Students on campus may have heard that Wheaton is in the middle of reviewing their curriculum. Meaning some of the requirements may be done away with, or, at the very least, changed to fit a new academic goal. I have found two overarching issues with the curriculum as it stands: connections and foundations.
It’s easy to criticize connections. As a student of Film and New Media Studies, one of my connections is already built into my major, so I don’t have to worry about them and they were completed by my sophomore year. It’s not the same for other students – connections are tedious and they take up too much valuable time to plan out.
Personally, I connected Third Cinema to Transnational Feminisms, both of which were interesting classes, and I saw why they were connected on that long list that is near impossible to decipher at first glance, but I didn’t really have to put any thought into what I gained out of taking the courses back-to-back. I was more concerned with getting some arbitrary class done so I could graduate. Therein lies the issue with connections: they promote stress over scheduling, and lack promotion of interdisciplinary learning as they are meant for.
I’ve met many seniors who finish their connections at the tail end of their Wheaton career, which causes unnecessary stress for a requirement that really doesn’t provide any intellectual stimulation. Connections don’t provide any thought outside of looking through a list and deciding which connections fit into a given schedule. That’s it. Who really thinks about their connections unless they’re self-initiated?
I see two solutions to fix the connections issue: either completely rid the school of the requirement of connections all together, or ask students to self-initiate each connection. Rather than spoon-feeding students reasons why two classes have similar content, the college should allow students to make connections on their own.
With this model, students would be able to see the effectiveness of liberal arts in action. They would think about why they came to Wheaton and what the advantage of a liberal arts degree really is. Connections would also feel less like an obstacle in front of graduation and more like a thought-provoking endeavor that promotes intellectual autonomy and independent thought. Though this may be seen as a huge change, the requirement would keep the structure of either on three-way connection, or two two-way connections. This way it would still act like a requirement, but give a bit of lenience for students to self-define their connections.
In concept, all the foundational requirements make sense and should ultimately add to a well-rounded liberal arts experience. However, while some foundations meet their goal, others feel like an afterthought, or a meek attempt at leading students toward a larger world.
As I see it, First-Year Writing, Quantitative Analysis and Foreign Language courses are all sufficient. I do believe that the language requirement should be more flexible for students who have learning disabilities and can’t afford documentation for accessibility services. At the very least, American Sign Language should be more than an off-campus option.
While I do feel that the First-Year Seminar could be improved by having more lessons that apply to every discipline rather than the discipline that the course represents, as it stands, it is a noble attempt at introducing First-Year students to their new school. Foundational requirements all allow students to explore a given major and they prepare students for the four years coming their way.
The Beyond the West requirement is one with which I take issue. In concept, Beyond the West is a great idea – it allows students to see a world outside their own, or, at the very least, it should give students the opportunity to think beyond themselves and their own culture. In practice, though, it fails at this task. Personally, I used Global Cinemas to satisfy the requirement. It hardly gave me a new perspective on the world. Sure, I expanded my knowledge of Film Studies as a discipline, but it felt anticlimactic for something that was supposed to take me outside of the western thought.
Some other courses that satisfy the requirement seem like insulting efforts to keep students on track for graduating. Courses like “French Art and It’s Others” and “Before the West,” by their course description, do contain non-western ideologies, but still lean toward western thought. The central focus of these courses is western culture and influences that non-European cultures have on the west.
A generalized solution to this subpar requirement is the creation of more courses that are specifically designed to teach students about non-western thought. This is much like how First-Year Writing courses are designed – with the purpose to teach new students about college writing. Perhaps these specified courses could include events in which students could actively participate in the practices of a non-western culture.
Either that, or significantly integrate non-western courses into the curriculum, where students are required to take more courses within their major that relate to eastern thought. I believe by changing the requirements for making connections and adding new courses that teach students more about eastern thought, the Wheaton College curriculum could be more enriching than it has ever been.