A lot of us students groan at the thought of fulfilling our general education requirements–stalling that last ethnicity class, or throwing a tantrum when you don’t get into Dance 45 and have to take Art History instead. Sometimes even the professors’ own boredom is palpable during lecture while they face a sea of students texting, or snap chatting “kill me now” as they select the grading option of Pass/No Pass and slowly drift in attendance throughout the quarter. So why do we have them? They’re founded on the basis of making students well rounded, but if we’re not paying attention anyway, is the university just kidding itself?
General education requirements have been a source of much contention over the last few decades, as colleges and universities have begun to reform their curriculum to match the demands of the 21st century. Most arguments against general education requirements highlight that they are essentially a waste of time–mere obstacles to obtaining a degree. A more modern concern is that a core curriculum necessitates more courses one has to take, and thus more money and more time spent at university that millennials just can’t afford. In other words, the opportunity cost of writing that last paper on irrigation systems in Chile for your environmental science class is that job at that publishing house that your English major self so desperately wants. Or, quite literally speaking, if you need to take four general education classes, that amounts to about one quarter of class at UCSB– in other words, $5,000.
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, there are three degrees a student may earn, each of which has a core curriculum. The Bachelor of Arts Degree requires completion of seven “general subject area requirements,” including a foreign language, mathematics, arts, literature, culture and thought, social science, and English reading and comprehension. A total of 15 general education requirements must be completed by graduation for a B.A. For the Bachelor of Science degree, the same general subject areas are required but only 11 requirements must be met. For the Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Music Degree, students must adhere to the same general subject area requirements as above but only 9 courses. Moreover, students in each degree must complete “special subject area” requirements, which include: six courses from a writing requirement, world cultures, quantitative relationships, and ethnicity (the B.A. requires one more: European Traditions).
So it’s clear that UCSB has a pretty substantial general education regimen for its students. But if the requirements are set in place to broaden our horizons, isn’t it slightly weird that the requirements aren’t equal across all majors? Do you need less enlightenment as a zoology B.S. than you do as a feminist studies B.A.? This aspect of GEs is slightly hypocritical and undercuts the entire philosophy of expanding our educational horizons–all of our horizons, equally. Moreover, most classes that fall under the general subject area requirements tend to be tethered toward western culture and thought, which is then complimented by the additional category of “European traditions.” The current global state of affairs raises the question of whether UCSB’s GEs should be modified to fit with more relevant information and knowledge. Yes, “Heart of Darkness” can be discussed endlessly, but what about Middle Eastern traditions? Or religion? After all, if GEs are meant to engender critical thinking and skills applicable to the real world, wouldn’t we want ones that are actually relevant?
General Education requirements at a school like UCSB should exist–that’s no longer the question. We could go the liberal route that Brown offers, but that would require a Utopian educational society in which students would actively choose their own courses and construct their major–heads up, this probably requires more work than refreshing “progress check” on GOLD every quarter. Unfortunately, for the 20 percent of your Psychopathology class that never shows up, and does other homework for their major courses when they do–they’re never going to change. You can’t force people to learn. But there are those who do need some guidance; at a huge university like UCSB, students may come in undecided, and the general education requirements enable us to shop around a little to see where we fit best. Furthermore, it’s fun to see professors design upper division classes in their discipline that may attract students from other majors such as “Detective Fiction” by Professor Newfield or “Psychology of the Supernatural” by Professor Germain.
However, the make up of GEs at UCSB may have to be reconstructed. As it stands, taking Philosophy 1 and surveying major European philosophers that also pop up in Evironmental Science 3 or Sociology 1 is a waste of your money. Classes like Modern Iran, or intro into Islamic law should be encouraged–these are the classes that will actually give you something to say at the dinner table.