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Lower College

Blake and TeacherIn the Lower College (the first and sophomore years), students take our rigorous core curriculum and choose electives. The core conducts a critical survey of key texts in Western and non-Western thought, an intensive study of writers and thinkers who have shaped the modern world, and courses in math, science, language, and the arts. Electives offer the chance to explore new interests or to pursue ongoing concerns. The first year starts with the Writing and Thinking Workshop, an intensive week-long program led by faculty from all of the college’s academic divisions, during which students gather in small groups to pursue the related arts of clear thought and clear expression.

Because students at Bard College at Simon’s Rock begin college at a younger than traditional age, the faculty is particularly conscious of its responsibility to ensure that they are provided with the guidance necessary to assist them in developing the knowledge and skills previously outlined. Consequently, the Lower College (which leads to the AA degree) combines a required core curriculum in general education with ample opportunity to pursue particular interests through electives. The core curriculum comprises approximately half of students’ academic load, and students are expected to complete it by the end of their second year. The elements of the core curriculum at Simon’s Rock are:

  • Writing and Thinking Workshop
  • Book One Program
  • First-Year Seminar I and II
  • Sophomore Seminar
  • Cultural Perspectives
  • Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Natural Science
  • Foreign Language

Writing and Thinking Workshop
Entering students begin their education at Simon’s Rock with the intensive, week-long Writing and Thinking Workshop held prior to the regular opening of the semester. A fundamental goal of the workshop is to demonstrate that clear writing is inseparable from clear thinking and that strong writing and thinking skills are required for successful college work in any discipline. Workshop sessions are devoted to exploration of techniques for generating ideas, refining initial concepts, revising and editing, and asking critical questions. Sections are led by faculty members drawn from across the College’s academic divisions and are characterized by highly personal instruction and collaborative work. The workshop is graded Pass or No Credit; a grade of Pass is required for graduation.

Book One Program
Inaugurated in 2005, the Book One program asks the members of the incoming class to read the first book of the General Education program—and their college careers—over the summer. Each year, a book is selected based on excellence and suitability for promoting interdisciplinary conversations about the intersection of cultures. The author speaks during the Writing and Thinking Workshop week to enrich the students’ appreciation of the book and to give incoming students, as well as the entire Simon’s Rock community, the chance to ask questions of the author. The book, lecture, and supporting materials in the Writing and Thinking Workshop anthology are used as an occasion for discussion and writing throughout the Workshop and into the First-Year Seminar sequence. The Book One program makes connections between Writing and Thinking and the General Education Seminars, and enhances the diversity and interdisciplinary focus of the curriculum. Last year’s book, Sonata Mulaticca, was written by Rita Dove. Previous books were Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe; Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, by Kwame Anthony Appiah; Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, by Ibtisam Barakat; Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, by Saidiya Hartman; and Little Boys Come From the Stars, by Emmanuel Dongala.

First-Year and Sophomore Seminars
All first-year students are required to take the two-semester First-Year Seminar and one-semester Sophomore Seminar sequence. These courses introduce students to the close reading of texts and the writing of substantive analytical essays that are the basis of much college work. Students examine differing treatments of common situations, emotions, conflicts, and questions that have engaged great writers, artists and scholars over the centuries. All courses in the sequence draw from sources representing the variety of academic disciplines representative of the liberal arts; they draw on and develop the methods introduced in the Writing and Thinking Workshop, fostering critical thinking and the effective articulation of ideas. First-Year Seminar I covers the period from antiquity through the 15th century, with particular focus on the Mesopotamian, Hellenistic, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic cultures. The relationships of origin works to concepts in secular and religious thought, government, science, and the arts will be considered. First-year Seminar II centers on changes in the nature of knowledge and knowing from the 16th century through the year 1850, as revolutions—the Scientific Revolution, American, French and other political revolutions, as well as the Industrial Revolution—swept the world. The geographic center of this course is Europe but expands as the notion of Western civilization changes with the colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Sophomore Seminar focuses on rapid transformations, as boundaries are established and broken in various fields of inquiry from 1850 to the late 20th century and as widespread diasporas in multiple directions blur boundaries of national identities toward a more global, international outlook.

Cultural Perspectives
All students are required to take one semester-long Cultural Perspectives course (no fewer than 3 graded credits) in order to earn the AA degree. In the interconnected global context in which we live, knowledge of diverse cultural traditions is imperative. The Cultural Perspectives courses expand students’ understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity and of the history of cultural encounters that has affected cultural development within and outside the Western European tradition. By focusing in depth on one culture or subculture, or on one topic analyzed and compared across a number of differing cultural traditions, these seminars build on the other core courses in the general education sequence, expanding students’ understanding of the ideas, perspectives, values, and activities of cultures often marginalized by the West. Cultural Perspectives courses thus act as a challenge to the universality of Western historical and cultural assumptions, offering students an expanded backdrop against which to assess their own social and cultural contexts, knowledge, and ideas. By developing students’ critical understanding of the characteristics, values, and assumptions of other cultures, these courses extend students’ views of the world and their ability to act effectively in it.

Students are required to demonstrate the artistic literacy expected of an educated person through successful completion of one arts course (no fewer than three graded credits comprised of two modular courses, three graded music lessons, or a combination of these). All these courses introduce students to the creative processes, techniques, and modes of thought particular to the arts; and all explore the relationships between art and society, art and the individual, and art and the medium.

Students are required to demonstrate the mathematical literacy expected of an informed citizen through successful completion of an approved mathematics course. Students needing to develop the level of competency necessary to take mathematics and science courses at Simon’s Rock may do so by taking a course that covers the necessary pre-collegiate material during the summer before they enter Simon’s Rock. Competency will be shown by a passing grade on the placement exam. Placement tests are available online at the College website and are administered during the summer before students arrive at Simon’s Rock and during new student orientation to help students plan an appropriate mathematics program at Simon’s Rock.

Students are required to demonstrate scientific literacy through completion of at least one lab-based course in the sciences. This requirement may be met by completing an approved course in biology, chemistry, environmental studies, natural sciences, or physics.

Foreign Language
The language requirement reflects the faculty’s conviction that there is a particular value in engaging with a foreign language and culture in an academic setting and in collaboration with other students. In order to be a true engagement not only with a set of skills but with a different mode of thought and expression, the exploration must be a protracted one, usually spanning at least two semesters, beginning at the student’s entry-level proficiency. Please see the Division of Languages and Literature section for information about placement. Consistent with the College’s other AA requirements, there is no placing out of the language requirement. The language requirement can be fulfilled in one of the following ways:

  1. By completing two sequential semesters of Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Latin, or Spanish at the 100–206 level (100–101, 101–204, 204–205, 205–206) at Simon’s Rock. The 100–101 sequence is offered in all six languages every year. For availability of sequences beyond 100–101 in Arabic, Chinese, German, and Latin, please consult the faculty in the appropriate language.
  2. By completing two sequential semesters of any one foreign language at another accredited college or university;*
  3. By completing an intensive language program providing the equivalent of two sequential semesters (and no fewer than 140 hours) of one foreign language;*
  4. By completing a study-abroad program in a foreign language;*
  5. By completing one semester (minimum 3 credits) of a foreign language beyond the Intermediate II level (at the 206–level or above), if available;
  6. Students who wish to fulfill the language requirement with a language not offered at Simon’s Rock can do so only through options 2, 3, or 4 above.
  7. Non-native speakers of English satisfy the requirement by completing both semesters of First-Year Seminar. An application for this option must be made in the Office of Academic Affairs during a student’s first semester at Simon’s Rock.

*Preapproval must be obtained by faculty teaching the language in question. If a given language is not offered at Simon’s Rock, preapproval may be obtained by petitioning the Standards and Procedures Committee.

Immediately upon admission to the College, students are encouraged to combine pursuing their own interests and academic passions and exploring new areas of knowledge with meeting the requirements of the core curriculum. Courses offered by each of the College’s academic divisions are open to first-year students, and most students are able to devote about half of their course work in the Lower College—approximately 30 credits—to electives.

Active Community Engagement
Bard College at Simon’s Rock seeks to have our students be not only academically successful, but also physically and emotionally healthy citizens of the world. The Active Community Engagement requirement (or ACE requirement, for short) provides a rubric for students, and promotes balancing academic pursuits with physical, emotional, and social well-being, and teaches students to be active participants in their communities. The ACE program requires a student to devote 4–7 hours per semester within each of three programming areas: Wellness, Athletics, and Community Service. More details regarding the ACE requirement are available in the online Student Handbook on the College website.