Insistent Change: Columbia’s Core Curriculum at 100


1920s: A Progressive Experiment in Civic Education

Drawing on the ideas of pragmatist philosophers Charles Peirce and John Dewey, Frederick Woodbridge and members of the history and philosophy departments created Contemporary Civilization ("CC"). Above all CC originated as a new kind of civics course. It immersed students in the political-economic complexities of the industrial age and focused on the origins and operations of liberal-democratic institutions. Most importantly, it sought to engage students in discussion of the latest facts and theories bearing on insistent problems of the present. In this way, its creators hoped that Contemporary Civilization might help students cultivate the habits of judgment and communication that American democracy required in an era of ceaseless change. As such, CC expressed pre-war progressive hopes that the energies unleashed by war could be harnessed for peace and domestic reform.

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