Methodology Matters

Edward Glaeser:

Today, the Faculty will begin to take on the central and difficult question of what students should know to graduate from Harvard. The Task Force on General Education has produced a serious and thoughtful answer to this question. It has proposed that the College train students for citizenship in a global society and, to that end, require students to take courses in ten diverse areas from reason and faith to analytical reasoning. I fear, however, that the proposal goes too far in rejecting the Core Curriculum’s “approaches to knowledge” in favor of teaching knowledge itself. Methodology, particularly the scientific approach to human society, should play a prominent role in general education.
Like any self-involved faculty member, I could argue that the proposed program gives too little attention to my own field of economics while spending too much time on other less important disciplines. In extreme fits of economo-centrism, I can certainly convince myself that reading, writing, and breathing are pretty irrelevant relative to understanding the laws of supply and demand. I am not, however, writing this column to argue that my discipline deserves more recognition in general education. Indeed, I do not profess to know how much space in the general education curriculum should be allocated to any field, and I do not know what subjects should be focused on in other fields. I do, however, know that with regards to economics, the report focuses too much on social science topics but too little on social science methodology.