Organic Gen Ed

General education – may I ask what the point is?

In my short lifetime, I have taken gen ed classes. I enjoyed them, for the most part. But, if I were to go to college, would I particularly like to spend two of my four years studying requirements that 85% of the time have absolutely no relevancy to my chosen major? Not really.

However, colleges, and many people who attend them, seem to consider gen eds worthwhile, correct? Why is this, I wonder?

Some of the justifications I hear most often:

1. Gen eds prepare you for the upper-level courses in your chosen major
2. Gen eds help you figure out what you might like to major in
3. Gen eds give you a well-rounded education by exposing you to subjects you might not have had an opportunity to learn about otherwise

I would like to take this blog entry to question these beliefs which are strongly held by a great number of people. And if, at the end of this entry, you have any more thoughts on Gen eds, please let me know what they are; and I would love to do a second post addressing these things.

Gen eds prepare you for the upper-level courses in your chosen major.

I can see one big flaw in this argument – shouldn’t the skills for your chosen major be known already at the beginning of college? Why must essential things like writing a paper or doing math be re-learned or learned at this great and elite “college level”, when the average person already spent 12 years and the majority of every day in an institution where such “special skills” could and should have already been taught?

(And, if a person was homeschooled: I do believe , if college was in the agenda, that person is equally capable of learning the skills necessary for writing a college paper and/or doing college math on their own, or with the guidance of outside classes.)

Gen eds help you figure out what you might like to major in.

Surely there is nothing wrong with this, right? Well…

This goes back to something I’ve said a number of times: why would a person go to college if he or she does not know what you want to major in? What is the point? They are doing nobody a favor by spending tons of their money (well, except those who receive the money, of course) while aimlessly meandering about the schoolwork, head down, not having enough time to even think about what they want out of life.

Need anything else be said on that?

Gen eds give you a well-rounded education by exposing you to subjects you might not have had an opportunity to learn about otherwise.

And why not?

For one, the most obvious cause – being stuck in college for four years. I apologize if I offend anyone with my frankness.

I would just like to ask: how does anybody know that a person would not be exposed or be self-motivated to study new and different subjects in-depth? I simply feel like this is a weak argument for gen ed. Life is full of inspiration for new interests, and tools and opportunities to pursue those interests. That is what is the primary function of an autodidact, and (I hope) of adults as they go through their normal lives… “real life.”

Being inspired and pursuing inspiration made up my “schooling” as a homeschooler. I really needed no such general education in order to broaden my horizons; in fact, now I get a little frustrated occasionally, as I feel my horizons are a little too broad at this point in my life!

Here are a few examples:

1. I was inspired to write because of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote the Little House books, incase anybody was a little clueless about that. 🙂 I wanted to be her – I wanted to write, and tell stories, and also have a record of my life that someone would find after I died and turn into a book series and a television show starring Melissa Gilbert. I’ve been writing ever since I was able to form words on the paper, and in my teenage years I have conducted numerous studies of writing and still continue to write (hence, largely, this blog).

2. I was inspired by coming across the television show “The Dog Whisperer” at one point, seeing how Cesar Millan formed a pack of dogs using his knowledge of the origins of canine behavior. At first I was just interested in dogs, but that branched off into a very large obsession with wolves. I have now read extensively about them, and have two internships planned for the near future at a couple of fantastic wolf refuges.

3. Probably the biggest jump I made from the point of being inspired till the peak of intense study is exercise science. It all started while watching the Winter Olympics in February 2006. Developing a slight crush on figure skater Johnny Weir, I watched all his events; and, after the Olympics, started to watch figure skating more. There were little blips on the skaters during these events, in which they often talked about the training and cross training they put into their sports. I had just started swimming a few months before, and I had a brainstorm that I could cross train myself to become a better swimmer. This grew into watching Fit TV very frequently, along with getting many exercise science, workout, nutrition, etc., books from the library. While I don’t study it as intensely as I did at that certain point of my life, the knowledge continues to carry over into whatever I am doing, and I have not completely ruled out becoming a personal trainer one of these days.

And those are just a few examples from my own short life so far.

Perhaps now I have you asking, “what IS the point of Gen eds?” along with me.

But, if I don’t, please tell me: why are Gen eds important? What purpose, in the long run, do they hold? Wouldn’t you rather have the extra time to “study” other interests on your own than be forced to take two years full of certain types of classes, taught in a certain kind of way? Why can’t I just go to college and concentrate on my major?



8 responses to “Organic Gen Ed

  1. I used to sort of think gen ed was important, for reason #3: I thought they made people more “well-rounded” and generally worldly. The reason I believed that was that I’d seen so many people who, after 13 years of being dragged through school, had lost the will to learn. I was pretty horrified by people who took no interest in the workings of their bodies, their countries, their souls, or the universe at large. Part of me desperately wanted to see these people learn this stuff so I wouldn’t have to share the world with a bunch of blind idiots. Those are harsh words, but that’s what I thought at the time.

    Now that I’ve had time to step away from college (and to spend more time around unschoolers!) I see it very differently. I realized that several big things in my life allowed me to get more out of those gen ed classes than my classmates did: 1) I was unschooled during my “high school” years, 2) I was in college of my own free will, and 3) my love of learning had never been squashed. So I’d be totally fascinated by some handout the teacher gave us while everyone else whined about whether it would be on the test. And even then, the only interests college *started* for me came from elective courses (music history, canoeing, sign language). College didn’t make me care about the world; I cared before I got there. I can’t imagine it would make someone care who didn’t before. If anything, it’s just more years of feeling that you’re not in the world yet and there’s no point in caring until you graduate.

    Now I think the only thing that makes people well-rounded is to see the world whole, instead of divided into “gonna be on the test” and “stuff I don’t have to know”.

  2. That’s awesome! I would encourage you to look at becoming a personal trainer one day. I made that decision over 15 years ago, leaving a good paying corporate job, and have never looked back. There’s no comparision when you’re doing something you’re passionate about. I can’t see myself doing anything else now. There’s few greater rewards than knowing you’re helping people.

  3. Well, I have to disagree with you. I look at Gen-Ed courses in a totally different light than you are. Last year, I thought the same thing. Why am I learning this, I’ m never going to use it. However, I changed my views. Why not learn it? There’s nothing wrong with expanding your knowledge. Why not take advantage of it? You say you’re a self learner….so why not take advantage of being able to learn from a teacher who’s studied their field in depth? I don’t look at gen eds as pointless classes not related to my field…in fact, I try to apply my field to what I’m learning in my gen ed classes. You can learn this information on your own, sure. But without a live person to sit and ask questions to. Wake Tech teachers, from my experience, have been very different from a university level instructor. Our teachers take time to get to know us, always answer our questions, and explain what they know in terms and examples that we can understand it. I guess I look at college in a different light, though…I look at it as a priviledge to learn more than I can through books. This way I can have someone to ask questions to…and if they don’t know the answer, 9 times out of 10 they’ll find out for me.

  4. I am an education major and sometimes wish more colleges had a greater emphasis on gen eds for future teachers. The focus in most education programs is not so much knowing something, but being able to teach it. Many of my classmates are relieved that they don’t have to take a hard math or science class that they’d never be able to pass. Instead they can take Math for Elementary Teachers or Integrating Science in the Classroom.

    I do understand gen eds seeming pointless for other majors, but there are a few where they are really important.

  5. This post describes the exact reason I refuse to go to college – it’s a waste of my time, money, and passion. In the two years that I have unschooled I have learned so much about many different subjects that I would never be exposed to in school. College might spark interest in new things, but so does going to the library or reading a variety of blogs. I don’t see how restudying calculus and social studies will help me with sustainable agriculture (what I would major in, if I were to go).

    The usefulness of gen. ed. relies on a person’s definition of what everyone should know. I think that if this certain knowledge cannot be acquired naturally and must be taught, than maybe it’s not so important to know.

  6. It’s true that gen ed courses teach a lot of things that the students should already know before they go to college. In many other countries like Britain and Germany, university students only take courses in their major. It takes three years to get a bachelor’s. This means that a student in Europe has had the chance to take more courses in their major than would be the case in the US, and they finish a year sooner. Hopefully, American colleges will one day see that gen ed courses are unnecessary, but with the amount of money they bring in, it probably won’t be anytine soon.

  7. The gen ed course are requirements at most schools because most colleges and university in the US are liberal arts based . Their goal of higher education is to create a wide base of general knowledge as well as developing critical thinking skills. The specialization is not the point.

  8. Amy: thanks for the comment! Yes, I see your point. However, liberal-arts-based colleges and universities are practically the only ways to get degrees in the US. In other countries, such as England, university programs are more concentrated on the specialization to ensure maximum success in that area; and, frankly, I believe that most students would rather take less time in order to specialize in the primary thing they are interested in, and use their extra time to widen their knowledge base in other ways than colleges can provide. And that is the point of this blog entry.

    Oh, by the way, if you are interested in learning more about college alternatives in the US that help you give yourself a specialized higher education, check out Zero Tuition College:

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