General education classes-Too general?

Some interesting points were raised in class last week regarding specialty general education classes. For example, instead of a general English and writing class, in some disciplines, freshman can satisfy a general education (here on referred to as “GE”) requirement with a “technical writing for engineers” course.  Many feel that this is helpful in providing skills that may be more useful to an undergraduate in their field.  However, I wonder how “general education” it is if we end up tailoring it to each discipline.  Like most undergraduates, there were a great deal of GE credits that I felt were unnecessary and I found difficult to find relative to my own career.  However, I feel that your undergraduate career, especially those GE requirements most people get out of the way their first and second years are super important.  First, they build a foundational knowledge that sort of puts people on the same page.  No matter what backgrounds students come from, they are all exposed to basic writing, math, and science credits that are more about acquiring basic skills in these disciplines than anything else.  Additionally, from a social perspective, these courses force student from all disciplines to interact.  And in the most basic sense, these GE courses are so important for helping students to decide what their chosen discipline might be.  It seems more and more these days, students are trained to have college courses under their belt and careers picked before they graduate high school.  But so much changes when you go to college both socially and intellectually that giving students exposure to different disciplines may make them realize they want to do something different.  I do understand the desire for GE requirements that tailor to a given field but I don’t think these are then GE courses.  I don’t know that I have a great idea regarding how to make GE courses more relevant to each individual student without losing their “Gen edness”, but Dean DePauw made a good point about how potentially rather than the disciplines trying to host their own GE courses, why aren’t the GE courses attempting to provide some diversity of discipline in their work.  Instead of a “technical writing for engineers” put on by the engineering department, how about a “multi-disciplinary writing course” put on by the English department to address not only basic writing skills but also some of the differences in technical writing as well.

2 thoughts on “General education classes-Too general?”

  1. Thanks for the post; you have some great points. I also tend to side more with the traditional GE classes rather than tailoring them to specific disciplines for many of the same reasons. In addition, there are a lot of disciplines out there! If you have a writing for engineers class, then it would also make sense to have writing for scientists, writing for pre-law, etc., which would get out of hand. I also wonder, even though this would not necessarily be the case, if these alternative classes would then become “easier” versions of the traditional class. In addition, I feel that my many English literature and writing classes over the years have helped me tremendously with the writing I do for my Ph.D. program, which is in hydrology, well outside of the humanities. I agree that it would have been helpful for English classes at some point to have presented “scientific writing,” for example, to prepare me for how I am now expected to write. However, I am a much better writer in my discipline specifically because of all the English classes I have endured throughout my life.

  2. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of structuring classes focused on a particular group of people, but I’ve always hated the terminology for some of these classes. I know I’m being super picky, I’ve heard of classes called “Math for the Social Sciences” or “English for Math Majors.” I think even just naming the classes this way facilitates disciplinary and silo-ed thinking when it comes to academics, as well as risks stereotyping certain majors as being weak n a particular domain. For example, at my school, everyone knew that “Math for the Social Sciences” was a lot easier than other Math classes, but many of us Social Scientists are actually strong in Maths. I realize this is just a matter of semantics, but can we at least think of better names for some of these classes?

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