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Breadth and the "Big Questions"

FOUNDATIONS: A Knox education ensures that you are liberally educated-not simply a narrow specialist but someone who can place their expert knowledge in a larger context, who can think independently, solve problems, and see the big picture.

The Foundations goal plays a major role in your liberal education. It is through Foundations that you will become familiar with the breadth of knowledge represented by the full range of the liberal arts-including the sciences, fine & performing arts, humanities, and social sciences. The best education is one that touches all four areas. You'll become aware of multiple points of view (sometimes applied to the same topic!), and will be exposed to the challenge and benefits of integrating different ways of thinking and explaining. First-Year Preceptorial is an introduction to this broad type of approach to knowledge, and Foundations will take you further! Regardless of your major, you can be better at your Specialization because of your exposure to other disciplines through the Foundations goal.

Meeting the Foundations goal is straight forward. The goal has two interrelated parts. First, you need to complete the First-Year Preceptorial. Second, you need to earn at least one credit in each of the four major areas of the curriculum. In the Catalog and on the course schedules, you'll see courses from departments in the sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences that have been designated as meeting the Foundations goal.

Here's the important part: Your major, second field, and the need to study in each of the four areas are NOT necessarily separate tasks. We recognize that your major and second field already require you to take courses in certain of the four major areas of the curriculum. As a result, in order to meet the Foundations goal, you need only to earn a credit in those of the four areas not already included in your major and second field.

Some examples will illustrate.
  • George Washington Gale is majoring in biology and has a minor in chemistry. Both fields lie within the sciences. To meet his Foundations goal, he needs at least one course each in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
  • Janet Greig Post is an economics major (social science) with a minor in music performance (arts). She needs at least one course in the sciences, and one in the humanities.
  • Sylvanus Ferris has an independent major in Japanese studies which includes courses in history (social science) and language (humanities). He needs a course in the arts and in the sciences.

You get the idea! (By the way, those three "students" aren't real, but their names are! You might ask around about each of these important figures from Knox's history.)

Some Foundations goals may be met experientially (see Experiential Learning). For example, it may be possible to partially address the arts Foundation goal by participating in the choir for an entire year. If you have ideas along these lines, you should discuss them with both your advisor and the head of the appropriate department.

There's lots of flexibility, then, in meeting the Foundations goal. But don't let that flexibility mislead you to thinking that Foundations isn't very important. Many faculty feel it is the single most important part of your education. You are encouraged to go beyond meeting the goal minimally; you'll find that most Knox students do! One reason is that learning broadly across all four areas of the curriculum provides you with an opportunity to pursue some of the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. A few years ago, the faculty were asked to list what it considered a useful set of fundamental questions to guide every student's education. Here's their list:

  • What does it mean to be human? What do humans have in common? What is consciousness? What are reason, emotion, memory, and imagination?
  • What are the relationships between and among individuals, societies, cultures, nations, and environments? How do we form identity? What does it mean to be a citizen? A non-citizen? What is our place in an increasingly technological world? How do institutions facilitate or hinder interactions among people, with technology and with the environment?
  • How do we define nature and what is our place in it? How do life processes work? What is our relationship to, and responsibility for, our physical environment?
  • How do we know what we know about the physical world? How was the universe formed, and how does it change? What is randomness? How do we attempt to manage it?
  • Why do we have values? Where do they come from?
  • Where does meaning come from? How is meaning created through structure, pattern, and style? What is beauty? How do we know? What makes a work of art or literature 'great'? What are the limits of language?
  • What is knowledge? How is it created or discovered? How is it preserved and by whom? What makes an idea powerful? How are feeling and experiencing ways of knowing? How do we decide what is better or truer? Who decides what is important? How do disciplines know what they know?
  • What does it mean to be an educated person? What is the purpose of my education?
  • What impact will I have on the world?
  • What does it mean to be free? To whom/what am I accountable?

You'll recognize a number of these questions from your First-Year Preceptorial-but not all. When you consider Foundations courses, we urge you to think in broad terms (as in the questions above) about what you'd like to know, not simply what fields of study you like!

TECHNICAL STUFF: More on Curriculum Foundations

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