THE MONMOUTH CURRICULUM

Statement of Philosophy

Components

Freshman Seminar (INTR101)
Departmental (or Topical) Major
Electives
General Education

Language

Physical Universe and Its Life Forms

Beauty and Meaning in Works of Art

Human Societies

Issues and Ideas (ISSI4**)

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The Monmouth Curriculum.

The program of study at Monmouth College is a distinctive answer to questions that critics of higher education have increasingly urged upon America’s colleges and universities: What form of undergraduate education best prepares students to live in a rapidly changing world? How can we provide students with marketable skills and at the same time propose the continuing values of liberal education? How can the specific interests of the individual be balanced by the larger concerns of humanity?

Reaffirming Monmouth’s commitment to the best traditions of American collegiate education, the curriculum adopted by the faculty in 1981 comprises four elements: the freshman seminar, the required components in general education, the student’s major program, and elective courses. While each of these elements has its specific purpose, together they create a four-year framework for liberal education. The required elements provide a structure to guide students toward the essential goals of liberal education. At the same time, other elements permit students to make advised choices among appropriate alternatives.

The curriculum sets up creative interchanges between general requirements and specific interests, as well as between the largest commitments of the College and the particular emphases of individual courses. The liberalizing processes are realized through these exchanges over the four years of study. The general education sequence provides the larger context of knowledge and human experience, raises questions of meaning and value, and provides a basis for judging the purposes and methods of particular disciplines. On the other hand, work in a single area of interest permits a student to develop special skills and to use the methodology of the discipline for inquiry in depth; it teaches students to handle the detailed information of specialized study and to apply understanding to their specific purposes.

THE FRESHMAN SEMINAR. The seminar, taken by all freshmen in their first semester, addresses the purposes of liberal and collegiate education. It helps freshmen to integrate themselves into the life of the College and to develop those skills essential to college work: critically reading a text, writing papers, using the library, thinking analytically, and communicating ideas orally. As a foundation course for the general education program, the seminar raises basic questions about human beings and their achievements, values, and purposes—questions the student will encounter again and again, in one form or another, both in the College and outside it.

Students meet three times a week with a faculty seminar leader, and all seminar groups meet together on Tuesday at 11 a.m. for a colloquium, lecture, or other presentation. Students earn four semester hours of credit for the seminar.

DEPARTMENTAL MAJOR. To bring coherence to their course work, students eventually organize their academic program about their special interest, the major study. Sometimes the major is directly linked to the career the student intends to follow, but often it is not. A major program is a comprehensive examination of a particular discipline or topic, a rigorous study in depth that leads the student to understand what is necessary to claim knowledge of or competence in a subject.

Students may take a major program in a single discipline, fulfilling the requirements set by the department. The departmental major provides an appropriate culminating experience during the senior year: a special seminar, a thesis, or an independent study project.

Each department publishes a description of the purposes and scope of the major program in its discipline(s), identifying the courses that are required. No more than 40 semester hours may be required in a discipline. Students may take additional courses in the department as electives, but they may count no more than 50 semester hours in a single department toward the 124 semester hours required for the degree. (The Curriculum Committee can recommend exceptions to the faculty.)

•TOPICAL MAJOR. The topical major provides a unique opportunity for the student who wants to pursue in depth an interest area that bridges the subject area of several departments. The student’s advisor plays an important role in helping to plan a topical major. The topical major consists of at least 36 semester hours, 18 of them at the 300 or 400 level. One of these courses must be designated as the culminating experience. The Admissions and Academic Status Committee must approve the proposed courses and formally appoint the advisor who will guide the student. Requests for approval must be filed at least one year before the student’s graduation.

FREE ELECTIVES. The Monmouth curriculum provides students with 10 to 14 elective courses, depending upon the scope of their major program. Electives provide opportunities for enrichment and experimentation. A student may choose to take additional courses in the major department (up to the limit of 50 semester hours), to develop a minor, or to enhance the work of the general education program.

GENERAL EDUCATION COMPONENTS. The titles of the components of the general education program direct students’ attention toward the lasting concerns of educated men and women, interests that go beyond the college years and academic institutions. General education is more than a simple call for breadth or for diversifying in many academic departments. It is a purposeful inquiry into those activities, forms, and institutions that define civilization and those experiences that define our shared humanity. General education is intended to help students look beyond individual courses and disciplines to those topics that should interest them for a lifetime.

The Monmouth curriculum identifies the largest elements of the College’s academic interests as the five components of the general education program. Each component intentionally crosses the traditional lines of the academic divisions, arguing implicitly that these concerns cannot be contained within the disciplines. Each proposes that a synthesis of the disciplines is necessary if knowledge is to serve the largest human interests.

The general education program, which accounts for 37 of the 124 semester hours required for graduation, is organized so that the student is enrolled in at least one component each year. The components called Language and Issues and Ideas are required respectively in the freshman and senior years. The other three components may be distributed to suit the student’s schedule, provided that other conditions are met.

Language. The creation and use of language is the most significant achievement of human beings, for our ability to organize our understanding in verbal symbols and to communicate sets us apart from all other life forms. The symbols of our language make communication possible at many different levels of meaning and allow us to translate our private experience into universal terms. Our native language admits us to the experience of all who use and have used it. It is the medium that bears the largest part of our cultural heritage from one generation to another. A sure understanding of language is the foundation of all knowledge, and the ability to use verbal symbols effectively is the most important of all skills.

At its deepest levels, language communicates in metaphorical terms, conveying feelings and intuitions that cannot be expressed in direct, literal language. Beyond examining the oral and written uses of language as explicit forms of communication, then, the study of language also entails considering the symbolic uses of words to express more than literal meanings, to create particular effects, or to influence the reader or listener in certain ways.

This component provides that every student have experience with a second language. The study of a foreign language allows students to see that their native language often reflects cultural needs and interests at the same time that it shares many basic patterns with other languages.

No element of this component is considered complete in itself. Even together they are only an introduction to what must be a continuing activity for all students: the effort to attain a more sophisticated understanding of language and ever greater skill in its use. For it is language which nearly completely defines our intellectual world and our common human experience.

The requirements in this component are (a) one course in speech (unless exempted by prior study) that deals with communication theory and provides practice in spoken English, taken in the freshman year; (b) one course, Composition and Literature (English 110), that deals with the metaphorical use of language and provides experience in writing, taken in the freshman year; and (c) competence in a foreign language at the level of the 102 course. The classics and modern foreign languages departments place or exempt students on the basis of competence demonstrated in prior study and/or a test administered during new student orientation. International students whose native language is other than English meet the foreign language requirements by demonstrating their competency in English, which is for them a foreign language.

The Physical Universe and Its Life Forms. Human beings are part of nature even while they transcend it by examining and describing it and by imagining very different worlds. Any statement about human beings that ignores their relationship to the rest of nature is incomplete and misleading. The natural world is usually dealt with as though it could be divided into two parts: the physical universe and living things. That division, convenient but arbitrary, is useful because the differences between the two seem obvious. Yet living things are an integral part of the physical universe, made of the same stuff and obedient to the same laws. Humankind shares with all other living things the limitations imposed by natural laws, but human beings, having learned how to manipulate nature, have responsibilities not shared by other life forms.

In this component, students become sufficiently acquainted with the workings of the biological and physical worlds to understand the place of human beings in nature and their dependence on both the physical universe and the rest of the living world. They see the fragility of planet Earth and the living things upon it, and they perceive their responsibility to preserve and conserve these two worlds. Students also gain a working knowledge of the philosophy and methods of scientists as well as an appreciation of the limits of science and its mechanistic view of the natural world.

The requirements in this component are two courses, preferably taken before the end of the junior year: (a) one course with laboratory in chemistry or physics; and (b) one unit course with laboratory in biology or psychology.

Beauty and Meaning in Works of Art. Works of art—achievements of the creative imagination in literature, music, art, and theater—are among the supreme accomplishments of the human spirit. Other components of the general education program emphasize human beings in the group; here the central interest is the creations of individuals. Yet that interest is tempered by the recognition that great works of art seem to evoke a universal response.

Human beings have found in the arts ways to comprehend their world and to celebrate their creativity, to shape and give order to their experience of life, to express their most private feelings, and to affirm their sense of a universal human community. The arts transmit the wealth of the past to contemporary civilization and give promise of transmitting to the future the best of the present.

To value the arts fully, students should learn their appreciation and participate in their creation. In this component the study of great examples of a particular art form is balanced by creative work: writing, painting, composing, playing, or making.

The requirements in this component are five semester hours, preferably taken before the end of the junior year: (a) one course emphasizing appreciation; and (b) two semester hours emphasizing participation in the creative process.

Human Societies. Humans are social beings, our lives and ideas considerably shaped by society and its institutions. Formative influences come to us from our immediate contact with others (our family and friends), from our experiences in institutions and organizations (schools, corporations, churches, and government), and from that large, subtle, pervasive set of ways of thinking and doing that we call culture. Society shapes us in ways we may not suspect. It may affect our attitudes of trust and mistrust, of optimism or pessimism; it may influence our sense of community or individual identity and provide the store of ideas within which we do our thinking.

Just as we need to understand the influences of our own society, so to function effectively in an age of cultural pluralism we need to study societies different from our own. The comparative study of societies helps us look critically upon assumptions we might otherwise never challenge and it enhances our appreciation of our own culture.

The requirements of this sequence are Interdisciplinary Studies 201, a sophomore-level course in comparative societies, followed by one course within a discipline focusing on a particular society or institution.

Students may be exempted from this latter course for an off-campus program.

Issues and Ideas. The final requirement in the general education program consists of courses which address issues and ideas that any responsible citizen must confront. These are courses which draw upon the maturity and intellectual flexibility of students in their senior year. They engage the student with problems and ideas that directly address the conditions and well-being of life.

These courses include, but are not limited to, issues and ideas such as the continuing presence of wars; what we understand a just society to be; the question of personal identity and the self; or responsible relationships with the natural world.

These courses incorporate the perspectives of various viewpoints since they deal with questions that transcend immediate professional and intellectual vantages. They elicit a recognition of and a critical response to shared and continuing human concerns.

Students are expected to complete one course in their senior year.

This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at toms@monm.edu.

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