A 100th anniversary is particularly special, because there are so few things that persist that long. This is why we are having a special celebration of the Core Curriculum all this year. But the Core is not the only institution now having a 100th anniversary. The Grand Canyon National Park is another. I mention it because its founding in 1919 was guided by a vision of value at once both very similar to and very different from the vision we have of the Core.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison — beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world ... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
We feel that the Core, too, is “beyond comparison” and “absolutely unparalleled throughout the world.” And we do want to keep it for our children, and our children’s children and all who come after us, as the great experience of Columbia College. We want to do nothing “to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness.”
But, we do not want it to “remain as it is now” and we do not believe that “you cannot improve on it.” Unlike the Grand Canyon’s grandeur, “a wonder of nature,” the product of the action of natural forces across millions of years, the Core is the product of the action of conscious human forces, with a most decidedly human value in mind, and that value is realized in a human context that is constantly changing. The Core is not a national monument. It is not a Columbia College monument. It is alive and responding to that changing context.
Like the Core itself, this Centennial is alive — alive with questions about the past, the present and the future of the Core. These questions are of particular importance during this Centennial, but they should be considered and answered every year. What are some of them?
I have said that the Core is always the same and always changing, and I believe that is accurate, but how do we elaborate that? Its objectives seem to remain the same, but the way in which we work to achieve those objectives must change as the circumstances of the world in which we live change, as they have done and will continue to do.
How should we explain the objectives in a way that makes clear the continuity of purpose, while ensuring a contemporary approach that continues to give value to the Core? How should we assess success in achieving what we aim to?
How do we make sure the Core will remain successful for every student in the future? How do we ensure that the Core empowers students to engage with a world neither they nor we can predict? How do we explain to students the importance of the Core in their development of the 13 competencies within My Columbia College Journey (college.columbia.edu/journey/home), our guide for students to obtaining the most value from the entirety of their College experience?
I encourage you to think about these questions and share your answers with us; they can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James J. Valentini
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