Some thoughts about the new Core revision

<p>Core is an integral part of caltech's curriculum (and daily life for the first two years) that makes caltech fundamentally different from most (if not all) other schools in the country.</p>

<p>This said, carrying on a debate about the proposed changes to core on this forum is very appropriate; it will help prospective students learn about what current students think of one of caltech's most salient features. The proposed changes can be found at <a href=""&gt;;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>Also, this is as constructive a place to rant as any.</p>

<p>So let me begin my rant with my impression of Caltech as it stands today:</p>

<p>Caltech is unique because it forces its students of ALL disciplines to understand at a much more rigorous than usual level the foundational subjects of math and physics--even if this deeper, more theoretical, knowledge isn't particularly useful to one's particular major. Caltech has always struck me as a place where the search for real understanding supersedes the search for a perfectly efficient curriculum that only teaches skills, procedures, and algorithms that are useful to one's field of study.</p>

<p>The goal of having a completely utilitarian school is mutually exclusive with the current philosophy of Caltech. While both philosophies are perfectly valid, a school can only choose one, and it so happens that every school in the country has chosen the utilitarian route--with the exception of Caltech. This makes Caltech a sort of haven for those of us who wanted an alternative. It is the reason why many students (myself included) chose to attend, no matter how much easier the traditional route is (and it is much, much easier).</p>

<p>Anticipating the obvious counterargument, one CAN probe the depths of theoretical knowledge as much as one likes at any school, even at a revised caltech with a practically nonexistent core.</p>

<p>The important difference, though, is that under the current system, the entire population of the school is versed in underlying theory to some reasonable extent. This creates an extraordinary environment that I have seen nowhere else. It's difficult to describe, but an atmosphere where everyone has at least a certain level of insight into (proof based) math and physics absolutely changes the way problems of all types are approached. Moreover, Caltech students, rising to the challenge of what is the most difficult curriculum in the country, become the most disciplined and effective scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. The ability to work alongside them is something I would never trade for anything.</p>

<p>The new core includes only three terms of physics: newtonian mechanics, electromagnetism, and a worthless sampler course on modern physics, too short to cover anything with any amount of rigor.</p>

<p>Just as importantly, there will be no mandatory proof based math course: Caltech students in theory could graduate without any understanding or concept of what properly formulated math looks like. Also, a proof based way of looking at the world is extremely valuable to all fields of study. Proof based math has always been a hallmark of core and absolutely must be kept.</p>

<p>The new core as proposed will also split into tracks immediately--new freshmen will select a track before they even arrive. The proposal implies strongly that at least one of these tracks will be designed to be strictly easier than the others. Not only does this create an easy (and perhaps irresistible) out for difficult classes for many students, but also destroys something else. For those who struggle with first term core(and this of course is a common thing) the ability to struggle along with your new classmates(nearly all of whom are forced into the same classes as yourself), working collaboratively to together tackle say, an obscene ma1a question, provides a way of not only learning from one's peers, but also a support system that allows people to succeed in classes they would ordinarily fail out of. This is a powerful, constructive thing that other schools lack. Granted, one can always create study groups, but the effect is greatly diminished when you can't just look down your hall and see all your friends working on the same problem set you have.(I suppose the counterargument to this is that these are classes not everyone should take, but based on the above I disagree.)</p>

<p>I think that Core is an important part of Caltech, and I think that the revisions need to be thouroughly discussed, but I do not think that this is the forum to do so on. The changes are proposals, still very fluid. The student body may vote on some proposal next fall, to take effect at some undefined point in the future.</p>

<p>I think that discussing the proposed core revision here will only confuse prospective students, especially because they aren't necessarily sure about what core consists of, specifically.</p>

<p>If you want to discuss it, talk to current techers about it, people in or through core are really the only people that can give a good idea of it's value.</p>

<p>Also, as a note to new and prospective students: ALL these proposals are completely preliminary, having just come out of the initial committee. They will have input from the students and from student officers, as well as more input by faculty. IF a proposal is finally brought together, it will take a significant time to bring it into action. Furthermore, the committees' first conclusion is that they will NOT eliminate core, as they feel it is essential to what caltech is.</p>

<p>I second lordofnarf that this is not an appropriate or constructive place to rant. There aren't very many current Techers who read or post here, and many of the people who read it won't really have the context to judge our comments. </p>

<p>It is also very important to note that the proposal is just that- a proposal. I think it is very unlikely that the entire proposal will pass unmodified. </p>

<p>If you are considering attending Caltech and have questions about it, I suggest you talk to any Techer who is familiar with the entire report, and I would strongly suggest you talk to an upperclassmen (it is hard to judge what core is after you've only taken one term)</p>

<p>Also seconding lordofnarf and jdhutchin... </p>

<p>For prospective students who are bothered by this or something, I'm actually on the Core Curriculum Task Force (the committee that made the proposal) so you can talk to me. I also think Carolus is making a ton of unsubstantiated inferences about the proposal, but whatever. It's not super relevant to prospective students; by the time the changes go through I can assure you they will be for the better.</p>

<p>I would also like to point out that "CarolusNorrisius" is an anagram of "cross, ruinous liar".</p>

<p>(ad hominem fallacies are great, right?)</p>

<p>(p.s. lordofnarf, I think I still owe you a Starbucks cup)</p>

<p>how are the revisions to the core coming along... i don't see any updates on the blog anymore :|</p>