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Stanford's New First-Year Curriculum Wants to Leave the Culture War Behind, if Culture Warriors Will Let It

In his March 21 opinion piece, Mark Bauerlein reflects on the history of Stanford’s first-year requirements to make an argument about the relation between general education and humanities majors. In the process, he refers to Stanford’s Thinking Matters courses but omits to mention that while Stanford continues to offer these courses in the present academic year, we are phasing them out as we transition to a new first-year program. As the faculty director of that program, I would like both to clarify our requirements and explain how our new program proposes different answers to the concerns that Bauerlein raises.

Stanford’s first-year requirement since September 2021 is now Civic, Liberal and Global Education. Called COLLEGE for short, it replaces the Thinking Matters requirement, which had been in place since 2012. Both of these programs occupy the space once filled by the Western Culture (1980–1988) and Western Civilization (1935–1970) requirements, which Bauerlein also discusses.

COLLEGE breaks with recent versions of the first-year requirement at Stanford. It was developed in the context of the university’s long-range vision plan and involved more than two years of intensive faculty discussion, informed by quantitative data and student focus groups. Ever since Western Civ ended, most gen ed programs at Stanford and elsewhere have given up on the idea of a single, shared curriculum (even Stanford’s Western Culture requirement allowed students to choose from different tracks). The result has been the kind of fragmented general education curriculum that Bauerlein laments.

COLLEGE brings back the idea of a shared curriculum, though not to celebrate a canon or to nudge students to declare humanities majors. Rather, COLLEGE is designed to engage all our entering students, whose interests range widely across disciplines, by confronting them with existential questions: What is the true end of education? How do we sustain democracy? Can we solve problems on a global scale? COLLEGE also tackles underlying issues in campus social dynamics, which reflect national trends and are a growing concern at Stanford.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed