Our names are Donn Garby and Naheel Naber, two students in the College of Education (doctoral and master level respectively) at Rowan University. We recently read an opinion article that The Whit published speaking on general education and how the courses are a waste of time and money—an article that truly upset us. Recognizing that the author wrote this from her perspective and experiences, the two of us can infer that we do not share the same epistemological framework as the author. This is not to say that the author is “wrong,” but rather looks at the idea of general education through a different lens and seems to view it at a surface-level gaze.
General education is designed to create a “well-rounded” student who possesses the ability to develop and sharpen their critical thinking, effective communication and multi-foundational problem solving skills. As we know, the P-12 system is not equitable in this country, and general education allows for students to learn transferable skills that will be utilized in future coursework and their professional careers. The author mentions that employers nowadays prefer to hire prospective employees who “fit their [the company’s] specific needs” rather than employees who are “well-rounded and able to wear multiple hats” (Clevenger, p 8). Recent research, though, implies that the idea of “specific needs” employment is outdated and an idea of the past. A study from 2010 shows that employers are looking for recent college-graduates with skills such as communication, analytical/research, multicultural sensitivity, problem-solving, creativity and interpersonal abilities (Hansen & Hansen, 2010). If we do decide to look at this through a “business” lens much like the author did, general education courses offer additional knowledge that students can utilize in future courses and in the workforce. For example, a course in world religion may allow a marketing or business student to understand the cultural needs of marketing religion and what may work for that community. This type of liberal arts curriculum allows the student to become more competent employees which in turn will help them find future success in their careers.
In addition to building skills for the workforce, general education provides an opportunity for students to develop multicultural competence and appreciation for varying perspectives and experiences. Through general education courses, students become exposed to and are able to engage in interdisciplinary methods, thoughts, and theories. Encouraging students to step out of their own discipline enables them to connect with students of different backgrounds, beliefs, opinions and ideas than their own. The accepted purpose of a traditional higher education experience is to expand the intellectual thought of students; whereas, education that “fits specific needs” and is more of a training is viewed as the purpose of vocational education. Both post-secondary options are legitimate and necessary in society, but serve different purposes.
This is a conversation that is consistently debated in the realm of higher education. The basic understanding, though, is that a general education curriculum creates a foundation for students’ success in areas that are both directly and indirectly related to their field of study. Faculty and staff at all institutions, and from every discipline, come together to ensure that the content in the general education curriculum covers an interdisciplinary focus and are beneficial to every student on their campus.
It is imperative that we re-shift society’s purpose of higher education to place value on the power of education as a whole rather than the current emphasis on education for the job search. The debate on the benefits of general education will continue as long as higher education is viewed through a business mindset, but we hope that the author of the article now has a new lens through which to view it.
Donn Garby and Naheel Naber
Clevenger, G. (2019). Clevenger: General education classes are a waste of time and money. The Whit, pg.8.
Hansen, R. S., & Hansen, K. (2010). What do employers really want? Top skills and values employers seek from job-seekers. Quintessential Careers, pg. 1-12.
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