Ad Hoc General Education Committee

Thoughts on the Open Meeting

Written By: Robert Wolff - Oct• 31•11

Posted for Gil Gigliotti (Department of English). Written in response to the open meeting on October 27.

Maybe what we need to do is not revise the gen ed program at all (as I have said all along, and, as Abigail Adams [Department of Anthropology] stated yesterday); any list of categories will be viewed by students as a check-list/Chinese menu, no matter how well conceived and designed the program may be.  But even that is not that big of a deal, in my opinion.

Maybe what needs to change more fundamentally is the teaching of gen ed classes.  In other words, if I’m teaching a gen ed class in antebellum American literature, it should be imperative that I not teach just the material that a major needs to know in preparation for further, deeper, study of American literature, but rather I should teach its inter-connection with a whole bunch of other trends/ideas/issues (literary or not) that offer insight into a much bigger picture that an educated person should be able to understand.  Thus, my gen ed lit class becomes not just an “English” class, but manifestly (i.e., clearly stated in both the syllabus and during class periods) a class in using literature to understand that big picture.

In this framework, understand, maybe Eng 210, a requirement for English majors, shouldn’t — or even can’t — be a gen ed class at all.

Maybe this has been obvious to everyone else, and I’ve just been missing the boat all these years…a very great possibility.  But, if conceived this way, no matter what the gen ed requirement is, gen ed becomes much more than just a bunch of discrete classes.  It may still not amount to a “program,” but it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

My two cents.

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One Comment

  1. Gil’s approach would help address one of the real problems, which I misstated in my post on “Initial Ideas” thread yesterday. It’s not that the current Gen Ed program “doesn’t work” for our students, but that they (and we, really) don’t see it fitting together into any useful or even vaguely coherent whole. Too many feel like it is a waste of time and, importantly, of money — a key issue for our undergraduates that we might also consider addressing.

    I still think more student choice and flexibility could help this combined problem of coherence and relevance, but a department-by-department reconceptualization of what courses we want to be “Gen Ed” and to develop a more useful and clear division of goals and approaches for both majors and non-majors sounds like a good start, too. And one that might be more popular among a wider range of departments.

    Also, I read this article in today’s Chronicle on the purposes and benefits of “scientific literacy” that argues a similar perspective for science education:

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