To: General Education Committee
From: Richard Pointer and Steven Pointer
Re: IS 125
Date: February 7, 2012
Thank you for your memo of 11/28/11 regarding our proposal to have IS 125 Contemporary Challenges in Europe approved for General Education credit in both Thinking Globally and Understanding Society. At that time, the Committee indicated that it had approved the course for Thinking Globally credit but deferred approval for Understanding Society credit. It identified several concerns/questions that it wished for us to address. This memo and the attached revised syllabus will endeavor to do so.
The Committee asked how will students be able to master both Thinking Globally and Understanding Society through this course. Based on Rick’s experience with the 40 students of Europe Semester 2007 about whom he has a high level of confidence that they did just that, we would say that the course provides an in depth introduction to critical issues facing European society today from the “inside” perspective of Europe (so that students get a good handle on the internal structural elements of European society and how they look from various European perspectives) while also setting those issues in historical and international comparative contexts (so that students situate these issues in a manner consistent with the Certification Criteria of the Thinking Globally requirement). Those twin approaches are not mutually exclusive, though they certainly usually offer students different angles for understanding what is going on. A clear example of this is how we will deal with recent immigration to Europe from outside Europe, especially North Africa, the West Indies, and South Asia. Through readings, lectures, discussions, group projects, class debates, site visits to neighborhoods, guest lectures, journal entries, and exams, students will have opportunity to learn, speak, and write about both the global factors driving migration and immigration patterns in the last two generations and the realities of being an immigrant within various European societies today. The latter will explore issues of economic and educational opportunity, social stratification and inequality, racism, intergenerational family dynamics, religious pluralism, housing and more from both the perspectives of immigrants and native populations. Historical and social scientific approaches will be used to help students understand the complexities of this one contemporary challenge facing Europe. And it is complex. Students will need to grasp, for instance, the significant similarities and even greater differences in the experiences of the large numbers of Eastern Europeans who have migrated to Western Europe in the past two decades with the experiences of those coming to Europe from outside the continent altogether. Similar approaches will be taken with each of the other five or six contemporary challenges to be addressed in the course. Our experience in working with similar students in the past has been that confronted with these complexities, they are ready and willing to “recognize the limits of their global understanding,” “commit themselves to thoughtful, concrete responses growing out of their Christian faith,” “articulate dimensions of individual, group and institutional dynamics in society, paying attention to issues of diversity and media where applicable,” and “make personal and social applications of various theories – informed by a biblical perspective.”
The Committee noted as well that among the five societal structures, Family and Education appear to receive little if any attention in the course. We would agree that Religion, Government, and Economy will receive significantly more emphasis in IS 125. We will endeavor to cover matters relating to education and the family when possible or relevant. Places or topics we anticipate this occurring include migrant and immigrant experiences (as noted above), patterns of religious vitality and secularization (we anticipate devoting considerable attention to the state of Christianity and Islam within Europe today; to do that, we will need to discuss family patterns and the nature of European schooling), and the current economic crisis in Europe (some exploration of its impact on Europeans of all social ranks). We also pay attention to European demographics throughout the course, perhaps especially to Europe’s aging population. That reality affects every issue we examine and obviously has substantial effects for European schools and families. We might note that all courses at Westmont that meet the Understanding Society requirement inevitably give more coverage to some of the five societal structures than others. A course in American Government gives much more attention to government than an Introduction to Sociology provides. The latter gives more attention to the family than Macroeconomics. Macroeconomics covers the economy in more depth than a Communication Studies course (Messages, Meaning, and Culture). It is to be hoped that all these courses touch upon all five societal structures but the reality is that they do so to widely varying degrees. The “Committee Praxis” listed for Understanding Society notes that the five societal structures “need not be given equal weight.”
The Committee requested that the role of social stratification in Europe be expanded in the course. We will endeavor to emphasize this reality when discussing a range of topics including environmental protection, racism, and migration and immigration. We will also ask students to be especially alert to the signs or evidence of class differences within the many different European societies we will visit and to consider integrating those observations into their course journals.
Finally, the Committee asked that the syllabus include Student Learning Outcomes instead of Course Purposes. From our perspective, both have significant value so we have added Student Learning Outcomes alongside the Course Purposes.
Thanks to the Committee for its reconsideration of our course.