There are deep reasons for despising general education requirements. Their necessity in university curricula testifies to what’s wrong with our country and to the ongoing failure of our educational institutions.
Gen eds are just a repeat of everything you learned, or should have learned, in high school. The increase of gen eds, which devour college students’ time and money, is an inverse function of the quality of American high school education.
The root of all this evil is the bogus American belief that if you don’t go to college, you have less value as a person. This makes the duty of colleges to create well-rounded citizens whose education can help them benefit society. But it should be a high school diploma, not a college degree, that accomplishes this task.
This shift of responsibility causes the first two years of college, at least, to be wasted taking required general classes, which reduces the amount of time the student spends on his or her actual field of study and most likely damages credentials if he or she is forced to take classes rather than putting effort into freely chosen ones.
For example, my roommate is a new media student, but loves physics. He is taking classical mechanics of his own liberty. It’s a tall order, but he works hard and is doing well because he’s genuinely interested in the subject. On the other hand, as a history student, I had to take Intro to Computer Programming for a math requirement, and it dealt a heavy blow to my GPA.
Gen eds are expensive and distracting. Instead, how about we pay only for courses relevant to our fields? Just imagine how much better engineers, artists and ecologists we could become if we had four full years devoted to such pursuits.
Another painful byproduct of this is manifested in our Honors College. Rather than a chance for passionate students to collaborate and explore the intellectual history of Western civilization, it’s treated as an all-in-one package for anyone wishing to dispose of most of his or her gen eds. The result is that the program is filled with unmotivated people who couldn’t care less about Machiavelli or Aristotle. Most don’t read the material and whine when the weekly lectures are more than mere summaries of what they should have already read. Thus the quality of both the lectures and of the curriculum plummets to the level of its disinterested enrollees. Someone volunteering to take Honors courses will do much better than someone taking them merely to get gen eds out of the way.
Now think about future teachers. They already waste valuable time in our joke of a College of Education. Add gen eds to their schedules and they end up in front of classrooms with a tenuous grasp on the material they are supposed to teach because of the tragically diminished amount of time spent learning it.
Now you see the vicious cycle, and our high schools are to blame. No longer the traditional means of training citizens, they have become mere steppingstones to college, where, sadly, a real education begins. They teach to the test and the college track, rather than preparing us for the real world that would be entered after high school graduation.
My friend James Brophy said it best: “It’s perfectly fine to aspire to being a mechanic as long as you’re a damn good one. The American myth of every kid becoming a university graduate and a doctor is doing our country more harm than good.”
College should be treated as optional, not necessary. Germany is already a working model of this superior system. There, a much smaller percentage attends college, while many others go into technical training to become a respected class of professionals.
Keep gen eds in high school, and let us have our majors back.
Jeremy Swist is a junior history and Latin student.