What the GEC? A Liberal Arts Education

4 Apr

Last night, I spent some extra hours on campus proctoring the GEC Exit Exam. It is a test that we give to our graduating seniors to see if they learned what we taught them in the General Education Core (GEC). As I read from a canned speech, we have taught them “a particular set of skills.” I really wanted to say that in a Liam Neeson voice.Liam Neeson

After reading the canned script, I told them what I really wanted to say. We are a Liberal Arts university and want them to leave with a well-rounded education. While being trained for a job is important, we believe that being exposed to different theories and ideas is what higher education is all about.

That is why the GEC is filled with History classes that cover Benjamin Harrison’s presidency and the Ming Dynasty. That is why it is filled with English classes where they read Shakespeare and Twain. Students often wonder why they have to take those classes and end their careers taking this GEC test. It is because we want them to know more than how to do their jobs. We want them to know about the world.

Sometimes, I fear that universities are becoming trade schools rather than bastions of higher education. Think about those words for a second. Higher education. It is great to get training to be successful in a profession. However, it is greater to be taught to think on a higher plane. That is what higher education and Liberal Arts is all about. It is about helping people to be open-minded toward ideas that are different from their own.

Open-mindedness is something that we are missing in the modern world. Heck, it may have always been missing. This makes me think about the politics of the realm in which we live. People are not willing to understand the arguments of the other side. I am not just talking about people who are conservative. I think people who have a liberal mindset are just as close-minded. Neither side is willing to concede that the other side may have some valid arguments and concerns. Let us just shut them off and yell at them.

Truly open-minded people listen to the other side. They may not agree, but, at least, they make an attempt to understand it. To me, that is what a Liberal Arts education is all about. It exposes people to different ideas and helps them understand that there things out there other than what their parents, their preachers and their teachers have told them.

It is a big world, and we need to do everything we can to understand it.

Today, I taught History to a room full of freshmen. Many of them did not seem very interested. By the time they get to the GEC Exit Exam, I hope they have realized that History, English, Philosophy, Sociology and all the other stuff were not wastes of time. They were essential to help them become something more than a job-holder. They made them an educated person.


17 Responses to “What the GEC? A Liberal Arts Education”

  1. javaj240 April 4, 2014 at 05:54 #

    I could not agree with you more!

    I have been working on and, frankly, struggling with a piece that began as something altogether different, but has morphed into being about something that I hold dear — tolerance. I was lucky. I learned this very important analytical skill from my father and honed it through my liberal arts education.

    Having the benefit of such an education and a degree in history taught me not just to regurgitate nformation, but to turn it around and really look at it — from many perspectives and through different lenses. A good liberal arts education is a gift. Unfortunately, it’s gone the way of the hand knitted sweater from Aunt Mabel — underappreciated and unwanted.

    Higher education has changed. Education, for education’s sake, has gone the way of the dinosaur. I blame the Republicans! No. I don’t. I place the blame more on the fact that we have become a country that has placed a premium on and measures all success based solely on a market economy model.

    There is fierce competition for colleges and universities to fill its seats with paying customers and, as such, they must provide an adequate return on investment. Thus, the move toward providing an atmosphere where basic skills are more highly valued than original ideas — unless, of course, those ideas can be parlayed into innovative technology.

    Thinking has been replaced by doing. This, I think, puts the cart squarely in front of the horse. Here, in the Technological Age, as in other ages that have come before, we will be judged not only by the things that we managed to produce, but also by the things that we valued.

    Sadly, it may come to pass that we will be found wanting.

    • Rick April 4, 2014 at 13:59 #

      At some point, getting a college degree became more about getting a good job than getting a good education. That’s when universities started down the slope of becoming trade schools. Universities have to bring in money to operate, so they started marketing themselves based on “come here and we can get a job for you.”

      • javaj240 April 4, 2014 at 14:04 #

        Yes. And it’s understandable, but some balance must be struck between the two. It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. Kudos to your university for at least trying, LOL! 🙂

  2. Andrew Petcher April 4, 2014 at 07:49 #

    Good post. I think there are similar issues in the UK. I studied for a history degree (40 years ago) and now people ask ‘what was the point of that?’ My son studied for a history degree (10 years ago) and people ask the same question. I always tell them that people with history degrees are in great demand as researchers! And it is true!

    • Rick April 4, 2014 at 14:01 #

      It is very true. We try to explain the many jobs a history degree can lead you to. The point of learning history is knowing who we are and how we got here.

  3. satanicpanic April 4, 2014 at 14:30 #

    Totally agree. College and a liberal arts degree were gifts. Instead of cutting back, we ought to be thinking about how we could expand some of the things we know about teaching into high school so more people are exposed to critical thinking, logic, historical context. Maybe even some theory (maybe not- theory in the wrong hands can have its own disastrous results). That could be a tough sell though.

    • Rick April 4, 2014 at 14:42 #

      You’re right. We should be expanding. However, universities are cutting back. Universities are redesigning their programs to decrease hours for graduation. More often than not, the Liberal Arts classes take the hit.

  4. Rick July 15, 2015 at 17:26 #

    Reblogged this on SBI: A Thinning Crowd and commented:

    Recently, I heard something that made me think this post should be reblogged.

  5. Marilyn Armstrong July 15, 2015 at 17:38 #

    If it weren’t for the broad education I received, I would never have been able to do the things I’ve done. I am forever grateful to that handful of professors who really cared.

    • Rick July 15, 2015 at 17:45 #

      Too many people think a college degree is all about getting a high-paying job. A real education is more valuable than that.

      • Marilyn Armstrong July 15, 2015 at 19:53 #

        Also, an education is not the same as training for a trade or profession. That was never the intention of a liberal arts education … but that has somehow gotten lost. Sure it’s important to get ones bona fides for the workplace, but it’s also important to learn a bit of history, read some literature. Learn how to think. Understand who we are and where we come from.

        We need thinkers in this society. We are running very lean in the think department.

      • Rick July 16, 2015 at 00:14 #

        I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      • Marilyn Armstrong July 16, 2015 at 02:04 #

        Thanks 🙂

  6. sittingpugs July 15, 2015 at 17:55 #

    Trade schools/programs/courses and bastions of higher education are equally important in sustaining how the majority of people live in this world economically. financially. So, if it takes X degree or certification from Y institution to get Z job, not too many people would throw a hissy fit. Goal-oriented mindsets may not see the value in reading and learning beyond prerequisites any more than process-oriented mindsets see the use in learning something that does not pertain to their journey.

    If Piotr wants to be a landscape architect, no, he shouldn’t have to take a class on how televised sports changed the broadcast TV industry. But, he should have the option to take it for a grade or pass/fail.

    If Marshall has no clue what he wants to do but would sooner eat his own foot than take another life science class, why make him endure it?

    I love learning new ways of thinking (maybe because I think much too much and if one size fits better than another, hooray, one more piece for my mental wardrobe), but, I’ve always cringed and loathed myself for not being better at mastering or demonstrating that I’ve basically understood certain topics. And that negativity easily shifted into not seeing the point of math past trig. I was more concerned about my GPA so i was thrilled i didn’t have to take calculus in high school.

    Gauging whether or not a person got anything from a class or retained any of it surely can be observed in ways other than an exam, a term essay, or a presentation? Now, the education is required for a person who wishes to enter into a field that involves the life-death of animate beings? Then, there should be a grade. No check, check plus, check minus or smiley face, straight face, frownie face.

    • Rick July 15, 2015 at 18:44 #

      I learned a long time ago that they don’t put someone’s GPA on their diploma.

      • sittingpugs July 15, 2015 at 19:02 #

        Nope, but getting into a “good” college was dependent on a high GPA, extracurricular activities beginning in 9th grade (nothing else before counted), a decent SAT score, a convincing applicant essay.

        My entire childhood was a cocoon of must get A’s (and when I didn’t , ooo, things got mentally ugly), must get into a good college, must not annoy authority figures in school.

        I’m very happy to be out of that kind of educational situation — I can’t imagine being a high school student now. Even if I didn’t need to get into a “good” college, I’d still feel like I had to get A’s, do as well as I could on entrance exams, save an animal species, start my own company, invent something that has been patented, and have been building web sites since puberty.”

        I was one of those kids who thought getting a B- warranted self-disdain. Completely self-imposed. I outgrew it …luckily.


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