Core Curriculum Reaches Beyond Columbia to Local GED Students

May 7, 2012Bookmark and Share
Professor Roosevelt Montás teaches Columbia's Core Curriculum to local GED students. (4:37)

Columbia College’s Core Curriculum is widely renowned for its use of classic texts to challenge undergraduates into developing critical thinking skills that will enrich their lives. But College students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the academic rigors of the liberal arts and humanities. For example, the summer Double Discovery program has provided a short version of the Core to local high school students.

Now, through Columbia’s Community Impact, a group of adult students working toward their high school graduate equivalency diplomas (GEDs) also has the opportunity to experience the Core first-hand. Community Impact, a 30-year-old campus organization which matches university students and faculty volunteers with dozens of local groups in Upper Manhattan, provides education, job training, food, shelter, clothing, and health information to more than 8,000 people each year.

“This is an opportunity to bring this transformative pedagogy to adult GED students,” said Roosevelt Montás, director of the Center for the Core Curriculum, “and to talk about some very complex ideas and texts.”

Begun shortly after World War One with a course on contemporary issues that was later pared with one built on a set of classic works of literature and philosophy, even as it has evolved, the Core Curriculum has always aimed to develop critical thinking skills while encouraging students to reflect on their larger place in society.

“I took the Core class without having many expectations,” said GED student Jose Hernandez, “until I took that first class and it was life changing.”

With students ranging from ages 19 to 80, the GED program serves a diverse population from Morningside Heights, Harlem and Washington Heights. In giving these nontraditional students an experience that mirrors an actual college classroom, the program creates an intellectual partnership between Columbia and the community.

This partnership is the capstone of Community Impact's College Road program, which teaches students some of the same themes and ideas that college students typically encounter, so they can go beyond the GED and enter college.

Montás (CC ’95) recalls that his own undergraduate experience with the Core Curriculum helped shape his identity a citizen of the world. Now on the other side of the classroom, his teaching of the Core to Community Impact’s GED students is no less significant. “It has been an amazing exchange of ideas,” Montás said. “This interaction has been revelatory to both the faculty and the students.”

If students have any reservations about learning the material in the Core Curriculum, those thoughts typically evaporate once the discussions get underway, said Robert W. Hanning, professor emeritus of English and comparative literature, who teaches the Community Impact courses. In fact, “they often come away with a heightened sense of how interesting and important this material is,” he said.

“I used to get good grades and I want to get back to that,” said GED student Tiffany Collins. “I feel like this program enhances and encourages you to do better on a daily basis.”

“These texts are formative for the whole civilization,” said Journalism Professor Todd Gitlin.“Learning the traditions that created the roots for this life are central to our collective identity.”

“It’s never too late to go and pursue your goals, whatever they may be,” said GED student Rose Arroyo, “but they have to start with education.”

—Video by Columbia News Video Team