Stephen Dames and Anna Patchefsky
Is it Core?
By Stephen Dames and Anna Patchefsky
As Professor Martin Hollyoke walks into the steam-heated, overcrowded Hamilton classroom, he can already smell a foul stench in the air: the Core Curriculum. Avoiding the patriarchal head of the table, Hollyoke sits to the side, making the classroom feel more equitable and open.
Hollyoke is special, different, maybe even “with it.” He’s not like his snooty colleagues with their offices in Philosophy and love of ancient languages. Unlike them, Hollyoke has a degree in English and Gender Studies from Vassar and has read lots of Judith Butler. He even calls his wife his “partner.”
Edwin “Eddy” the II is already regretting the shrimp tacos he had for lunch. For literally the first time ever, he is praying that the student workers are on strike. At least their union chants could waft up to his Hamilton classroom and drown out his gastrointestinal system.
Eddy doesn’t have a friend in his Lit Hum class yet. Eddy’s peers all have hyphenated last names, are probably from Brooklyn, and wear low-cut Dr. Martens. His classmates waltz straight in off the L train, insincere in their feigned poverty, with their eyebrows all bleached. He never saw this in Hyannis Port.
Hollyoke wears thrifted off-white chinos and a wrinkled linen shirt as he hands out his syllabus, complimenting the student to his right on her bleached eyebrows.
Once they see the syllabus, they’ll love me, he thinks to himself. All of his assignments are group projects, all of his readings are 1-5 page PDFs, and he “totally doesn’t care if you look up the SparkNotes.” In fact, he encourages the use of electronics in class.
Eddy puts down his copy of Don Quixote. He loves the book, finally able to picture the world presented to him. He raises his hand, clears his throat, pushes his wire rimmed glasses to the base of his nose, and critiques Cervantes’ limited imagination:
“Professor, just to jump off that point”—A point has yet to be made—“I think that the novel as a chosen vehicle for satire is just one medium of expression. The bridge between realism and idealism is also well understood in Marius Pepita’s ballet interpretation, where dancers in white, pink, and black tights twirl and jump in choreographed whimsy . In summation, the imaginative mode is best diffused through the magnifying Galilean binoculars. But that’s just my personal opinion.”
With all of his facial muscles contorted into a visage of “genuine” interest, Hollyoke informs Eddy that he agrees with him, and that the story of Don Quixote can be better understood through funky, hip, and fresh modes of performance art rather than dry text. At the same time, Professor Hollyoke is a bit surprised at Eddy’s comment. He had taken his satchel-carrying student for a Patriots fan and good-old-boy, not an arts connoisseur.
“Well, surely you’ll like this, Eddy. Why don’t we put down our books”—they have not yet been opened—“and watch some of the ballet? There’s this great alternative production done by some friends of mine in Brooklyn that has no stage, no shoes, and no music. I have a feeling that the boundlessly creative structure and deconstructionist gaze will appeal to someone like you.”
He laughs to himself. Showing a video during class? He is breaking boundaries. His creative pedagogy will surely give him the CULPA golden nugget of his dreams. Before he shows the video, however, he thinks of a question that will provoke them … something that surely they’ve never been asked before …
“What is the point of the Core?”
Eddy, for his part, is even more exasperated. How could a professor at this venerable institution defame such great men as Herodotous, Homer … whatever the others are, by asking a question such as that? It seems that Professor Hollyoke is unsophisticated, unurbane, and in short, entirely unfit for the Core Curriculum.
Raising his hand yet again, not waiting to be called on this time, Eddy defaces the modern interpretations. “This is not what the architects of the Core designed in 1919!”
A true originalist in academic pedagogy, Eddy is disgusted at his classmates’ use of digital technology and is disgruntled by his Professor’s Grading For Equity-inspired lack of accountability. iPads have no place masquerading as libraries for digital manuscripts.
Professor Hollyoke hides his growing frustration under his coiffed handlebar mustache. Thankfully, as he usually does, Hollyoke has been saving his words of wisdom for the last five minutes of class, preferring the students to lead class discussions with “So, what I found really interesting” and “This really reminds me of how”.
For Hollyoke, the Core is much more extensive than the centuries-old wisdom of some old dead white men. “Class, the Core is not what you’ve been told. It’s who you are. We’re not descendants of those Butler-inscribed names; we are composites of core experiences. For me, it’s when Freddie Mercury played Live Aid. Remember that?” The class looks up blankly at this remark.
Unfazed, Hollyoke continues: “What’s your core experience? It’s not fancy books, no, but perhaps instead it’s Dinosaurs Before Dark, seeing The Phantom Menace in theaters, rainbow looms, silly bands, and slap bracelets, or some other core memory. These memories cultivate a distinct aesthetic universe—like cottagecore or normcore, but specific to you and you alone: corecore. If you approach the Core curriculum from this personalized lens, one might call this Core corecore.
Eddy looks around. His classmates are nodding their heads in understanding, but Eddy has absolutely no idea what they are all agreeing to. Chronically offline, Eddy wonders, what is corecore?