Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Students, staff learn from new Core curriculum

Though many Whitman first-years may not be aware of it, Antiquity and Modernity has undergone a major overhaul since last year.

Core professors voted on two curriculum options for each semester of the class last spring, eventually selecting a set of works for this school year that introduces six new works this fall and nine in the spring.

General Studies Professor Jennifer Mouat, now in her third year of teaching core, has been pleased with the results of the new core plan’s implementation.

“I’m excited about the changes,” Mouat said. “I’m really enjoying teaching these texts. I’m looking forward to ‘Wuthering Heights’ in the spring and ‘The Bacchae’ this fall, especially.”

This year’s core curriculum was created by the Core Curriculum Committee with Power (CCCP), the same group that presented the list of works for the vote last spring. According to Mouat, there were a variety of factors that contributed to the alteration of core, including a faculty questionnaire that asked teachers to evaluate the existing curriculum.

The questionnaire information was used to work toward a curriculum that better met both student and faculty desires.

Mouat said that the CCCP pursued, among other goals, the creation of a curriculum that represents world views from a wider range of geographic regions.

CCCP member and General Studies Professor Zahi Zalloua said his committee did the best they could to meet these desires when creating the new curriculum.

“We have very open-minded colleagues,” Zalloua said. “We were motivated by the greater good. We wanted to create contrasts between these texts … we won’t pin down the ideal syllabus because the ideal syllabus doesn’t exist.”

The first two texts have already pulled first-year students away from the Western world. The first, the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” is set in ancient Babylon. Written around 1700 B.C., long before other works of antiquity, the epic poem is one of the world’s oldest.

Herodotus’ “Histories” has also been added this year and, despite its Greek origins, the text serves to add diversity to core in its own way. In its telling of the story of the Greeks and the Persian war, it reveals much about Persian and Egyptian cultures of the fifth century B.C.

The new works seem to be going over well with the student body. First-year Nigel Ramoz-Leslie said he missed seeing “The Odyssey” on his syllabus, but “Gilgamesh” proved a worthy substitute.

“I thought ‘Gilgamesh’ was a great text to start the year off with. It was a good read, and it offered a lot for casual discussion,” Ramoz-Leslie said.

Mouat said that switching texts from year to year in core can present a challenge for teachers as they have to learn new material themselves.

“It is a stretching experience for me to learn each new text, just as it is for the students. I think it’s valuable, however, for students to see how faculty handles something new and unknown. In a way, it makes us more alike as I feel like a first-year teacher (and student) again this term,” Mouat said.

Nonetheless, professors seem to have the works well in hand, according to first-year Tegan Klein.

“[Prof. Jana Byars] leads us to a lot of good places in discussion and makes a lot of good points. She keeps the discussions lively,” Klein said.

Until last spring, Whitman professors had found changing the core curriculum a lengthy process. Unified decisions were difficult to attain, especially with different professors strongly attached to different texts.

The solution was for Core professors to create the CCCP and agree to trial-run the committee’s new core curriculum during the 2007-’08 school year.

While that means a new list of works for professors, it has also meant diversification of core texts and the opportunity for students and faculty to make new corrections between works.

For Zalloua, this year’s changes represent a move in the right direction for core classes.

“Ideally, I would love to globalize Core even more … this is not a timeless syllabus, it is in perpetual flux,” Zalloua said. “I think these texts will complicate a certain understanding of Western values, and complication is not necessarily a bad thing.”

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