Is General Education Higher Education?

Article excerpt

When the time comes for students to choose a course or instructors to create a syllabus, they find that their academic freedom is quite circumscribed: there are requirements to fulfill and guidelines to follow. This restriction is particularly evident in case of courses that fulfill the so-called General Education requirement.

Students can choose which classes that they wish to take, yet they must take one or two courses from each predetermined category (humanities, social sciences, and so on). Further, courses offered in each category are often very limited in number and, more importantly, unlimited in scope. For example, an introductory humanities course that satisfies the General Education requirement is a mechanical survey of topics within the field that are deemed necessary for general culture. Consequently, students are overwhelmed with a mind-boggling heap of information that they tend to forget the moment they step out of the classroom, whereas the instructor, however experienced and accomplished, may well be entirely at a loss as to, first, how to organize such an extensive course in only one semester, and second, how to keep students from daydreaming (or literally dreaming). Instructors can choose what and how they wish to teach, but only if they follow predetermined guidelines that specify which goals must be achieved for the course to be deemed successful (and, one hopes, useful). Hardly anyone worries about the fact that, as a result of limitations imposed by the framework of general education, students and professors are numbed into fulfilling requirements and are often personally detached from the process of learning/teaching: they consider it their duty, not an opportunity for exciting exploration of a given topic. …