St. Mary's curriculum relevant and rigorous

June 02, 2013

The recent commentary about St. Mary's College of Maryland, written by Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, is troubling on a number of levels — not least of which is that it's not really about St. Mary's ("Cautionary campus tale," May 30). Instead, through a combination of outright factual inaccuracies and very selectively chosen information, Ms. Neal seizes upon the college's 100-student enrollment shortfall to hammer home one of the ACTA's core messages: that American colleges and universities are failing students by turning away from an education focused on western civilization and traditional American values. In this, she herself fails both to truthfully describe the St. Mary's curriculum and also to acknowledge the value of any aspects of education other than those the ACTA focuses on.

Ironically, many aspects of the kind of education the ACTA endorses are, in fact, central to the St. Mary's Core Curriculum. The "trendy" seminar topics Ms. Neal highlights in her article represent a handful of options for only one of the nine Core Curriculum requirements at St Mary's. These seminars, moreover, meld their topics (whether trendy or not) with a carefully constructed program of instruction in fundamental educational skills: written expression, oral expression, critical thinking and information literacy. While this course is not titled "Composition," a fact that may confuse Ms. Neal, one of its essential goals is to ensure that all students have the college-level writing skills they will need to move forward in their educations.

In addition to this first year seminar, all students are — despite Ms. Neal's misinformation — required to study a foreign language. They also all take a laboratory science class, a college-level mathematics course (at a higher level than many other colleges require), and standard introductory courses in the social sciences, the arts, and the humanities. Yes, not every student will study American History, but if one does not, it is because she or he is taking a course such as History of the Western World, Introduction to Philosophy or Introduction to World Religions instead.

St. Mary's both offers and requires precisely the kind of strong fundamentals Ms. Neal advocates. In addition, however, its curriculum emphasizes things the ACTA sees little value in: non-western histories, contemporary art and culture, and immersive education that makes connections between the classroom and the outside world. St. Mary's seeks to provide its students with the kind of cross-cultural training and awareness that will help them be fully functioning citizens in the 21st century. Our Core Curriculum, which was subjected to a rigorous external review only this spring, meets the highest standards put forth by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. As an even more ringing endorsement, I'm delighted to see the many responses to Ms. Neal's column by recent alumni attesting to the value and relevancy of the education they received here.

Ruth Feingold, St. Mary's City

The writer is a professor of English at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

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