Questions about the Core

<p>I'm posing this question as an admitted student (EA) to former students who've gone to UChicago. </p>

<p>So at this point I've heard and read a good amount about the Core. The issue is that it's always been presented to me in terms of adjectives and superlatives instead of concrete examples, so I still don't feel I have a good understanding of it. </p>

<p>First of, is the Core so much more unique from other institutions' core curriculum as it's sometimes advertised to be (i.e. "Life of the Mind")? Secondly, do you feel the Core is something that any one can enjoy or at least tolerate, even if that person isn't planning on majoring in the humanities? The reputation is that it's difficult and dominates the first two years of your undergrad experience. I'm not necessarily averse to that, but I'd just like to get the truth from someone who's been through it. Thanks.</p>

<li>Well, I’ve never gone through a gen. ed. sequence at another school, but I would say that UChicago’s is fairly unique based on what I’ve heard (exception: Columbia’s is similar). The “Life of Mind” is both a marketing term and a term that has some truth. The core teaches you to think. </li>
<li>The core is very tolerable, and can be enjoyable as long as you are careful with course selection and reading through teacher evaluations. Also, it’s not necessarily geared towards humanities – there are science and math requirements as well. Whichever you lean towards (science/humanities), you’ll be forced to explore the other side as well. </li>
<li>You can spread it out as much as you want. A lot of people finish it in 2 years, but a number take all 4 years to finish as well. You can also test out of a few of the requirements with AP scores (Bio, Calc and Chem scores are particularly helpful).</li>

<p>There’s more info about the Core here:<a href=“[/url]”></a></p>

<p>When I took a tour of UChicago, I remember my guide telling me that the best thing about the Core was that all students think about and tackle the same texts. The actual relevance of this didn’t become clear to me until I came here, and found that almost everyone sitting around me in the library had a different opinion of the book I was reading for my Hum class. I like that.
I’ve found the courses (I’ve taken Humanities, Social Science, Arts, Biology and my Physical Science) to be really enjoyable - difficult, sure - and something that does genuinely unite all UChicago students, no matter their major.</p>

<p>UChicago & Lara, thank you for filling me in on your experiences.</p>



<p>So when you say all the kids are talking about the same books, is it the same syllabus for all, say, Humanties sequences? I would think not, given the range of sequence titles:</p>

<p>Readings in World Literature<br>
Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities<br>
Greek Thought and Literature<br>
Human Being and Citizen<br>
Introduction to the Humanities<br>
Reading Cultures: Collection, Travel, Exchange<br>
Media Aesthetics: Image, Text, Sound<br>
Language and the Human </p>

<p>Or are students in one sequence reading the same books while students in another reading different books? So if, say, a quarter of all students are taking a sequence at any one time that’s about 1,300 kids in 8 different sequences or about 160 or so kids. Not so many, under this scenario.</p>

<p>Could any former or current students clarify for me?</p>

<p>There is quite a bit of variation across sequences and even some variation within sections of particular sequences. This is to provide students some choice with regard to the texts they’re reading. It’s a good thing.</p>

<p>Even with this variability in texts, however, certain texts and authors manage to be read by most students; you probably won’t escape from here without reading at least some Plato, for example. This is also a good thing. If you’re hanging out in the house lounge, for example, and you ask of the group you’re with for clarification or opinions on a particular text, chances are that somebody will be happy to discuss it with you. </p>

<p>This is the advantage of the Core. Rather than requiring every student to read texts A, B, and C in the St. John’s tradition, every student gets a pretty thorough introduction to a larger foundation of must-read works.</p>

<p>Thanks OW for the clarification. My brothers and I are Columbia grads so that’s the core I’m familiar with.</p>

<p>It’s been very exciting to look in depth at the UofC core sequence options…such wonderful options.</p>

<p>Very true. You at least end up having almost all tackled the same kind of concepts and ideas in the Core, although they may not be the same books. I also don’t think you can go through UChicago without reading Marx.</p>

<p>Another benefit is that we’re all reading the original texts - which is challenging and beautiful and really cool.</p>

<p>Yes, the current Chicago Core is NOT the same as Columbia’s Core (in which everyone pretty much does read the same things at the same time), and very much not the same as the St. John Core (in which everyone reads the same things at the same time, in chronological order, and it is all the Western Canon).</p>

<p>That said, however, the variation from course to course is a lot less than the names of the courses suggest. As I understand it, on the HUM side there are three (maybe four – Intro to the Humanities is new and tiny) courses that basically reflect different approaches that different section leaders may have taken to the same material in the old, more Columbia-like Core. And the two courses that come closest to the traditional Core humanities curriculum, Human Being and Citizen, and Philosophical Perspectives, are also the two most popular and the two least different in what they read. And I think, especially in the first two quarters (which is all that lots of people take), that they both overlap very significantly with Greek Thought.</p>

<p>The other four courses each represents a different, newer, hipper take on studying literature, but behind that facade it’s still significantly the same texts that are being analyzed. One of my kids took Reading Cultures, and her reading list was about 60% the same as her sibling in HBC. I think Media Aesthetics and Reading World Literature diverge the most from HBC, but there’s still a really substantial overlap.</p>

<p>The real core of the Core, however, is SOSC, not HUM, and there the overlap in syllabus among all of the options, except perhaps Mind, is much greater (and I think Mind isn’t that divergent, either).</p>

<p>The bottom line is that by the end of second year everyone has effectively spent at least 3-5 quarter-courses reading the same material, albeit from different points of view. Plus pretty much everyone has taken math through single-variable calculus, and basic biology (the physical science offerings differ a fair amount). That’s quite a lot of common ground, more than enough to ease the process of people talking to one another about ideas.</p>

<p>JHS, thank you. Do frosh get to pick their first freshman sequences? Any advice how to best go about it?</p>

<p>First-years are given free rein to select whatever sequences they want for any of the core requirements, though choices will sometimes be restricted by luck of the draw as a consequence of our course selection system.</p>

<p>If you’re an incoming first-year, it’s best to focus on making these choices in the fall, but for now, your choice for HUM and SOSC should depend on what you’re interested in. However, my advice is not simply to go with the thing that sounds most your intended major. If you’re positive you’re going to major in linguistics, for example, it may not be the best idea to take Language and the Human. You’ll be learning and discussing too much of the same stuff, and you like the Core because it broadens your horizons, right?</p>

<p>Again, if you’re an incoming first-year, you really don’t need to worry about this stuff until the fall.</p>

<p>There’s a certain amount of luck involved, no matter what.</p>

<p>My daughter picked the HUM course that most closely matched her interests and hated it, mostly because she hated the first quarter teacher (who had good evaluations, but was a terrible fit with her) and disliked that some of her sectionmates had no interest in literature and felt it was OK to say that over and over. (“The university doesn’t make them take math with me, why should I have to take English with them? I already did that in high school.”) My son took the most popular HUM course, because it WAS the most popular, and he loved it, mainly because he loved the teacher and the writing instructor, both grad students with no previous evaluations. </p>

<p>My daughter liked her Sosc course a lot more, largely because she had low-to-no expectations going in, and so just went with the flow and found it fascinating. On the whole, the teachers she liked in the Core were all grad students, not faculty. She did very little social science beyond that at Chicago, but out in the real world she uses what she learned in Sosc every day. My son took the same Sosc course and disliked two out of the three quarters; he had a grad student teacher who wasn’t great, and some people he disliked in the section. But the winter quarter his section was taught by a senior Anthropology professor, and that changed his life and turned him into a social scientist.</p>

<p>Just out of curiosity JHS; when you said St. John’s, which St. John’s were you referring to?</p>

<p>St. John’s College (Annapolis or Albuquerque, I don’t think it matters). That should have been fairly obvious, it’s synechdoche for “great books program”.</p>

<p>^ Santa Fe, not Albuquerque.</p>

<p>On the subject of Great Books and the Core, thought you might find this interesting</p>

<p>[Harvard</a> prof Louis Menand tells tale of Great Books | Stanford Daily](<a href=“]Harvard”></p>

<p>Harvard prof Louis Menand tells tale of Great Books
Friday, March 9th, 2012
By Neel Thakkar</p>

<p>Harvard English professor Louis Menand declared the era of Great Books curriculum “over” at a talk Thursday evening at the Stanford Humanities Center. He added, however, that vestiges of the curriculum still linger, and the effect it has had on the structure of American universities has been profound.</p>

<p>The Great Books are a collection of canonical Western texts, including authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer and Dante. Stanford’s Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) program is currently an effort to introduce freshmen to some of these works while the Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program makes them its focus.</p>

<p>According to Menand, a Pulitzer prize winner and contributing writer to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, the Great Books idea–the grouping of those books together and elevation of them over others–emerged in the late 19th century.</p>

<p>“They were intended for people who didn’t have the chance to go to college,” Menand said.</p>

<p>Since then, he said, “the market for Great Books has moved around, but there always seems to be a market someplace.”</p>

<p>For most of the 20th century, that market has been at least partly in universities. Menand focused on the histories of Columbia University and the University of Chicago, which both have Great Books “core” curricula, as well as Harvard, his own institution, which has a more flexible program.</p>

<p>Though Columbia was the first to institute a version of the Great Books curriculum, each university has been through multiple cycles and renamings since World War I.</p>

<p>“There has never been a golden age of Great Books curriculum,” Menand said.</p>

<p>Explaining how the idea of such a curriculum came about, he pointed to two factors in early and middle 20th-century America: increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity, as well as a trend of intellectual relativism in American thought.</p>

<p>For example, Menand said, John Erskine, an English professor at Columbia who founded the forerunner to the school’s current Literature Humanities program, noticed that Columbia students were increasingly first- or second-generation immigrants.</p>

<p>“He wanted to provide people of different background with a common culture,” Menand said.</p>

<p>At the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins–president of the university from 1929-1951–wanted to institute a four-year Great Books curriculum based on the ancient system of the trivium and quadrivium methods of the Renaissance.</p>

<p>But American academia turned away from that model.</p>

<p>When Harvard University set out to change its undergraduate curriculum in 2007, “one of the things we discussed was a Great Books program,” Menand said. “We decided it was a bad idea to require it of everybody,” he added.</p>

<p>In the end, Menand said, “The Great Books idea was a tolerated guest in the system of the modern research university.”</p>

<p>Instead of the general, humanist approach of the Great Books thinkers, based on the idea that the classics were accessible to everyone, U.S. universities committed to specialization.</p>

<p>“The humanities had to make their way in a world science had shaped,” Menand said.</p>

<p>Minku Kim, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture, said Menand’s lecture helped him think about how he would approach teaching his own students.</p>

<p>“It was a great opportunity to learn about the historical development [of the Great Books idea]…and how it connects to teaching and learning at Stanford,” he said.</p>

<p>I’m a student here… I think when admissions refers to The Core and Life of the Mind they’re talking about the big three sequences: Hum, Sosc, Civ. Everyone takes a Hum sequence (two or three quarters) their first year. Some people also take the Sosc sequence (three quarters) their first year, while a lot of science people seem to take it second year. Civ I have less info on, but lots of people take Civ 2nd or 3rd year or do a study abroad program that takes care of Civ in one quarter (great option too).</p>

<p>Its difficulty depends on what you choose. I know premeds that take the Media Aesthetics + Social Science Inquiry/Mind route because it’s “easier”. And it’s true that in those you don’t do the Great Books sort of Core that UChicago’s known for. I also know many people who study Durkheim, Marx, Foucault, Smith… </p>

<p>But yes, Hum and Sosc will take about one-fourth of your first two years.</p>

<p>I personally chose Social Science Inquiry and am currently enjoying it immensely. Am I lacking the traditional Sosc experience? Yes. Is it easier? Probably. But it really depends on what will make a good fit for you. I knew that I would enjoy the readings in Power or Self or Classics perhaps, but that I would personally not be interested enough to make the full effort needed to excel at Sosc (frequent office hours, looking over graded papers intently, etc.). I happened to have been wanting to take statistics and programming for a while so SSI happened to be the perfect fit for me. I enjoy it and I can be good at it too, which wouldn’t be true if I had to write about Marx. I also find enjoyment in every subject besides history and humanities. Many not so mathematically inclined people in my SSI are having less fun than me. So yeah, it’s about fit.</p>

<p>If you’re interested in other questions or concrete examples, I’ll be happy to provide; just ask. I know that my strength is not in the humanities either. One other thing I can think of off the top of my head: Media Aesthetics is the classic Not-Really-Hum Hum, but you might also be interested in knowing about Language and the Human. It’s a two-quarter Hum sequence (only one not having a 3rd quarter) that has a linguistics bent. I’ve heard good things about it. </p>

<p>Point is that you can get your full dose of critical thinking training in the Core without going the straight humanities route. On a whim, I took the full-year Honors Calculus sequence instead of getting AP Calc credit, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Damn good sequence.</p>

<p>So as to not bias you away from traditional Sosc too much… I also know two people who really loved Self. Both of them described it as a class they looked forward to going to everyday and learning something mindblowing. Those two were also English/Religious Studies people though.</p>

<p>Thanks Yeti, this info is great. Can class syllabi/readings lists be found anywhere on line so you know what you’re in for before registering?</p>

<p>There isn’t a centralized list, but I know that many instructors post copies of their syllabi on their personal webpage. Try searching for the course name and syllabus you’re interested in google. Or what students do here is simply email the instructor for a copy of the syllabus.</p>