Swear It!

Ashley Thorne

Ball State University of Muncie, Indiana has decided to wise up. In fact, it’s becoming wiser-plus. The University has created a new “core curriculum for the 21st century” (UCC-21).

The curriculum consists of three tiers, each of which focuses on certain “transformational goals” of learning. Tier 1 courses emphasize the transformation of experience into information and information into knowledge. Tier 2 courses highlight the transformation of knowledge into judgment. Tiers 1 and 2 comprise basic training in writing, math, history, the sciences, and the arts. Tier 3 courses are “capstone courses or immersion experiences, or similar learning experiences (e.g., internship, clinical work, student teaching, field work, study abroad, etc.) that require [students] to demonstrate the ability to move from Experience or Information through to Action.”

In addition to the tier system, Ball State has introduced what it calls “WISER+” designations for certain courses. WISER+ is an acronym for:


International awareness

Service and civic engagement

Environmental awareness and sustainability

Respect for human liberty and diversity among peoples and cultures

Technological literacy

American institutions and/or history  


Students are required to take at least one course in each of these areas. Some courses may have multiple designations, but no single course may have more than three.

My first impression upon seeing this list of topics was, “Is WISER+ really the best acronym Ball State could come up with? What about the T and the A? How come they got summarized into a plus sign?” With the help of wordsmith.org/anagram, the Ball State curriculum architects could have included the otherwise marginalized “Technological literacy” and “American institutions and/or history” and arrived at such nifty acronyms as: WAITERS, WARIEST, WAR SITE, AIR STEW, TWAS IRE, or—my favorite—SWEAR IT. The last seems much catchier and perhaps more truthful than WISER+.

SWEAR IT captures the fervent allegiance vital to “civic engagement,” “environmental awareness,” and “respect for diversity.” Some recent examples of institutional allegiance:

  • Over 600 colleges and universities have signed a “Climate Action Commitment” sponsored by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). AASHE is encouraging them to establish a “climate action itmus test” when hiring university leaders.
  • Eastern Michigan University recently expelled a student because she would not advocate the moral acceptability of homosexuality.
  • Virginia Tech is still embroiled in an effort to mandate faculty “diversity” service.

Perhaps Ball State intended to slight the T and the A. American history is often considered an outdated or even racist subject, embarrassing with its dark revelations of colonial expansion and free enterprise. So maybe Ball State was torn between a desire to establish American history as part of the new core and an awkward attempt to make it unobvious.

It’s unclear why the University would want to hide technological literacy. In his article “Electracy,” here at nas.org, Peter Wood notes that academics predict, “Higher education is transitioning from literacy to electracy” or electronic literacy. Dr. Wood quotes theorist Gregory Ulmer, who is listed on Wikipedia saying, “What literacy is to the analytical mind, electracy is to the affective body...If literacy focused on universally valid methodologies of knowledge (sciences), electracy focuses on the individual state of mind within which knowing takes place (arts).” This mind-body dichotomy is beginning to be represented in a number of new different trends in higher education, most notably in the “whole child” pedagogy and the sustainability movement.

But back to UCC-21 and WISER+.  According to an article in the Ball State Daily News, the new core will go into effect in 2010, but in the meantime, “It is up to each department to determine which WISER+ standards to incorporate in its courses.”

And so as departments vie for a piece of the new wisdom, we take note of the Ball State curriculum. It is a fresh instance of a public university that short-changes math, science, and literature in favor of a program bent on teaching college students to be activists. The UCC-21 effectually says to students, “These are the most important things you can learn in college: how to be green zealots, how to navigate the internet, how to practice civil disobedience, and how to treat someone differently if he belongs to another race. We have mapped out your values for you and your only choice is to acquiesce. SWEAR IT!”

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