November 03, 2004

International Curriculum (#45)

During my 14 months of teaching at Furman, I have been in awe that a university of this caliber and regional reputation has been able to maintain its distinction with a curricular structure that requires such a high number of requirements outside of a student’s major and that does not proactively embrace an international focus. As part of a second-year faculty cohort that investigated the 1968 curriculum design, I was struck by language that emphasized “flexibility,” “new teaching techniques,” and “inter-disciplinarity” in curricular design. In the 1960s, that design along with the implementation of the Asia-Africa requirement was a maverick attempt to stay ahead of the times; today the design appears to me as out of sync with current pedagogical and humanist interests. Since the letter sent by second-year faculty expresses in detail our concerns about the graduation requirements, my individual letter focuses on strengthening the curriculum by making it truly internationalized.

Across the country, college students present an increasing range of ethnic, racial, religious, and class difference. Campuses are enlivened and embittered by contemporary debates about the politics of diversity and the uncertainties of identity based on personal and intellectual pursuits of faculty, staff, and students. These negotiations do not begin or end in the classroom; they flourish in government offices, neighborhoods, workplaces, and homes. I suggest that, as educators, we encourage and create environments that are comfortable spaces for informed and rigorous discussions about the politics in which both teachers and students participate. By questioning how we represent ourselves and how we are represented, we can challenge students to question the mechanisms by which individuals, nations, hemispheres are represented, written into or out of histories, and to what end. The classroom then has the opportunity to provide a framework for understanding the self in the world -- not the self and the world as if the two exist separate from each other. Together, students and professors can take on the challenge to interpret, understand, disagree, and continue to explore how a diverse set of intellectual precedents and circumstances has shaped our contemporary geopolitics predicament.

To this end, I ask the committee to consider curricular initiatives that provide unique and creative ways to internationalize a curriculum even if this means foregoing current specific requirements (e.g. Asia-Africa or foreign languages) for something more inspiring. Our global cultural landscape has been, and continues to be, transformed and transfigured by age-old migrations. The world is not compartmentalized into seven neat and "knowable" continents with cognate cultures or civilizations.1 With a proliferation of scholarship and journalistic writing about the movement of the world's people, commodities, and ideas, there exists an increasing need to teach, live, travel, and learn amidst such global phenomena. The imperative is a result of the present environment in which local economies are increasingly internationalized and where the transnational impact of media, communication, and technologies are being lived out all over the globe. The sanctity of borders, myths of a common past and shared origin, and territorial sovereignty must continue to be challenged. In order to explore networks of which we are all a part and in order to act upon a responsible awareness of present conditions of the world's people, institutions of distinction like Furman have the opportunity to continue to be on the cutting-edge as it was in 1968.

I encourage the reviewers of Furman's curriculum to consider an international curriculum that does not put into ghettos vast bodies of literary, historical, political, artistic, economic, environmental, sociological, and scientific knowledge from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Rather than fall prey to tokenism, Furman has the opportunity to spearhead initiatives that promote international components across the disciplines in an integrated and meaningful manner.

1 See Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley, 1997).

Posted by mfairbairn at November 3, 2004 10:30 AM
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