If you’re a fellow Scripps College student, you’ve probably had your fair share of complaints about Core I. And in all fairness, despite its merits, it’s a flawed class. At the end of fall semester, as I went over the numerous readings in a last-ditch attempt to study for the final, I realized my largest concern with the course. If you take this class in a vacuum, you will believe the entire history of thought stems from Western Europe and the United States.
Core I focuses disproportionately on Western civilization. All the authors are European or American, and texts about other parts of the world—for example, American philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, which proposes a plan for international development based on conditions in India—are written from the perspective of the Western world. Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture discusses the importance of cultures that are not part of Western civilization, but is again authored by an American. Although the purpose of Core is to help us think in different ways and to provide a foundation for our humanities courses, the narrowminded curriculum only offers a background in Western ideas. For a class with such lofty goals, in practice it is extremely limited.
The texts taught are important for studying the humanities, but by selecting only works from a certain region of thought, the class falls short of achieving its purpose. In today’s global economy, this limited approach is simply not practical. Because the world is becoming more globalized, solving international problems and facilitating cooperation requires leaders who understand different cultures, not just their own.
In a more abstract way, the narrow spectrum of texts holds us back where there could be progress. Education in the U.S. traditionally focuses on Western civilization. However, we’re well aware that other cultures have plenty to offer in terms of literature, art, and philosophy. Other cultures are as rich as ours. We should recognize that, especially in education. This is as much about respecting other cultures as it is about broadening our world views and thinking. We would benefit by learning from more of the world. Although there is a wonderful diversity of thought and creation in the Western world, there are also ideas in other parts of the world that we neglect. These are ideas deserving of our attention, and adding them to the curricula of foundational courses would be a step toward achieving the well-rounded liberal arts education we are supposed to receive.
Of course, this issue is a bit personal for me, too. I was born in Southern California and have lived here my entire life, but as an ethnic minority, I feel a cultural connection to countries across the world. So the lack of diverse cultures in my classes seems to mirror the undeniable fact that I am a minority on campus.
By excluding cultures other than Western civilization from the curriculum, Core I continues to propagate the hegemonic standard that Western civilization is the focus of academia in the world. This kind of narrowmindedness doesn’t allow us to expand our thinking to its fullest potential. It limits our education. It’s a disservice to us to allow us to believe the world revolves around Western culture.