In February the University System of Georgia held a “retreat” that produced proposals for two new schemes of core curriculum at Georgia’s 35 public higher education institutions. The proposal struck members of the NAS in Georgia as a retreat indeed—a retreat from academic standards. The retreatees appeared to be enamored with the trendy ideas about “developing sustainable responses” in a “complex global environment.” Since then NAS has been paying attention to how the state’s largest university, the University of Georgia, would respond to the proposals. We now have the answer.
An NAS member who works as an academic advisor at UGA said that, the University, as the system’s flagship school, is exempt from any USG prescriptions for curricula (such as “Framing Worldviews in a Global Environment,” and “From Self to Global Society”). He feared, however, that UGA might be tempted to stir themes like sustainability and social justice into the curriculum reforms already in motion.
Last week, the University of Georgia held a training session in which the advisors were briefed on distribution requirement changes which have been in the works for at least three years. The timing seemed ripe for adopting a curriculum similar to the ones proposed by USG retreat-ites. But the University, it seems, has opted for a worthier pursuit: increase academic rigor and encourage more writing-intensive courses.
“As far as the region’s proposals go, they’re just thinking out loud,” said the academic advisor. “We’re not doing much in respect to that yet.”
The advisor reported that the changes—“an administrative headache”— will reorganize the courses already in place, and will serve primarily to present “a better face for accreditors.”
NAS is glad to see that through its curriculum revisions, UGA has sought to strengthen its intellectual foundations rather than to dilute its material with political propaganda. As occurrences of this kind grow rarer by the day, we believe it’s worth noting when a university does something right. We particularly applaud UGA’s emphasis on the study of foreign languages, science and technology, and quantitative reasoning. It is not perfect progress.
UGA also remains stuck on the idea that universities should teach students to “appreciate” diversity rather than understand it; and the revised standards continue to draw a false distinction between critical thinking and memorization, elevating one and derogating the other. That’s a dire mistake, with roots in the “progressive” reforms of the early 20th century. As NAS contributor Michael Booker recounted in a recent issue of Academic Questions (Vol. 20, No. 4 “A Roof Without Walls”), the dismissal of the importance of substantive learning gained further grip mid-century from Benjamin Bloom’s famous taxonomy of learning, in which the acquisition of knowledge was treated as the most rudimentary intellectual skill and “evaluation” the highest. The trouble is that these days many curricula pay scant heed to furnishing students’ minds with the facts and instead go directly to “critical thinking.”
We think UGA’s revisions are a step in the right direction, but the work isn’t finished.