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Some Perspectives toward Reforms of Undergraduate Curriculum : debates after 1980s in the United States
Undergraduate education is one of the most critical issues in higher education in Japan. However, it is not yet clear for us what kind of curriculum undergraduate education should have; what undergraduate students should learn and how. Though student learning outcomes are currently a big issue, how these are to be accomplished and with what kind of curriculum or contents are not often discussed. Of course, undergraduate education can be diverse according to the missions of institutions, the intensions of stakeholders, and the types of students. At the same time, we need some fundamental thoughts when we consider the issue of the undergraduate curriculum: it is thought to be unproductive to discuss an issue, imprecisely defined. I refer to the debates on American undergraduate education. It is not only because American undergraduate education has had a great impact on that of Japan, but also that we can explore the issue more deeply through reviewing the process of debates on undergraduate curricula in the United States.
The undergraduate curriculum is said to be a battleground of diverse ideas that often brings about confrontations and contradictions. The 1980s was a critical time in the United States when reform of undergraduate education was often discussed. In the 80s, some major (but critically different) ideas on undergraduate curriculum appeared in national reports that turned out to be influential for subsequent debates. Above all, I refer to two national reports, both of which were published in the middle of 80s.
A report named "To Reclaim a Legacy" was published by the National Endowment for the Humanities. This report insisted on the importance of the humanities in higher education. Particularly, the NEH report emphasized the recovery of common knowledge in general education required for all students. At almost the same time, the Association of American Colleges published a report "Integrity in the College Curriculum." This report shared with the NEH report the sense that the quality of American undergraduate education was at a crisis. However, we find essential differences in the type of education they thought colleges and universities should offer. The AAC report insisted that curriculum contents should be integrated with methods; and also that learning contents should not be limited to prescribed areas. Based upon the AAC's view, the curriculum should be discussed not only as course contents but also as a curriculum with a comprehensive process of teaching and learning.
These different approaches were inherited by some national organizations even after the 1980s. Each of these perspectives has merits and limitations, but both of them have important implications when we discuss the undergraduate curriculum. I think it is important not just to put them on opposite sides, but to make constructive discussions so as to include both of them in our thinking.
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