“We’ve found there is a marvelous release of intellectual energy that occurs when two widely separated fields of thought come together in one mind,” President Steven B. Sample writes in a guide to prospective students.
In a nutshell, Sample is describing what he believes distinguishes a USC education from others. The emphasis on well-rounded students is the mission that USC focuses on — developing its students through exposure to a vast array of disciplines and subjects.
The university aims to achieve interdisciplinary “breadth with depth” through the core curriculum, consisting of general education courses, a diversity course and a writing requirement. The curriculum encourages students to be inquisitive about a variety of subjects and to not leave important disciplines unexplored.
But although the core curriculum encourages students to approach topics outside their field of study, the lack of cohesion between courses diminishes their impact. If the core curriculum was offered as a package, as opposed to a scattering of random courses, students would be more receptive to taking courses outside their major.
Many students go through college with the mindset that the education they’re receiving is a means to an end. Because of this, students might not see the point of taking classes outside their specific field of study. Learning about Russian literature might seem futile for someone pursuing career on Wall Street, especially when students are already stretched thin by their major coursework.
The purpose of the general education requirement is to provide students with more knowledge than their major offers.
“A general education is a crucial part of the undergraduate experience,” said Thomas Habinek, a professor of classics. “It’s a good balance to the students’ tendency to specialize early. It gives them a sense of the bigger picture.”
But when students are bogged down by rigorous majors and extracurricular commitments, courses like the GEs are often relegated to the back burner, which ends up fostering an attitude of apathy about these classes.
“I think a lot of students are not open-minded about taking other courses,” said Abel Delgado Fuentes, a sophomore majoring in accounting and history. “Or they don’t really care about courses that are not related to their major.”
The core curriculum has obvious benefits. Because USC offers a wide variety of general education courses, it provides the “breadth” that Sample wants. And many students feel that the program does work toward forming well-rounded students.
The general education system also facilitates an easy transition from high school to college.
“The students I teach in general education [courses] are very, very bright, but they are not being taught critical, creative thinking in high school,” Banner said. “I think that the course I teach opens them up to very new ideas when they immediately get to USC.”
But providing disparate subjects without stimulating students to form a common thread defeats the purpose of the core curriculum.
“Having knowledge about many different subjects is all well and good, but they aren’t connected at all,” said Matthew Fagre, a sophomore majoring in international relations.
Fagre and others said there should be a common base between the GEs, similar to the Thematic Option curriculum. TO students fulfill their core curriculum though a package of cross-disciplinary classes that often share subject matter. Linking general education courses like this eradicates the notion that GEs are simply requirements to fulfill.
“There is lots of overlap between material in TO classes because of this base,” Fagre said. “For example, I’ve studied or read Freud in my TO classes on cultures, political thought and neuroscience. So they are all connected at a base level in some way.”
Breadth with depth is an admirable goal, and one that USC has made its hallmark. Unfortunately, a component of the core program is lacking. By revising the curriculum, USC can convince its students that a broad-based education has benefits.
It’s one thing to simply take classes in oceanography, family history and gender conflict. It’s a completely different thing to spark in students a true “passion for learning,” as the curriculum seeks to accomplish.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration.