Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Clarifying the Curriculum Problem

The most central, frontal, fundamental problem facing the YC Curriculum is one that faces modern Judaism in general. Ever since the Enlightenment, Jews have wrestled with becoming persons and a people like other peoples. Assimiliationism, Westernism, Rationalism, Socialism - even Zionism - have all pushed in this direction. Theologically, however, the Jews by definition are a people like no other.

YC tries to be, wants to be, and is trying to be a liberal arts college like any other. This, if I may wax prophetic, is doomed to failure.

YC is not a college like any other, like the Jewish community it serves, because it serves the Jewish community. Every single student at YC and Stern is an Orthodox Jew. Making YC a liberal arts college like any other (admittedly inconveniently interrupted by a religious morning program in which every student is required to participate) totally ignores this fact.

Imagine the following: Julliard (the top school for music and dance in the country) suddenly adopted the YC/Stern Curriculum. Because of its great prestige, the top musically and aesthetically trained students still flock to Julliard. Yet, all the students are subject to the YC Curriculum.

In such a situation, is there necessarily anything inherently wrong with the YC Curriculum? No! The problem is that the brilliant and wonderful qualities of the Julliard students taking it are being totally ignored. Forcing musicians and dancers to take 2 Compositions, 4 Bibles, and 2 Hebrews wouldn't necessarily be bad for the world of arts. Indeed, a student of dance who also studied, say, Jewish Studies, would be all the better for it. But it would be pretty silly to require such studies at Julliard.

YC has a captive audience. Orthodox students will continue to come even if it adopted Julliard's curriculum. But they are coming for the Orthodox reasons (the social homogeneity, the religious standards, the morning program), not for the college. I have never heard anyone say: "I would go to Yeshiva College as my first choice even if the morning program didn't exist and YC accepted non-Jews."

YC has a captive audience. It can take advantage of the unique traits, talents, mindsets, and values of its students, or it can ignore them. No doubt, it should challenge them. But very frequently, the intellectual challenges YC gives to its students is akin to challenging a Julliard student to take Hebrew. It is interesting, but at the same time frustrating and irrelevant.

Either the Orthodoxy of YC students is ignored or it is taken advantage of. Instead of ignoring it, or (worse) reacting to it, YCCR needs to take full advantage of it.

1 comment:

Rhinestone said...

The Curriculum Review open meeting about a month ago was a total waste of time. My sense was that Prof. Jacobson is a sincere, hardworking educator who is completely out of touch and misguided. YC should be a unique place, expressing the unique student body it contains! Why be a mediocre, standard college when we can be an exceptional, unique, one of a kind institution! After all, what is Yeshiva University if not unique!