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What is a general education?

Recently, The  Chronicle of Higher Ed has been addressing the issue of general education. It’s a term we often use to describe the “balanced-diet”  of coursework— a little math, a little literature, some science, and a healthy dose of multicultural studies. And the purpose of this diet is to provide students with all the intellectual nutrition they need to be productive adults. But what does that really mean? Does it mean we are providing students with the basic information of each discipline? Sure, that’s part of it; we feel educated people ought to have a passing familiarity with The Canterbury Tales, the Civil War, or atomic structure.

But  a college education is about more than scattered information. It’s about what David Glenn at The Chronicle calls a set of “deep and flexible skills”  like communication skills, critical thinking, self-awareness, as well as historical and cultural perspective. As the instructors responsible for this general education, we should have a clear idea of what the general education learning goals are. We should also be able to communicate these goals to our students and help them see the connection between the work done in your class, the work done in other classes, and the work they will do as adults. But many students move from course to course, ticking off boxes on a list of requirement groups, without thinking about the skills and perspectives that draw these disparate subjects together. So I began to wonder how clear the goals of general education are at this institution? And how large a role do they play in your classroom? Write the blog and tell us what you think a general education is, generally, and how you think we might help students understand the project of the university as a whole.

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