Historically, a liberal arts college is built upon crucial differences between itself and polytechnic or trade schools that prepare students for specific jobs. The liberal arts provide an education based on a broad variety of topics that allow career mobility. A degree from such an institution yields much more than a diploma: it shows experience in fields other than the major specified with the degree. This is what makes liberal arts schools such as Connecticut College so great. They give opportunities that one could not easily find at Harley Davidson Mechanical School.
However, many of these schools’ missions are often bogged down by General Education requirements. Mandating students to take classes in specific disciplines curtails the freedoms that are supposedly inherent to a liberal arts education. While there are benefits to such a system, I believe it is flawed and calls for immediate abolition.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a true Renaissance man; he was educated in everything from medicine to theology. He was most definitely one of the smartest men in our history. His goal to know a little bit about everything seems to be what our General Education requirements are founded on. For him, there was no real need to narrowly study one specific discipline.
As we move ahead in history, closer to our own time, we notice a shift in this broad education to a much more focused approach. Take for example Einstein, who studied at Zurich Polytechnic Institute with a focus in math and physics. In the same vein, colleges and universities model their systems to culminate in a major or minor. The intention of this system is for students to become experts in their specific fields. It simply makes more sense: when would doctors need to know Shakespeare?
Of course, our General Education requirements at Conn are not long, arduous studies. We may have to take a couple classes outside of our comfort zones and we deal with it. But that does not mean that we should be forced to put up with it. We have all heard the story of a student taking a class that they never would have taken without being pressed by Gen Ed requirements, falling in love with the area of study and deciding to major in the subject. I do not doubt the validity of these stories, but it is highly unlikely for the majority of students. I am of the opinion that a student would not take a class far outside of his or her comfort zone if given a choice. If mandated to do so by General Education requirements, they will take the easiest, safest course possible. This explains the popularity of the Logic class in the philosophy department. It fulfills the math requirement for students that prefer the humanities. I have never heard of an English major who took Calculus over any softer math option when needed.
Overall, General Education requirements are an unnecessary burden on our school’s students. Finishing that last, pesky Gen Ed is something students celebrate. Yes, exploring other fields might give them valuable insight into their own areas of specialty. However, Gen Eds are only piling extra work on students who would rather be focusing on what they can learn within their chosen major. This is also a burden on our professors, who likely find it challenging to teach students who would rather not be there. The classes that look boring or monotonous in the course catalog typically end up that way because they are full of students who are there only because it is required of them. More importantly, we are forgetting that students have already gotten a “general education”. It’s called high school: you know, the place where they make you take math, science, English and history no matter what.
Based on how difficult it is to get into Conn in the first place, it should be generally assumed that we all did fairly well in these courses. I am no math fan, but I did take AP Calculus. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to prove that I could hold my own alongside students who actually like math. We do not come to college to broaden our knowledge of everything, even if this is a nice thing to do. College is for gaining real life experience, growth and interest in something that matters to us. Though General Education requirements may help us find that passion, it is not always the case.
Perhaps a compromise can be reached on General Education requirements. It is necessary to create an education system that is not tied up with bureaucratic tape and erroneous requirements. Other top institutions such as Brown and Amherst have already successfully turned to a Gen Ed-free model. A broad approach to learning is a good approach but directives like General Education classes are not the way to go about it. The administration could pursue offering more diverse classes within a major or classes in one department taught by the professor of another. I am listing these off the top of my head and they already seem like better ideas. Let’s take a democratic approach and abolish them altogether. •