In my last civic issues post, I analyzed whether the problem with the current state of general education is students’ fault and concluded that their mindset is part of the reason that they the classes are not as beneficial as they should be. While their mindsets put them into these situations, what about the situations themselves?
Is there something that professors or administrators could be doing to make general education more tolerable and productive?
If you look at all of the courses that Penn State mandates all of its students to take, you’ll find one of the most comprehensive lists of core requirements. In order to graduate, every student will have to be educated in science, math, humanities, among other subjects. There is much to be gained from taking these courses in creating well-rounded and globally aware graduates. However, how this process is forced upon students is far from the humble beginnings of holistic education in medieval Europe.
There is a reason that students seek out easy professors and courses to fulfill their gen ed requirements. It isn’t pure laziness; it’s a matter of efficiency and conservation of resources.
Why undertake a stressful chemistry class to fulfill a science credit when you can opt for a less intensive online class in astronomy?
Compared to other schools, Penn State does a great job of providing diverse opportunities for students to fulfill their core requirements given the assortment of classes available and online assets with the World Campus. Students at other colleges may be forced into taking those demanding classes simply because they don’t have the resources to provide classes in energy, earth, and the environment or earthquakes’ effects on society.
Still though, the Penn State system is far from perfect. Students still waste precious time and money studying subjects that might not interest or appeal to them.
They have this mentality of just getting by or just completing work because the courses are created as a means to fulfilling a requirement. I think this is where the value of learning is lost.
If we are trying to prepare students to be informed citizens about the world, why are these classes so focused on going through the motions and getting a grade?
Although I won’t take a history class at Penn State, the teacher of my high school class that I used to fulfil my US Culture requirement, APUSH, taught me a similar lesson. With the AP test approaching and the class weeks behind in material, he refused to speed up so that we would be done in time for the exam. Although I remember how annoyed I was that I had to self-teach myself in order to prepare for the exam, him telling my class that his job isn’t to teach us how to take a test but to ensure that we had firm understanding of the process and beauty of history is something I still remember and a standard I hold my current professors to in my head.
This blog post (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-tests-dont-work-students-teachers-mary-ann-slavcheff) outlines all the ways that tests are not accurate assessments of knowledge, which goes along with this theme of being overly focused grades and completion.
The school that I continue to reference in these posts is Brown University because I believe it is an extreme example of what learning can and should be. Part of Brown’s unique academic policy is the option for students to take one class as pass/fail each semester. This flexibility enables students to take on new challenges to explore subjects that might both interest and intimidate them. I think I would be more inclined to take on rigorous gen eds that pique my interest if we had this option at Penn State simply because of the low risk, high reward stakes where the high reward isn’t a grade but rather, enlightenment. Additionally, for overachieving students, it allows a bit of lenience in devoting their time where they can strive to learn and enjoy the material as opposed to going above and beyond to get an A.
Penn State is not Brown and most of the students who go to Brown are attracted by the way it encourages intellectual curiosity while students are drawn here for the breadth of academic opportunities, top-tier STEM and business programs, THON, and one of the most exciting social lives in the country.
However, I think all colleges have something to gain in seeing how they provide classes to students. College is supposed to be hard, but students should also be stimulated to feel like they want to learn and walk away after four years feeling accomplished and educated.