- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Harvard University is reworking its core curriculum to include more emphasis on religious and cultural issues, science and helping students overcome American “parochialism,” faculty leaders said yesterday as they presented the largest overhaul in 30 years.

The proposal, released yesterday by a task force of six professors and two students, aims to update the general education program developed in the late 1970s, in part to reflect such changes as a more interconnected world, new scientific knowledge and new divisions.

Critics have called the university curriculum anti-religious and said it emphasizes academia over current issues.

Two of the eight new categories deal with the U.S. role in the world.

Many of the students grew up in a superpower and hold only that perspective, says a proposal for the Societies of the World curriculum, which aims to “help students overcome this parochialism by acquainting them with values, customs and institutions that differ from their own.”

The United States and the World courses should “challenge assumptions” about the United States through studies of its social, political, legal and economic practices and by presenting “a heterogeneous and multifaceted nation situated within an international framework,” the proposal by Harvard’s Task Force on General Education said.

Stephen M. Kosslyn, a Harvard psychology professor, said he and fellow members of the task force thought a U.S. focus was important. “We’re not making any apologies,” he said. “We’re an American university.”

Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, argued that these two core areas place too much emphasis on global rather than American perspectives and allow students to bypass courses in American history.

“The basic assumption … is let’s be critical” of the United States, said Mr. Finn, who graduated from Harvard in 1965 and served as assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Kosslyn responded to such criticism, saying, “I would be extremely disappointed if these courses ended up being America-bashing; that is not the intention at all.”

Science was given greater emphasis. Mr. Kosslyn said Harvard wants students to gain a better comprehension of scientific processes, even if they don’t enter a scientific field.

A proposed category for religion was replaced by an integration of religion classes throughout the categories, most heavily in the Culture and Belief curriculum. Others are Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding, Empirical Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems and Science of the Physical Universe.

Mr. Kosslyn said the religion proposal was changed to assure people that the goal wasn’t proselytization, but to offer a study of religion as an institution and its role in society. The final proposal states that “religion is an important part of our students’ lives” and notes that 71 percent of Harvard’s incoming students say they attend religious services.

Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers pushed for a curriculum change before his resignation under faculty pressure last summer.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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