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Gen Ed Reputation Pros and Cons

By Jared Gendron; For the Clock
On March 13, 2018

Gen Ed Reputation Pros and Cons

Jared Gendron

For the Clock


Earlier this week I walked into one of my larger classes to no empty desks. I sat in a computer chair and took notes on my lap. I will regularly answer questions, as a means to avoid the awkward silence that hangs in the air. You would think out of a room of 30+ students somebody would answer within the first few seconds, yet it is not uncommon for that silence to strike. It is doubtful in my mind that so many bright adults fail to know the simplest of answers in this class.

There are probably a lot of classes such as mine where participation is scarce. My general understanding is that since this class is a general education course most of the students are from different majors. Unlike the familiarity of our major-oriented classes, Gen Eds host a mixed bag of students that do not know one another very well. That is a problem, especially considering the professor of such a course; the professor of a Gen Ed could be viewed as dispensable to a student not in that major, and so a student will approach the class environment emotionally unavailable to a person they are not willing to grow a relationship with. To this student, this block on their schedule is a filler, and they think they can coast through the semester under the radar to skip classes and focus their time and energy on other classes in their actual major.

Plymouth State’s General Education curriculum requires students to earn a certain amount of credits in different direction courses before graduation. For some this is not an issue and the idea of diversifying a class schedule outside of your major can be welcomed openly. But if you were to circle your way around a college composition class asking why everybody why they took this class, the honest response would be “I needed the credit”. There is no way of getting around that, everybody has gen Ed requirements and ones in relation to our majors. There is a difference in the attitude many students hold to both Gen Ed and major classes. Gen Eds are viewed by students as a complete waste of intellectual resource.

An English major like myself wants to engage in a literary discourse. I can not say my Monday mornings were most welcomed plotting the statistics of an imaginary election poll. I did not want to take a math course, but I had to for a major requirement and I would be lying to myself if I felt I gained something valuable by retaking 4th grade multiplication as a 19- year old. If we think the university is not respecting our time or owing up to the tuition costs, then students attitudes towards the “arbitrary” classes will be matched with indifference. In our day-and-age college is really  pushed as the only road to success. If you do not go to college then you will not get a well-paying job to support yourself. That was not the case over 30 years ago– college was an option to expand education and there was plenty of alternatives if you wanted to join the workforce right after high school. The frontier is scarce today and there are a lot of unemployed people with college degrees. It is unenduring to a college student to pay a good deal of money just to travel back to high school. They feel like they have been here before and that resources could have been made use of in other areas of education.

The Gen Ed is not useless. It is very important for a balanced education to expose us to diverse terrains. There are so many students at PSU with an undecided major, and the Gen Ed department is the first step to exploring interests and meddling through the process of elimination. A lot of students also change their majors halfway through their credits when something does not work or their perspective shifts. This happens when they realize their major is not for them or when unexpected experiences win them over. Gen Eds are partly to thank for this¬– I hear so many teachers describe the transformation students have while taking their classes. Obviously this will not happen for everybody, or even most people. A lot of people take Gen Eds and seem to always take something away from them. Even if we do not ealize we did. At the very least we come to terms that this major is not for us. Good, then do not take another class in that field again.

The Gen Ed requirements are important for our PSU curriculum despite many believing it as tedious. The classes are designed to be introduction courses. A lot of students do not know what we want from our education and Gen Eds diversify the spectrum of options so offer new modes of thinking. It is safe for the university and undergrads in the long-term. Many of our ideas come from unexpected places and through spontaneous interactions. The Gen Ed is the solution to structuring an education where situations such as these can happen. Many Gen Eds will not be perfect or even fit your tastes. That is okay. Learn what you do not like, do well in the class even if you hated your time there. In the end it all adds up. Once you get your degree you will be more confident in yourself than you were before.

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