Friday, October 20, 2006

General Education at Harvard

Harvard is considering a new set of general education requirements. The student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, notices a glaring hole in the latest proposal:

Is Wal Mart a hero or a villain? Will immigrants help or hurt the wages of native workers? Do sweatshops alleviate or exacerbate poverty? Will a gasoline tax hurt oil companies or consumers? How does limiting trade affect a country’s well-being?

In a system of general education focused on providing students with knowledge relevant to being a global citizen, it’s hard to see how students should not be pushed to grapple with questions like these. To that end, we propose an additional area of inquiry and experience to be added to those proposed by the Task Force on General Education: “The Market and Society.”

When the Task Force’s report was released two weeks ago, it became readily apparent that the invisible hand was nowhere to be seen. Indeed, of the many current courses that are listed as examples that would fulfill various requirements, only two economics courses were cited—and both had extensive prerequisites. Social Analysis 10, "Principles of Economics," the College’s largest course, had no clear place. Some have speculated that the omission of economics may be a product of faculty backlash against former President Lawrence H. Summers....

For the most part we support the proposed general education system, its focus on relevance, its vision of broad courses, and its general structure. The omission of a course on markets, however, is glaring. We encourage the faculty to add “The Market and Society” to plug this hole in the preliminary report.

This suggested amendment sounds good to me.