Foundation Year Program – An Introduction

I’m Daniel Brandes, the Director of the Foundation Year Programme at the University of King’s College. The Foundation Year Programme is the oldest and most distinguished programme of its kind in Canada. It is an interdisciplinary core text or ‘great books’-style programme that brings together great works from across the traditional disciplines and moves forward in time from the ancient world all the way up to and including the 21st century.

What do I mean when I say interdisciplinary? In the first place i mean we don’t read any text books. Our students read only the works themselves that are responsible for generating the concepts that have formed our tradition. But not only that I mean that we go out of our way to ignore or dismiss traditional disciplinary boundaries which artificially separate works of literature from works of philosophy, the sciences, economics, history, the arts. So we, in an ever- in an average FYP week, students will read on Monday work of literature, on Wednesday work of philosophy, on Thursday a work from the Natural Sciences, and on Friday a play.

That’s not uncommon in the Foundation Year Programme and we move forward chronologically from the ancient world to the medieval period to the Renaissance, then early modernity, the 19th century or age of revolutions, and we end in the contemporary world weary texts that are written – were written as recently as 15 or 20 years ago.

It is an incredibly wide ranging and ambitious programme. It may not be for everyone but for someone who wants to throw himself or herself into the tradition and really understand it from its core concepts there’s nothing quite like it I believe.

I’d like to spend a minute or two describing the average everyday FYP experience. Every student in the programme attends lecture together from 9:30 to 11:30 in the morning with a small break in the middle for a cup of coffee. Then at eleven thirty students break off into smaller groups of twelve to fifteen and that’s their tutorial group, and it’s in tutorial that much of the learning and struggling and questioning and answering is done.

These are privileged, encouraging spaces where students are able to throw out their opinions – however strange or challenging or new they may be – and allow their assumptions to be transformed in a safe and encouraging
space with their classmates. Students go through the year in the same tutorial from September all the way up to April or May. That is to say: you spend your entire year with the same twelve or fifteen students and you grow very comfortable and familiar with them and comfortable sharing challenging opinions and ideas in this saves space.

Every tutorial will have a main tutor who they’ll have for three of the six sections and then three additional tutors so that by the end of the year every student will have met and have studied with four different members of the FYP teaching faculty. That’s terrifically important because it enables the faculty to get close to students; to come to know them to watch them as they grow and develop. And i must say I’ve taught at kings and in the Foundation Year Programme for over 10 years and I’m still friends with over dozens of the students I’ve taught.

I’ve written letters of recommendation where I’ve actually been able to speak knowingly about their opinions because I’ve watched them over the course of their undergraduate careers. It’s an enormously gratifying experience for me and I think for the students here in the programme. I can’t recommend this kind of education highly enough. I think it’s increasingly rare as our students become overly concerned with compartmentalizing or ‘departmentalizing’. This is an opportunity to encounter these works as a human being; not yet as a scientist or a chemist or theater scholar but as a human being.

I vigorously recommend the programme to anyone who thinks they have it in them. I now want to turn it over to the different coordinators who run the six sections of the programme that I mentioned and let them tell you a
little something about each of their sections.

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