From Intellectual Heritage to Mosaic: A Retrospective
—By Kime Lawson, Assistant Editor
Since 1986, Temple's core curriculum has required students to complete two three-hour courses in the Intellectual Heritage program. Few universities have programs like it. In conjunction with the First Year Writing program, for nearly three decades IH has provided Temple undergraduates with a shared foundation in selected texts intended to inspire critical styles of close reading and self-reflection often associated with a "Great Books" education. IH re-launched itself as "Mosaic" in Spring of 2008, with a new curriculum reconfigured to the needs of the GenEd program. Four years later, Faculty Herald has asked Mosaic faculty and students to offer a retrospective of its transformation.
Before the change, each section of Intellectual Heritage was classified as writing intensive and followed the recognized chronology and content of the "Western Canon." IH 51 introduced the ancient Greeks, monotheistic scriptures, and enduring works from the Renaissance; IH 52 surveyed the intellectual highlights of the Early Modern and Modern eras with units in the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Revolution, Colonialism, and the modern novel. Students read excerpts or anthologies of "classical" texts for class discussion, toward the goal of putting ideas together in synthetic college-level essays. In 2006, however, GenEd asked Intellectual Heritage to restructure its courses pedagogically to stress skill-building rather than coverage, and to utilize a thematic approach over the traditionally chronological one. Mosaic was formed and fully approved for the classroom by Spring 2008.
Mosaic differs mostly from the old Intellectual Heritage curriculum in the respects that the IH "canon" was opened to include more cross-cultural readings, class enrollment caps were lowered to 25, and the two new courses were divided into four thematic modules each. The new curriculum was also retooled for skill-building, stressing critical thinking, discussion, writing and time management. GenEd (and former IH) director István Varkonyi explained the difference between IH and Mosaic, saying "The IH courses in the old Core curriculum morphed over time into a content-driven Western civilization course. The emphasis was on more content knowledge and the ability to give back that knowledge on a test. In the Mosaic courses there is an intentional pedagogical approach built into the curriculum to analyze, extrapolate, and ultimately apply the ideas from the various texts in diverging historical, cultural, and social contexts." Or, as Instructor Richard Orodenker put it, Mosaic stresses a "transference of knowledge" across disciplines and encourages students to be comfortable with the fluid relationships between texts that inform all contemporary intellectual pursuits. One does not need be trained as an economist to cultivate good financial skills, but being a sharp reader and a critical thinker will help, for instance.
Mosaic I includes the themes of “Journeys,” “Self and Others,” “Community,” and “Ways of Knowing.” Mosaic II is arranged according to “Science,” “Money,” “Power,” and “Environment/City.” Before Mosaic was implemented an instructor might have used as many as twenty separate texts from an anthology over a semester, but Mosaic has narrowed this reading list to eight books per semester to encourage deeper readings. For each module instructors must use the anchor text selected by the department, but may also select an ancillary text from an approved list for each module. And because Mosaic is no longer writing intensive, instructors can have more time to create discussion or experience-based assignments although writing is still a cornerstone of the Mosaic curriculum.
Overall, reactions to the changes in Mosaic from faculty and students have been mostly positive. The most prevalent criticisms from teachers and students who have experienced the transition is that the selected texts for Mosaic often do not fit the thematic modules well, and that the old IH curriculum was better because it at least preserved a chronological framework. Senior English major Jennie Burd noted that the new Mosaic "seemed like a relatively random attempt to provide cohesion in a course that was more of a survey in practice," and others pointed out that More's Utopia may not be the best "Money" book or that perhaps The Iliad would be better placed with "Journeys." Associate Professor Richard Libowitz, however, remarked that teaching texts that would not have fit the old IH curriculum, such as Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, has been rewarding for both him and his students. Richard Orodenker stated that the Mosaic texts are by no means set in stone tablets, and that an internal committee perpetually evaluates the list of ancillary texts to offer suggestions to better streamline the curriculum or to put better editions of assigned texts in students’ hands.
Although the general sentiment of Mosaic faculty seems to consider the relaunch successful, or at least as workable as the old IH curriculum, the program faces some challenges. Since 2006 Mosaic has employed no tenured faculty: its nearly ninety faculty members (39 full-time NTTs and 50 or so adjuncts) live with short term contracts and uncertainty. In addition, increased workloads have stretched faculty's time and energy as each instructor now must find shortcuts in order to teach one more class with a net increase of twenty five more students per academic year. Many of the faculty have taught there for years, but in the past five years since Mosaic's launch the program has had four directors. The program will also have a new director next year. Assistant Professor Noah Shusterman noted emphatically, however, that "no director has left the program because they failed" and "they've all done good jobs." Other sources pointed out, however, that decisions regarding the directorship of Mosaic are typically made from above with little input from inside the program. Moreover, since Mosaic has no tenured faculty other than the director and no internal promotion track, new directors inevitably are imported from other departments.
Despite these instabilities, Mosaic offers an opportunity for all Temple instructors to participate in and augment a shared learning experience with Temple undergraduates. Whether a Temple student is majoring in computer science, business, liberal arts or hard sciences, he or she must have grappled with at least eight prescribed texts that have maintained an enduring dis-course across disciplines. So many more opportunities for relating new knowledge to what students had already encountered would be possible if only Temple faculty were more aware of Mosaic.•