Monday, May 3, 2010

CWRU SAGES: The Review

About seven years ago, Case Western ripped out the guts of its general education program and replaced it with a bold new program. In the new program, instead of taking one English course and a few credits in broadly-defined “whatever you feel like” to attain your breadth requirements, you get to take a year and a half of mandatory remedial English masquerading as topical seminars. You can’t test out of it, you have minimal flexibility in scheduling it, and you have absolutely no way of substituting anything else for it.

After you go through that, you get to complete a writing portfolio showcasing your mastery of the SAGES writing outcomes. I turned mine in recently. The school accepted (with a generic form letter) exactly the document that I just linked to two days later. By all means, read the whole thing. I’d like to talk a bit more about one excerpt from it, though, that I feel is really important for CWRU to understand.

You see, in order for an education to be meaningful, it needs to have conceptual integrity. It must flow together—the basic building blocks must contribute to understanding of more advanced concepts, the coursework must be situated in context with itself, and the program must have a clarity of purpose, be that to prepare one for the workforce or to bring one up to speed on current thought in an academic community. When a degree is peppered with random exercises in remedial writing, with subject matter that we don’t necessarily care about or want to write or talk or even think about, it becomes meaningless. When we students aren’t progressing towards some goal, or when we don’t see any utility in the exercises we are doing, we become apathetic and disengaged. We cease to find value in any coursework. We will look back on our time at this school and wonder: “what was that for?” And as we mentally check out of our classrooms, so too will our professors, seeing no point to their lecturing; eventually, the whole university will become as its general education program: devoid of purpose, cut off from reality, churning out papers and grants without ever really understanding why.

This is why CWRU’s undergraduate education finds itself in such dire straits these days. The programs are disconnected and confused. The bureaucracy makes it impossible for any one person to carry a vision to fruition, and what we wind up with instead is an amalgam of broken, half-implemented systems maintained by sprawling committees that fail to agree on anything.

I want to emphasize that if CWRU were totally sane, this pile of bullshit would’ve been scrapped three, maybe two years ago. Right now anybody with a brain and a set of ears knows that it was a mistake. So I leave the following as an exercise to you (because I haven’t been able to figure it out yet): why does SAGES still exist at all? Moreover, why is it still mandatory?