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Core Corner
Oct 13, 2021

Since the Core Curriculum is such a crucial part of a UD education, in this section of each newsletter we will present a thought about what the Core Curriculum is about, or perhaps briefly introduce one text in the Core.

Dr. Donald Cowan, the physicist-poet who with his wife, Louise, invented our curriculum, used to say that the Core was like being thrown into the middle of a vast ocean, an ocean we call Western Civilization. You read all these books and experience this vast, powerful thing that you can never, ever hope to know completely, but what you know, and experience, is full of wonders. What is the major, then? (Dr. Cowan never liked to call it a major; for him it was a “discipline,” in that you had to discipline yourself to learn a discipline.) Well, the major is like climbing out of the ocean to stand on a particular promontory, from which you then look out and attempt to see and understand the whole.  

To be liberally educated is to have both of these experiences: to learn in humility that the ocean of learning, the riches of Western culture, are beyond any of our powers to comprehend fully, and yet also to find the particular place from which you will stand, confidently looking out upon that whole. When I was 19, I thought that promontory was Biochemistry; I wanted to understand life by looking at it at the smallest level of chemical interactions. But I changed to English literature, and since then, I understand the world through the lens of metaphor, narrative, image, rhetoric; when I hear a politician speak, I no longer think of his genetic makeup, but of how he is using images and metaphors to build a narrative into his rhetoric.  

Your sons or daughters are probably both in the middle of that ocean and trying to find which promontory upon which to climb up to look out upon the waves. This process takes time, some introspection about their passions and gifts, and gentle mentoring from parents, professors, and friends. Patience is often the best virtue as they make it through this process.

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