students] to some of the most important
issues affecting the world right now. It gives students a breadth of knowledge
that helps them tackle some of the big issues better.
the globalization class, he explains, Were trying to not only give them
data and events, but also different waysanthropological, historical,
sociologicalof thinking about it. And, he points out, Not only do we
come from different national backgroundsIm from Spain, Brian is British
and Lee is Americanbut weve also done research on different parts of
the world. Within the confines of this teaching team, we have expertise
on pretty much every major region of the world.
course, he says, we always have to remind ourselves that these are first-year
students. They cannot be as sophisticated as seniors with their approaches.
of them, anyway.
Tunyiswas first name, roughly translated from the Xhosa language, means
Child of the World. Ive kind of stuck with it, says the freshman,
who hails from Capetown, South Africa, but has spent the past several
years studying and traveling in other countries. Tunyiswa C04, who speaks
probably 10 different languages and wants to double-major in communication
and international relations, embraces the idea of bridging disciplinary
and cultural boundaries. So its fitting that he chose to participate
in the pilot curriculum and that he selected Globalization for his first
general-requirement class. He seems at home in the class, where he is
preparing a research paper that examines the migratory patterns of Europe
during the Roman Empire, the time of Charlemagne and the present European
reason is because of his personal experiences with race and with a global
education. Imagine youre a connoisseur of racism, he says. The filet
mignon would be South Africa. The system is messed up and its going to
take 30 to 40 years to get to the bottom of the problem, Tunyiswa says.
From there I went to [high school in] California, where everything is
PC, and everybody seems happy. I thought they were high most of the time.
He then enrolled in Britains United World College of the Atlantic, a
prep school with students from 90 different countries, where all cultures
are mingling. Israelis and Palestinians were lofting together.
he reads in his English literature class about race in America through
the eyes of Frederick Douglass and Ralph Ellison, Tunyiswa is still trying
to decipher Penns social culture, which he has found less rewarding so
far than his academic life. Penn is very diverse, but the diversity
never mixes. He sees a predominantly white fraternity scene and an African-American
scene. Im stuck in between because Im neither. I stay in my room.
of the topics covered in the globalization class arent new to him. But
he appreciates how the topics are approached from different perspectives.
The way these disciplines are distinct, yet similar, is very interesting
to me. Maybe the subject matter is wide, he says, but I think its beautiful
that its wide.
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