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If the number of references generated by a search using the ubiquitous Google is any guide of popularity, then the notion of a “core curriculum”—with no further specification—is a popular one indeed, with some 6.3 million hits proclaimed. This disabling quantity can be made fractionally more manageable by specifying it more closely; restricting the search to references expressly involving medicine brings the number down to a mere million, and adding in “UK” as a further, additional, search term brings the number down to a mere hundred-thousand or so. A dramatic final reduction, to a still far-from-paltry 364 entries1 is achieved by the further specifying “medical humanities” as an additional search term. So why all the fuss?
The source of the popularity of the bald notion of a “core curriculum” is something on which one can perhaps only speculate, but it seems plausible to suppose that common agreement on exactly what must be covered in the study of a particular subject at a particular level would offer security and reassurance to student, teacher and curriculum designer alike. If these attractions can be bought at a reasonable price then they will seem decisive and will be loudly proclaimed; if they cannot then there will be great debate about their value in the face of that price, and they will garner if anything still more column inches of published attention.
We will come to the question of the “reasonable price” shortly, but first let us notice that security and reassurance in the matter of curriculum design might seem overwhelmingly desirable to any area of study that is not yet established, is far from maturity, endures the full range of adverse external reactions from the bemusedly bored to the scathingly hostile, and is prone to disagreement about its nature, extent, goals and methods …