I can try to give you the 'live' perspective of a student:
If you look at my old posts I wasn't a big fan of the core at first. It seemed overwhelming, useless, and generally just a masturbatory approach to knowledge (keep in mind that this was in mid-FOS so that tends to cloud things with hatred).
But yknow, making my schedule for the 2nd semester now, I see a lot of good to it too. Lit Hum is interesting most of the time (though I am thinking of switching sections for the winter because I can't stand my classmates). I mean these are interesting books to read and discuss. If you approach this in terms of Sparksnotes summaries and passage recognition (which is what the exams are about to be fair) then yeah it kind of sucks but if you read and think about the issues, there's a lot to be taken here.
And what's bad about mastering a 2nd language over two years? A few psychology or physics courses to balance out some science into the mix? Some current world stuff with Global Core....discovering an interesting in fencing.
Bottom line is: You'll find it long and overbearing, you'll get slightly peeved at having to read the freaking bible while your friends at Berkeley are reading comicbooks (great ones too) but in the end you'll discovery a great passion SOMEWHERE in there.
'Growth by osmosis'...I get it.
Of course that could be bad seeing as it has made me question a lot of what my interests are. I've gone from a "Econ-Film Studies" intended double major to "Sociology-Creative Writing"....It'll probably change by January again. But hey, it's a journey. Better now than at 39 with two kids and a wife who doesn't oral anymore.
"But hey, it's a journey. Better now than at 39 with two kids and a wife who doesn't oral anymore."
But, seriously. I hated it at times, i didn't read some of my lit hum books. But I discovered how much I love the classics. And opera (who would have thought being made to see Don Giovanni could be so good?).
Maybe i was also lucky in terms of the teachers I had--for all the core classes (with the exception of UW) my teachers were engaging, challenging and really encouraged us to think creatively about concepts.
Here's where I'm going to sound like a tool: reading the classics took Harry Potter to a whole new level. Not even kidding.
I've got a love-frustration relationship with the Core (I'm currently frustrated because I'm writing a CC paper that I'm just sick of). On the one hand, I love the idea of the Core. I think Lit Hum and CC both take your education up a notch. Sure, you can be cynical about it and just say that those classes teach you how to BS through conversations at cocktail parties, but they're also enriching in that those texts are deeply ingrained in Western thought. And no matter how frustrated I get while reading some of these texts, I'm always grateful afterwards to have read them. I also honestly believe that both classes have improved my analytical reading skills.
But there's no denying that the Core takes up a huge chunk of the undergrad experience. So you might find it hard to balance among major/concentration requirements, Core classes, and electives. Certainly for me, it seems like I won't be taking anything besides science, lit, and Core classes for the next two and a half years that are left (wow, that sounds scarily short).
The way I think about it, though, is that many classes required by the Core are classes that I would have taken anyway had I gone to a different school. That is, I would've taken an art history course, history/anthropology courses (for Major Cultures/Global Core), and some class equivalent to Lit Hum (I'm still ambivalent about CC). This makes the Core more manageable in my mind, though it's certainly not true for everyone. In the end, I'd say it's worth it.
And yes, the Core focuses on Western civilization. At least, the core of the Core does (Art Hum, Music Hum, CC, Lit Hum).
LitHum, CC, and Music & Art Hum are all seminar-style, taught by either professors or grad students. There is no course-wide lecture. Basically, the syllabus is the same across the board, but each instructor handles it in his/her own way. For LitHum, there's a course-wide lecture during orientation, but that's not the norm. You might also get instructors whose fields don't directly relate to the class (you might, say, get a history professor for LitHum), and not all instructors have the same level of familiarity with the texts, but most of them know what they're talking about.
This is different for Frontiers where there is a course-wide lecture, but you have separate discussion/seminar sections led by either professors or postdocs. And, again, the instructor's field of interest/research may not directly relate to course content.
For the classes I'm talking about, I think the cap is usually in the low 20s.
There's definitely a chance to know your professors, and they do know who you are (if only just your name). Of course, you'll have to take the initiative of speaking up in class and going to office hours.
****ing....frontiers of science. i just had a teacher today who said things like "the currently accepted theory is that the universe is infinitely big" and "what? no of course the universe isnt expanding at an ever increasing rate! where did you get that ridiculous idea?" and my personal favorite "What are shooting stars? oh they are just dying stars that are moving really fast"
Location: amidst the lovely bunch of sounds in my suburban jungle; attempting to deconstruct ;D
What if you were planning to be study premed? How much exploration would you get to do beyond all the premed requirements + the core, in four years? I love other stuff like creative writing, theatre, political and global studies, and visual art, but I don't see how I could possibly fit it all in. Bleh.
^^ I guess that depends on your major. If you major in biology/biochem, most classes overlap with premed requirements. So if you structure your time properly, you'll be able to do random classes. It might be tough, but not impossible.
Scifi: who the hell was your teacher? David helfand would shoot him/her.
The core was a major part of the appeal of Columbia to me. It meant that I could indulge all my other academic interests (besides the math/science basis of an engineering curriculum), without being at a competitive disadvantage with my peers GPA-wise as a result of doing so.
Lit Hum OR CC OR Major Cultures course
Music Hum OR Art Hum
2 semesters Physics
2 semesters Calculus
2 semesters Chemistry (1 if Intensive)
Intro to Computer Science
Principles of Economics
I have to say that among the shared courses, Lit Hum and Music Hum (the ones I chose) were somewhat legendary in their rigor and value to me as part of an education. Music Hum I already knew most of what was being taught, as a result of playing classical piano from age 5, but Lit Hum was something else. Sure, I'd read the Odyssey before, but I had two extremely talented teachers presenting everything from Homer to Virginia Woolf in brilliant fashion, and driving classroom discussion in a way that actually left me feeling more educated as I walked out the door. That's a very rare feeling - usually, especially with math/science classes, you only really feel more aware of your subject matter after studying and doing problem sets. With Lit Hum (and, from what I can tell, CC), if you'd done the reading and participated actively in class, you could often walk out that day having made connections between that book and all of the others in the classical western Canon leading up to it. Homer led to Aeschylus led to Virgil led to St Augustine led to Dante led to Boccaccio led to the Renaissance... you spot so many trends, and form an understanding of so many traditions, catch-phrases and references common to western culture, that it's really invaluable.
None moreso than reading a couple key books from the Bible. I mean, sure, growing up a protestant in America, you'd often read various parts and you knew a lot of the stories separately, but you'd never put them all together by reading Genesis and Exodus cover-to-cover. You knew some of the basic acts of Jesus, but reading the gospels of Luke and John filled in many of the gaps. By approaching it not as a religious instruction but as a pillar of our common intellectual heritage, you get a ton out of it.
Yes, some people are dragged through the Core kicking and screaming, but at the end of it they come out with more knowledge. It's the simple fact of the matter. Other schools with less well-developed, well-conceived courses, or a lot more curriculum freedom, may be more popular but ultimately do a disservice to students.
None of which excuses Frontiers of Science, which is an insulting and atrocious miscarriage of science education. You can't teach principles of scientific inquiry and history in one broad survey course. You have entire departments devoted to this if the students really want to get into the nitty-gritties of it. Do it right or don't do it at all.
Denz, Frontiers does not attempt to teach scientific history in one broad sweep. The principles of scientific inquiry one would arguably get from contemporary Civ.
The purpose of the Frontiers of Science class is to teach students how to approach scientific problems using basic tools that are used across disciplines-basic stats, back-of the-envelope calculations, estimations, whatever-and to teach them in a practical environment. Hence the biodiversity experiments in Morningside Park, and tracking ice age glacier flows in central park.
The purpose of the class isn't to give students a quick 3-week survey on neuroscience or global warming, it's teaching students how to apply basic principles to relatively specialised subject matter. The premise of the course is totally legit. Its execution has the tendancy to suck. I'm biased in this respect, because I had David Helfand as my seminar leader, and my classmates and I loved the class, as far as I could tell.
Problems arose because some of the TA's/Post-docs in the class failed to evoke their students' interest in the class--they were boring, or simply didn't try hard enough at the modules that were outside their field of interest. I think the class would be a thousand times better if Columbia for once got off its high horse and staffed full-time, respected professors on each seminar group.
Let me finish by saying that, for whatever reason, I've found grad students/post docs to be great teachers for the humanities part of the core, but not the science.