Building ‘Way of Life’ Courses Into the Core

By Paul Blaschko

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We occasionally consult with faculty and administrators at other universities about whether and how to incorporate “Way of Life” courses into core curriculum. Here are three things we tell them.

1. ‘Way of Life’ Courses Make the Most of Required Intro Courses

To require a student to take any course is to suggest that that course is somehow necessary for their growth and development as a student at your institution. We think of it as an opportunity to introduce students, not to the eccentricities of your discipline or some arcane set of academic conventions, but to the big questions that the discipline aspires to answer. ‘Way of Life’ courses as especially well-suited to this task, since their distinctive strategy is to put the most important questions of philosophy at the service of the student’s personal growth and intellectual development.

2. ‘Way of Life’ Courses Can Clearly Reinforce a University’s Mission 

Core courses need to clearly express a university’s values and value, not just to the students taking those courses, but for their parents, alumni, and anyone connected with that university. While there are many ways of doing this, ‘Way of Life’ courses lend themselves to this task particularly well. Built into the description of a course is a clear and persuasive answer to the questions: why is this course required? And how does it connect up with the mission of the school?

3. ‘Way of Life’ Courses Can Provide Curricular Cohesion

Because of their subject matter, ‘Way of Life’ courses naturally raise and explore interdisciplinary questions. This helps contribute to a common experience among students in the course and across the university. It also provides the kind of big picture cohesion core curricula often aspire to.

These are a few of the key takeaways from our consulting conversations on implementing ‘Way of Life’ courses as core requirements, to which we often just add that, in our experience at Notre Dame, the benefits of allowing for such a course to count as a core requirement continue to reveal themselves semester after semester.