As we go through our academic careers here at UCSB, we spend our time trying to do well in classes, searching for ones that interest us, and mechanically following the catalogues we get from our departments to make sure we take what we need to graduate. Our major requirements are generally pretty straight forward. However, we also have those pesky little additional classes called GEs we must take. What is the purpose of taking these classes? Do I really need to take three math and science classes to attain the level of knowledge I need about politics to be deemed educated in the field?
The truth is, GE requirements do not help to make us become experts in our fields. Why do we have them then? I think the reason is quite clear: there are certain subjects and fields of study that any person must have some base of knowledge in to become an educated individual. The educated individual must be able to at least understand a few things about history, science, mathematics, literature, and must be able to effectively express themselves in the written word.
I think that our GE requirements are important, but I do not think that we as students should be scared to at least question the validity of the classes we are required to take. Specifically, if the purpose of a particular requirement is not to expose our minds to intellectual fields of study, but rather to attempt to change our thinking on a specific topic by providing the most recent and most striking arguments for one way of thinking about an issue, then it should be rejected outright. I strongly believe that, for these purposes, any attempt to add an environmental GE is absolutely inappropriate. The Environmental Affairs Board has been trying to shove this additional requirement down our throats for a while now. I can understand their reasoning: they care greatly about the environment, and they want all the other students on campus to think the way they do about environmental issues. They want to use our GEs as a tool to advance awareness of their particular political issue.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I fully recognize that there are many important issues about the environment. Why do we have to force every student to take one of these classes though? Because EAB thinks we should? There are many incredibly important issues about our national security. Should we have a security GE for that too? What about a genocide GE? How about a global poverty GE or a terrorism awareness GE? I can see an infinite number of GE’s, one for each of the hot button topics of the day. If we go down this road, our university becomes nothing more than a center for sensitivity training.
My problem with this is not that I don’t want people to be exposed to issues about the environment, I just think we should not be forcing students to take particular classes because we want them to think the same way we do about a political issue. There are plenty of great classes in the environmental science department, and students have the right to take one if they so choose. I highly resent the fact that EAB wants to force us to do so. Once we start forcing people to take classes based on which political issues we may happen to care about at the time, we have no longer become an institution of education, but rather one for indoctrination. It is inappropriate for us to spend our time using our required classes to signal what we want students to think. The purpose of the university is to teach us how to think in an analytical and thoughtful way.
Besides, who wants to have to take another class anyway?