Chloe Edwards '09
The first time it happened, I thought it must have been a fluke. There, in my reading for the second week of Understanding and Serving Users, a reference to Emile Durkheim and anomie. Who cited him or in what specific context I couldn't tell you now, but it was there: a tiny validation of the Core in my graduate curriculum that I delighted in for a moment and forgot--until it happened again. Now, at the close of my first semester, that tiny validation has become a solid, gold-plated affirmation of the value of the Core. Every other week somebody in some article references authors I studied in the Core, most often Durkheim or Weber, but also Marx, Aristotle, Freud, Daniel Dennett, Steve Pinkett, and, inevitably in an information studies program, Michel Foucault. In my notes and in class discussion I regularly draw on Adam Smith and John Locke, and have had occasion to bring up Matt Ridley, Heda Kovaly and the idea of the selfish gene. Even Great Ideas of Modern Mathematics, that much maligned and little appreciated course, has made a material contribution to my graduate education in the form of an analogy between the faceted classification system of S.R. Ranganathan and Georg Cantor's infinite set theory, which helped me understand what on earth Ranganathan was on about.
I love this web of references. I love that all these names hold meaning for me instead of being just another parenthetical citation, and even more than that, I love that I can reference all of these individuals in my own written work. For example, this week I've been working on a paper for my Users class, analyzing a research paper on the use of narrative in literature reviews in molecular biology. One of the literature reviews under discussion is by Francis Crick with whom I am well acquainted from Biology Core, and I was able to refer to his original 1953 publications on the nature of DNA in Nature because of it. And not only has the Core given me this treasury of theorists to draw upon, it has also made me supremely comfortable working in an interdisciplinary setting like information studies. My readings can be from fields as varied as psychology, cognitive science, philosophy of all stripes, sociology, history--sometimes it feels like anything and everything, but I can keep up because I'm used to approaching subjects from multiple perspectives, because I spent four years in the Core putting it all together, one piece at a time. Now what I have is a mental kaleidoscope: the pieces, the authors, the texts I gained in the Core are fixed, but every time I'm asked to consider a different problem, those pieces interact differently with what I'm learning and arrange themselves in different patterns to produce incredible new pictures.
The value of the Core can be difficult to quantify. It can seem impractical, a waste of time, an outdated ode to thinkers whose ethnic homogeneity seems like an affront to the ideal of diversity. Diversity, however, can refer to many qualities, and the diversity of viewpoints to which I was exposed through the Core will enrich my own views as long as I continue to learn, inside the classroom or out. Like childhood, I think the Core is best appreciated in hindsight, because it is only in hindsight that the wealth and complexity of the connections between these texts and the wider world becomes apparent. It's not that I doubted my professors when they told me that I'd someday understand, only that when I finally did, I was almost overwhelmed by the enormity of it. This is an experience I could have had only at Oglethorpe and I'm grateful for it almost every day; the Core and the faculty who teach it is what makes Oglethorpe the institution that I will support as an alumnae now and in the future. I would even go so far as to say that without the Core and the faculty we have, Oglethorpe would have little to recommend it. Whatever the discount rate, you can't charge $37,940 a year for neo-Gothic architecture and community service, and the Oglethorpe that could so blithely remove a program as central to its ethos as the Core would unquestionably lose my support as an alumnae, financial and otherwise. The Core may not be a vocational program and it may not lead to a non-profit internship, but it teaches you how to think. If Oglethorpe is truly committed to producing thoughtful and engaged citizens (and permanent residents!), it will continue to support, to build upon, to strengthen the Core program as long as the institution stands.