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Thread: Should universities require general education courses?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    The real world.

    Default Should universities require general education courses?

    Before I get started, I want to give a full throated acknowledgement that general education courses are certainly useful and serve a purpose. I don't think any rational person is going to argue that being a well rounded student who knows a fair amount of knowledge about a wide variety of disciplines is a bad thing. I don't think any rational person is going to argue that just because you study art history as your major, that won't mean that knowing how to do calculus or understanding basic Spanish doesn't have a chance at coming in handy at some point. I'm also well aware of the fact that general education courses often help students find what they truly want to do if they're undecided and might possibly aid them in finding something they like better. I think all these things are both good and wonderful, but I still disagree that they should be requirements.

    I'll begin by saying that while it's great to have a society populated with well rounded citizens, this ignores the primary function of university. Most people don't attend with the intent to become well rounded participants of the country they live in or for the love of learning itself. They attend because college is widely seen as the best chance of escaping poverty. Hardly anyone I know has told me "I want to go to college to expand my horizons" but nearly everyone I know has said something a long the lines of "I want to go to college because I don't want to be doomed to retail for the rest of my life." I don't think there should be any question that university is primarily about social mobility.

    With that said, I don't think it's fair for students that know what they want to do and precisely where their passions lie to be forced to take courses that aren't pursuant to their major. A computer science major is going to get very little practical usage out of what he remembers from classical literature, likewise someone who shows talent and aptitude in the field of journalism is very unlikely to have to understand calculus. I also believe that general education courses discourage students who would otherwise be remarkable candidates for their field of choice but may severely struggle in a specific area. For example, a student's entire GPA is likely to suffer if they're spending the majority of their time and resources just trying to get a C in applied physics or chemistry. Add in the fact that depending on which university you attend, the price tag of completing all your general education courses can very well be in excess of 20,000 dollars and you're likely to forget the majority of the material you learned after several years of working in your career anyway, it seems especially outrageous. Yet another problem with requiring general education courses is that it forces students to study subjects they have no interest in, which inevitably leads to people simply showing up to get a grade and not actually retain the material. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that three-fifths of college students earn C's or worse in general education courses:

    Assuming you do get excellent marks, the chances of you retaining information about a subject that you never wanted to learn about are very slim. I think general education courses should just be required for students who specifically have undeclared as their major. If you're really undecided about what you want to do, there are plenty of no credit online courses that you can take. I've taken a few on future learn myself and have gained a lot from it. All of this doesn't even factor in for the vast amount of students who have learning disabilities that impair their capacity to function in specific areas, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, etc.

    What say ye? Ultimately, if you really want to persuade me I need you to make the case that general education courses aren't just useful, but so necessary as to be mandatory. The way I see it, something being useful isn't enough to be mandatory. Pretty much all knowledge no matter how seemingly mundane is useful or potentially useful. I can't think of many situations where knowing something would be less advantageous than not knowing something, but out of all the useful knowledge out there it ultimately falls upon us to decide what's in our greatest interest to know, especially if we're paying for it. Perhaps I would be more partial to the opposing side if university was really about creating a better society, but especially in the U.S. it seems, they're essentially just giant profit centers. You can't make the argument that its purpose is about raising the bar for everyone when society at large treats it like just another luxury product to be bought and sold. That being the case and I'm paying the bill, fuck you and get out of my way, yeah?
    Last edited by Baba Yaga; 22nd July 2016 at 5:07 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Wherever the adventure lies


    I think there does need to be more flexibility when it comes to general education. In fact, I think there should even be more flexibility at the high school level. Even at the high school level you have a good idea of what areas you like and which you don't. I knew by around 10th grade that I was better suited to the hard sciences and to a lesser degree social sciences than the arts, so I had an idea where my future career was.

    That being said, I think part of the problem with some areas of study is what they're teaching, not how long it's required. Literature is probably one of the worst offenders, they spend way too much time trying to make you memorize specific books, when there's no real use for them in everyday life. I've learned more about literature from 3 years of TV Tropes than from 12 years of English class, and I think that's closer to what English should be like, it should teach you how to analyze any kind of work you encounter and the mechanics used in literature. And English in general didn't really do a good job of teaching me how to write until I got into college level rhetoric. Gym is another one, there's too much time spent learning how to play sports and not enough on teaching proper exercise techniques and general health. I think the education system needs a major overhaul, it's not just limited to how general education is handled.
    Last edited by Bolt the Cat; 22nd July 2016 at 10:46 PM.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    California, USA


    Personally I think the 60 units needed to transfer to a university rule is pretty pointless to be completely honest. I understand that there are basic skills that every person should have regardless of job field but I can say with honesty that more then half of these so called general education classes I've taken were beyond pointless. I myself didn't know until fairly recently what I wanted to do but I knew for a fact what I didn't want to do and because of these required courses, my GPA has suffered greatly taking classes that I should of never been forced to take.
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