Monday, December 13, 2010

Damn it! What's the point of these Gen Ed classes? (contributor post)

Some ideas regarding UW-Whitewater's required General Education CORE classes....

It seems like the CORE classes to a lot of people are bullshit (and I'm not even just talking about students) and it wouldn't surprise me if most students walk away from them with little, if anything, gained. In a way, I think this is because of the students' lack of imagination and motivation to learn. In another way, I think it is the professors' inability to effectively convey messages and motivate students to think critically about the material brought forward.

A general education professor recently expressed personally to me a concern that the messages of what he teaches in his class get lost for some students. I might be reading too much into that or I might not really know what that message is supposed to be, but regardless, it sounds like a problem, one in which students aren't getting what they are intended to get out of the CORE classes. I mean, those classes are required for a reason, right?? They do serve a purpose by being required, don't they?? I want to get at what that purpose is and remind people of it.

So I think it's time to motivate not only students, but professors as well, to start seeking out the deeper messages behind material taught in these courses, and see these messages as important for all students to receive and understand. I want professors to encourage both a deeper analysis of and a striving to understand course content by getting students to evaluate that content and think about it in the "big picture", and in addition, bring the material back down to the students as individuals and get them involved. This could be doing something as simple as having students relate the events that occurred in Iran in 1953 with events going on now, and discuss leading values held at that time, and how those compare to the values held today, not only of other people in the world, but of the students themselves as well. This type of reflection and building of the self by relating personally to what is being taught is vital to students' understanding of who they are and what they are going to stand for/against not only at UW-Whitewater, but in the world in general.

I want to target the CORE classes because I know every student at Whitewater will be taking them (for the most part). I think the CORE classes should be able to affect the student's world positively by delivering relate-able, applicable, and meaningful messages that can be carried through the rest of his/her college career, if not life in general. When CORE classes are seen as bullshit and pointless, and are just hurried through, graded, and filed away, they become meaningless, for both the professors and the students, and that's pretty sad.

If these CORE classes are going to be a requirement, the students might as well be get something out of them that will remain long-term. And what I want students to get out of them is not just a "well-rounded" education, which is what a lot of people would say students should be getting, but more deeply, an understanding of oneself through the various topics taught/discussed in the CORE classes. I think building students' understanding of themselves through the CORE general education courses will lead students to reflect on themselves and the actions/decisions they make throughout their lives, which will help them develop stable goals for their future and figure out who they want to be in this world.

So now the question is how can this all be done? Well some sort of plan has to be made and I want to get instructors of the general education courses involved. I think most instructors really do care about the students and want the best learning experience for them, so to get instructors to unite and work together on the critical thinking aspect of their courses shouldn't be too much too ask for, but I'm not sure what ways this should be done, and how to get the attention of the professors in a courteous, non-imposing way. The main goal I guess is to reinstate the purpose of these CORE classes by identifying the meanings and overall messages of what is taught. I know they exist!!

Maybe I'm getting in way over my head here or something, but I really believe that if we want to build some credibility for this crummy little university, we need to start at the core... sooo maybe the CORE classes would be a good start? hehe. But seriously, I think if we want to strengthen the overall UW-Whitewater academic community, we need to see the community as a group of individuals, and do something to help better the general education of those individuals, and give them all a reason to want to learn, so they can leave UW-Whitewater with more than just a piece of paper.

This is something I'm really concerned about... I don't want future generations of UWW students coming in feeling that any of their classes, let alone the CORE required classes, are bullshit. I felt this way, and it just made me angry... but now I want to do something about it. So yeah... that's my spiel. Am I crazy or what??


  1. No, you are not crazy. I like your post. I feel exactly the same way and I was there at the creation of the core courses, a very long time ago during the Carter administration. I did not care for them then and I care even less for them today. Perhaps if enough students and faculty raise their voices something may be done. However, given the realities of academic inertia, I have my doubts. My suggestion is that faculty members teaching these courses make them more relevant to current student needs. Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead! By the way the current core courses are over 17 years old.

  2. Why are comments pre-approved. If you do not like them then removed them but stop the pre-approval process.

  3. All comments will be pre-approved just in case someone writes something heinously inappropriate. My guess is that no one will come even close to that, but pre-approval is a common practice to ensure such gross inappropriateness does not happen. Is that wrong?

  4. Relevant to whom? On the basis of what criteria? We will not agree on what's relevant if I think x author is a contemporary voice on a current issue and you dismiss anything written before you were born as, by definition, irrelevant. Yes, I have to make the case that a given reading is relevant, but you have to do the reading to be able to debate with me whether you agree. Faculty do not generally give up without a fight. I would like to see students call each other on student apathy.

  5. You're are definitely not crazy. I find it difficult to stand behind these CORE classes because each is taught differently by professors. There is no common objective, thus resulting in confusion of the students and professors alike. It's frustrating that I could take a CORE class by one professor, work my ass off to get an A, while another student can take the same class merely show up and get an A. The inconsistencies between the material taught and the focuses of these CORE classes results in this unfair grading scheme and ultimately leaves student's believing that taking the "easiest" professor is the best route. The majority of student's see the CORE gen ed classes as a waste of time, money, and effort.

  6. So why do students dislike the core courses? Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of these courses. Here is a new perspective. Newly created programs provide additional resources to departments and thereby enable them to expand and hire new faculty members. Thus, expansion is usually a good thing for departments, especially for smaller departments. Conversely, the elimination or contraction of programs usually result in fewer faculty members! Back during the Carter Administration, faculty members in the College of Letters and Sciences were given a charge by the provost to establish a completely new general education program based on the work of the late Ernest Boyer who was responsible for core course movement across the US. However, after 7 long years of vociferous debate, they could not reach agreement on a new program, so they punted and delegated to departments the sole responsibility of developing their own individual core course based on a set of very broad general objectives. In my opinion this was a serious mistake and led to the development of separate core courses. Faculty members in general do not give a **** about the core courses. They care about their majors and minors. General education has always been the ******* child of the academy. To conclude this rant, core courses were developed as separate courses based on departmental curricular needs and perspectives. The criticisms of the program are valid. Now you have the rest of the story.

  7. According to Huffington Post, these are the most important classes to take during college.

    Do you agree?

  8. The real problem here is not the CORE classes or the faculty, but the reality that most students just don't give a shit about their education. Sure the classes and the faculty have room for improvement (what doesn't), but UWW students seem to view their education here as only job training and try to find classes that are the easiest to boost their GPAs.

    But education here should be about expanding and challenging oneself in variety of areas. Good learning is hard and doesn't always have a salary potential sign attached to it. And students should take more responsibility for their own education (GASP! how could anyone say that?!?!). Whenever they take a class, they should try to maximize their learning like, for instance, actually reading the material, discussing points in class, raising questions, looking alive... Anon 2:32 has a point that cannot be highlighted enough: there is growing student apathy! That is the real problem with our CORE classes. Too much student apathy.

    I admire this post because it seems that this student actually does care about his/her education. But I cannot help but wonder how seriously he/she is taking the classes for the point of the classes to be missed.

  9. Most people get a college degree for job training. This is rational because 1) many job postions exist that require a degree 2) College is expensive enough that there needs to be some financial pay off for the cost, unless you are rich then you can get a degree just because you want too.

    Core classes are based on the idea that there is intrinsic rewards of additional knowledge. Frankly there are no intrinsic rewards to knowledge, but Professors (espcially in the Humanties) are keen to promote that idea because it means there will be more postions for them and said postions will have higher social status.

    The idea of the intrinsic value of knowledge came about in Ancient Greece among the landed and idle ruling class. Aristole belived that only memebers of such an idle class could obtain "understaning" and live the virtues to the fullest. Arisolte acknowledged people who have the work for a living can't devote themselves to pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge because they have to work for a living.

    While we will want to reject many of the classist implications of Aristole's analysis, there is still the fundmental insight that only the rich can aford to obtain knoweldge for the sake of knowledge. And this is why CORE classes are not motivating for students. Simply calling students apathic just because they aren't engaged in the same intellcual subjects as you are is eltist snobbery and name calling that does not adress the underlying economic problems of our current system.

  10. So the conclusion of post 7:AM is that the core courses are just fine. The real problem with these core courses are caused by the apathetic and brain dead zombie students. What a bunch of crap!

  11. I don't think a post like this would come from a student who isn't taking the classes seriously. This student is noting that there are points to be made in classes - like the Iran 1953 example, I'm sure he/she thought about those points regarding past/present human values when the topic was taught to him/her - but those types of critical thoughts/main points don't seem to exist for a lot of other students, and even professors themselves perhaps. It sounds rather that this student understands there is a point to these classes, but because of a lack of concern and a growing mockery of the CORE classes among students and other university members, the point is withering away... I doubt this student would even create this post if he/she felt he/she was missing the point. Obviously the student is aware that there is a point, and just because the he/she is realizing that the point isn't being conveyed, by noting that at times it seems students and even faculty don't give a crap, doesn't mean this student is missing the point him/herself. There should be one, universal objective that these core courses should be aiming towards - and students should be asking "Why are we learning this?" and "Whats the point?" and "Why should I care about this information being taught?", yet it should not necessarily be that students have to just come up with answers to these questions themselves... sometimes students need a little guidance, and when professors/faculty members fail to deliver that guidance in lectures, etc., then what?? Yes the point is going to ultimately be left up to the students, but what this particular student appears to be trying to say is that he/she does see a point - a point that is generally getting missed by others. Maybe one needs to read this post more than once to see that. The title of the post is not merely an opening to a rant, but an addressing of a question, followed by an answer.

  12. So what are we going to do about it except complain and whine instead of making the best of the situation and then moving on to the next level. Do not lose sight of the fact that you attend Whitewater, not Harvard, Yale, or some other prestigious and selective institution. If some of the core courses are crummy then reach out and pick up a book and read on your own, or is this too difficult? With all of the information out there now you can just about educate yourself on any subject!

  13. Ok, so what does "Do not lose sight of the fact that you attend Whitewater, not Harvard, Yale, or some other prestigious and selective institution" mean?

    I mean, seriously, what does that mean?!?!?!? Are you implying that the faculty here are just schmucks? Are you implying that the workload is so high here that we shouldn't expect excellence in our teaching and courses? In fact, the more I think about that last comment, the more offended I am.

    Does UW-Whitewater = bullshit education?!?!?!?

    If so, I might have to look elsewhere to teach instead of at this loser institution.

  14. So is it worth it in the long run to attend a more prestigious and elite institution? It depends!

    New piece in the NY Times:

  15. The CORE classes do have some value. As much as I do actually dislike having to sit through these classes that I may be uninterested in, most teachers start out by addressing that these courses are primarily for teaching students to think critically and teach essential skills like reading apprehension. Despite the fact that it is true that each professor will emphasize different elements in each subject, most of the critical skills will still be worked. I think the biggest reason students don't take these classes seriously is because they are labeled as "required" and "general" and this immediately turns most students attention away. A lot of students don't realize that school ended in high school and this is actually our job, and even those who do realize this still just want to try and slack and have fun with their friends during these four years that they have been told are "the best four years" of their lives. So it isn't just the courses themselves but the mindsets of the students coming in that have been shaped by previous causes or conditions. I, personally, would rather not take these courses and focus on what my major is, but I still value the learning I receive from them.

  16. I go to UW-Milwaukee, and I think it's absolute bull that I have to take 45 credits of gen ed crap. I go there to take theatre and education classes, not to take classes that have nothing to do with my major.