The school I wished for was real?

Good god – I wish I had known about Brown University eight years ago! Of course, I knew the name, and I knew it is an Ivy League school, but I didn’t know about this:

“A modern liberal arts education is still defined in terms of a core curriculum comprised of several areas of knowledge.

“At Brown, rather than specifying these areas, we challenge you to develop your own core. Our open curriculum ensures you great freedom in directing the course of your education, but it also expects you to remain open to people, ideas, and experiences that may be entirely new. By cultivating such openness, you will learn to make the most of the freedom you have, and to chart the broadest possible intellectual journey.”

(From “Liberal Learning at Brown University,” on Brown’s website.)

I once had a discussion (read: debate) by email with a psychology professor at my first college, a small religious school in Virginia, regarding a newly instated general course requirement. She asked me what the core curriculum would look like at my ideal school, at a school I would really want to attend.

My answer?

“I doubt that I would be willing to construct a general curriculum; I want to choose my own courses, so it would be an act against my own being to withhold that choice from others. The only things I might want in terms of general ed. would be seminars available exclusively to first-year students, on one hand, and to seniors, on the other. They would have to be small classes and would assume that the students want to be there and are competent to meet an intellectual challenge. They would be optional. Advisors would really advise, and their advising would have very little to do with scheduling conflicts and very much to do with their thoughts on what sorts of coursework the student should consider or would have interest in.

“The mission it would reflect? The love of learning. I don’t know that I would even call it a mission. ‘Devotion’ sounds better. I doubt that any such school exists, but if you want to know my ideal, that’s it.”

I wrote that in 2005, in the summer before my junior year. I don’t know about the seminar idea in terms of Brown’s classes, but the approach sounds dead on. “Any such school” does exist, but I didn’t know it. If I had known in 2002, in my last year of high school,…

Well, things might have been different. Maybe instead of talking about applying to Yale “just to see if I’d get in,” I would have applied to Brown. Maybe instead of settling for an SAT score that I knew most people would think was good, I’d have studied and retaken it so that I could earn a score that I thought was good.

Maybe, just maybe, I would have found a school I could really love.

(That’s another reference to a letter I wrote to a professor at my first college, this one regarding my reasons for transferring to a better school in the Pacific Northwest.)


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