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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Still Writing: What should we study?

Published: March 4, 2011
Section: Opinions

This last winter break (December, not February) before heading back home to the snow-filled wonderland that is Minne*snow*ta, I made a small stop in New Jersey. As I sat around looking for ways to occupy myself, I discovered that my family had acquired many of the old Disney classics on Blu-ray; I found something to watch. As I sat back, watching Dopey be Dopey (Snow White) and once again reconnected with the Beast (Beauty and the Beast) I realized something: this should be part of a college education. Some may say Disney movies are garbage, and as far as newer Disney movies are concerned, I might agree. That being said, I’m tempted to say that America has failed you as a person if you have not seen these classics at least by the end of college.

A part of a university education’s purpose is to achieve a broad knowledge base. We have a core curriculum specifically to ensure this. Rather than allow arts students to only study art, they are required to take a science class and a humanities and vice versa. One part of the core curriculum that appears to be missing is American culture.

What is one of the biggest factors in a student’s decision to study abroad? Ask many students, and they will likely say that to experience the country’s culture ranks high on the benefits. I suspect that experiencing American culture is a factor in why so many international students come to study in American schools (like Brandeis!). While many of us grow up with a degree of exposure to American culture, it doesn’t appear to be a standard part of the college education to grasp the history and vastness of this culture. Additionally, Fantasia, arguably Disney’s magnum opus would serve as a centerpiece blending music, film and stories into one experience. While watching a few Disney movies made me realize one part of what education is missing, I’d hardly say that Disney movies alone should comprise an American culture curriculum. Movies such as Star Wars (the ORIGINAL trilogy) and The Wizard of Oz could be added as part of a film unit.

You may also notice that many of the movies mentioned are built upon European fairy tales and European compositions. This too would be a great thing to look at as America was largely built upon other cultures.

Why stop at movies? This could continue with music and literature. Music classes, for example, could spend a few weeks going over and learning to appreciate some of the top music of recent decades. Literature classes, which might constitute the largest portion of a core class, should read To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’m sure there’s a lot of classic content that I’m missing (I certainly couldn’t list everything I know of that should contribute to this content). Additionally, there is likely to be a huge wealth of culturally significant music, literature and movies that I have never seen. The importance of a class like this would be that all students who go through it would be able to walk away and at the very least be confident that they have experienced a decent degree of American culture.

The administration should seriously consider the addition of a required class in American culture. It would not only add an interesting course to the core curriculum, but would also improve over all enjoyment.