Press Releases | Core Curriculum

Harvard Curriculum Takes a Step in the Right Direction

October 4, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today praised a preliminary report issued by the Harvard Task Force on General Education calling for the revitalization of the Harvard core curriculum.

According to news reports, the proposed new curriculum would require an American history course and eschew loose “distribution requirements” in favor of a more focused course of study. The new program comes in the wake of a much-criticized 2005 proposal to give students more choice and less structure in the courses they studied outside their major.

“The single most important thing our colleges and universities can do is restore a solid, substantive core curriculum to replace the ‘hollow core’ that dominates undergraduate courses across the country,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “Harvard’s proposed new curriculum responds to the urgent need to educate our students as responsible human beings and citizens.”

The Harvard proposal comes in the wake of two ACTA reports documenting the sorry state of general education around the country and calling for curricular reform. In 2004, ACTA issued The Hollow Core, which found that despite widespread lip service to the importance of a general education, a solid core curriculum in higher education had gone the way of the dodo. The survey found that colleges had virtually abandoned a solid core in favor of a loose set of distribution requirements. As a consequence, college students were graduating without the basic knowledge and skills that were once considered the hallmark of a liberal education. 

In 2001, ACTA also issued Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century, documenting a profound historical illiteracy amongst graduates of the top 50 universities.

“We are particularly pleased to see Harvard’s acknowledgment of the importance of a broad-based course in American history, in addition to studying societies of the world,” said Neal. “In a time of global competition and conflict, Americans’ ignorance of our own history and heritage has wholesale implications for our ability to be informed citizens and to sustain our civilization.”

Neal continued, “ACTA hopes institutions across the country will follow Harvard’s lead in understanding that a coherent, connected curriculum has never been more important.  Such a curriculum gives students the broad-based knowledge and skills necessary to adapt to changing situations and to compete in the global marketplace.

“Going forward, we hope that Harvard will continue to refine its proposal to ensure that qualifying courses are broad in scope and guarantee students exposure to economics and literature as well,” Neal concluded.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. ACTA has advocated a strong general education for over a decade and has a network of trustees and alumni around the country including those from Harvard. ACTA has issued numerous reports on higher education, including How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, Becoming an Educated Person: Toward a Core Curriculum for College Students, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.


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