"You are traveling, and this course is a way station on your journey--your journey through life. It is a place where you and others like you can reflect on where you have come from and where you are going."
This passage reminiscent of the bad offspring of the Twilight Zone and Douglas Adams is actually the first line from the introduction of the syllabus of a proposed interdisciplinary course, blending art appreciation and theory, biology, computer science, economics, educational theory, history, linguistics, literature, mathematics, philosophy, physics, political theory, psychology, religious studies and sociology.
Fifteen subject areas, two full course equivalents, one year.
The Liberal Arts and Sciences Committee, formed on orders from the U of C President, presented the idea of the course to the Students' Academic Assembly on Mon., June 21 to generally supportive representatives.
At first glance, it would seem impossible for any one course or instructor or set of instructors to do justice to an offering of this scale. Drawing from almost all aspects of the university, this "Pathways: The Foundations of Knowledge and Understanding" course seems like a survey of all future university courses, in the manner of existing 201s, and could easily be dismissed as something too broad, too redundant and unteachable. After all, no one knows enough about anything to teach specialists about everything.
Setting aside for the moment the practical difficulties of eventually making the course mandatory for all undergraduates, in tutorial groups of 25 each, what would students gain from the experience?
According to the committee members, a list which reads as a virtual who's who of the U of C academic elite--Reid, Rangachari, Glasberg, Srivastava and Schultz--the ultimate goal of this course is that it aims "to place [students] on one of the many pathways to becoming truly educated."
A noble goal indeed, and one that all places of higher learning should strive to meet. The well rounded philosopher and intellectual generalist has been prized in both ancient and modern places of higher learning.
But is the University of Calgary so intellectually bankrupt that its members need to be taught to talk to others outside their field in order to acquire some general knowledge?
As it stands, most undergraduate programs already require students to take approximately four FCEs of options outside the focus of the degree, and everybody has the opportunity to interact with each other without a formal university course. We certainly do not need this course to produce well-rounded graduates, as convocation showed this June.
However, that does not mean a course that uses as texts The Wealth of Nations, The Origin of Species, The End of History and Science and Human Behaviour would be bad. As a requirement, it would force the specialists, both students and instructors, to acknowledge that other fields do exist, and that similar ideas often arise independently in different disciplines.
As an option, it allows those who seek enlightenment an opportunity to do so without overcoming the barriers between balkanized enclaves of the academic community. As a discussion item, it has already brought together some of the best minds on campus.