Let me recap and respond to a few of the points that were brought up by my respondents:
• There are several students out there like Nick: Students revved up about their particular choice, bummed out about the requireds that seem to waste time and money, and in a situation (like Audrey mentions) where the final few years—years that are meant to be spent focusing on a specialization—are tripped up by tying up loose ends. Sometimes, due to the separate stories that students often get from the variety of well-intentioned advisors, students end up spending the last semester of their senior year (or a semester post-senior year, as I did) tying up those loose ends. I kind of digressed there. Back to students revved up about their major and using Nick as a case in point, I happen to know that he didn’t know what he wanted to do right off the bat. Correct me if I am wrong, yo, but weren’t you first going to do construction management, electrical engineering, and then you decided on media arts? There seems to be something useful about having some room to try something out, try again, and try yet again. General ed courses give students room and time to breathe a bit here—without penalizing them too much for initial wrong choices. Often (but not always), those classes may just fit in and count for some of the general ed classes required.
• Anonymous makes some great points about the citizenship building that general ed courses potentially offer students. The part of her response that I keep coming back to is where she mentions that future moment where the benefits of that general education kick in—the good communication skills, the math chops, the “broad understanding of how society works.” I like the idea of this future moment—it is nebulous though. Am I more effective public speaker because of the (very practical) Speech Comm Associates degree that I got from Pima? Probably—but I can’t remember a lick of the algebra or science classes that I took.
• Both Audrey and Tina found their interests through the general ed classes that they had to take—but both argue (or would argue since Tina didn’t mention it but I know it to be the case) that it is good/effective teaching that plays a big part in that selection. I know this is true. In a future post in this series, I will talk a little bit more about what good teachers and mentors can do for undergrads (but also talk about why I think it--especially the mentoring--doesn’t happen that often).
- I failed to mention Mat's post, which I think is an important one. Mat is a smart and successful guy who chose not to go to college--and there are a lot of guys like him out there. What Mat didn't mention was his numerous technological certifications: expensive, time-consuming stamps of approval from Mircosoft and other companies basically saying to the world "This dude knows his stuff." What is interesting to me about his post is that he still feels a bit stymied in regards to his job options--that a degree prevents him from a certain type of job currently filled by former frat boys (hopefully, no longer drunk). Mat's a smart guy. He's every bit as qualified for those jobs. Every bit, that is, except for that bit of cultural capital we call a diploma. So that's tough. As he also mentions, going to college is largely about "learning to learn," but that doesn't mean that those who don't go aren't learners. They just don't have the piece of paper designating them as such. There is more here... I'll try to come back to this "outsider" perspective in a subsequent post.
But, alas, I’ll go there in my next post. It’s late.
Thanks again for the responses, folks. Please, please keep it up!