Francesca Murphy has written a fascinating piece for First Things about the push for revision of the curriculum to make it more "goal-oriented." Like most bits of educational jargon, the phrase seems vague and harmless on its face, but in fact means, for those who are in the trade, something more specific. In this case it seems to be in part an attempt to get all that useless intellectual stuff--in particular theology and philosophy (at Notre Dame)--out of the way of the vocational training which is what most students go to college for, and in part--the bigger part, I suspect--a justification for propagandizing, which no one will be surprised to find directed toward the inculcation of standard secular liberal views. It requires only the slightest familiarity with contemporary higher education to know that one of the more popular goals, "critical thinking," is likely to involve, for instance, rather more criticism of patriotism than of the United Nations, and more of colonialism than of communism.
Who could argue with the idea that education ought to have a goal, or goals? The goal of a course on Shakespeare is for the students to read and understand Shakespeare; one hopes that they will appreciate him as well, but the reading and understanding are the course. But this sort of goal is apparently not a goal in the sense that the curriculum revisers use the word. For them the goals of education are, as Dr. Murphy bluntly puts it, "right-mindedness."
Catholic higher education has in modern times been considered to have a very dubious relationship to the pursuit of truth, to be more concerned with inculcating Catholic belief than with real intellectual achievement. Supposedly that ended after Vatican II; the universities declared themselves independent, proudly announced that they were not in the business of catechetics, and in practice often not only neglected but actively opposed the idea of a duty to transmit the faith. No doubt there were serious defects in what they were reacting to. But one might suppose that the old desire to teach correct doctrine did not disappear, but only adopted new doctrines. This is implicit in the arguments against the deep thinking and learning required to become literate in specific disciplines with definite content.
In a shift that reflects trends in higher education more broadly, the [curriculum] review questions the very idea of discipline-oriented requirements that specify courses taught by particular departments. Are disciplines the building blocks of university education and thus the proper focus for a core curriculum? Or should we recognize that academic disciplines are “artificial” and reorient our thinking around curricular “goals” such as “critical thinking skills,” “effective communication,” “ethical decision-making skills”? Or the capacity to “comprehend the variations of people’s relationship with God and develop respect for the religious beliefs of others,” as one Catholic university defines a distinctively religious goal?
The article demonstrates at some length that this represents, implicitly if not explicitly, a shift away from liberal education and toward propagandizing .
Rather than pursuing the truth through missteps, failed experiments, and odd hypothetical suggestions, the propagandist defines the learning goal, and then designs courses and textbooks to get the students there efficiently. We recognize the propagandizing mentality easily wherever it appears by its illiberal mien, suppressing questions and punishing dissent. But it’s also present when students are taught to assent too quickly to easy moralisms, substituting self-righteous feeling for serious ethical reflection, something that’s only too easy to imagine when one reads the social justice or “global engagement” goals of many Catholic universities.
I've only given a bare introduction to the article, and you really need to read the whole thing. Since I'm not involved in these curricular battles, what strikes me is that this matter is bigger than Catholic education, and bigger than education in general: it is an aspect of the increasing predominance of a secular religion which is as confident as Christianity is defensive, and which does not question the universal applicability of its doctrines and a consequent duty to go into all the world and preach them.