Aren’t we in charge of our own education?
I have a little exercise for you. Take a minute, close your eyes, and think about your time here at American University. Try to go all the way back to the beginning, when you were a scrawny, lost little freshmen who couldn’t even figure out how to get up and get yourself to class in the morning, let alone take the classes, learn the material, write the papers, etc. Start from that first moment you stumbled into your first college class, dazed and doe-eyed, and list everything you have learned since that moment. If you can’t remember that far back, start yesterday and think through until this very moment. You will probably get similar results. After just 24-hours your list will should be pretty extensive. We learn a lot here.
Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, would disagree. In fact, in her blog article on washingtonpost.com he suggests that “many students aren’t learning very much at all in their first two years of college.”
What? Half of our college education means nothing? Almost $100,000 just thrown out the window so we can be part of a supposed “anti-intellectual” culture? I’ll admit, it felt like a hard, electronic slap in the face to read that. All my hard work and effort, all that I had learned, seemed degraded.
Turns out, her assertions are based on some twisted logic. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni have created a supplementary guide to college rankings called What Will They Learn? where they score colleges based on their general education requirements. As they see it, the key subjects to a successful education are english composition, literature, foreign language, US government or history, economics, mathematics, and science. They then assign each university a grade (A-F) based upon how many of these subjects the university requires their students to take. Based on their rating system, American University was given a C because we are only require to take courses in composition, math, and science. But hey, better than Georgetown’s D right?
Where to even begin with this? We’ll start with AU’s grade specifically. Although AU might not directly require all of these subjects specifically through their general education requirements, many of them are options within the area requirements, and others are required for specific majors. I have taken five of the seven “key subjects” while here at AU, which at least warrants us a B, and the only reason I didn’t take the other two was that I took high school classes that earned me AP credit here. I’m certainly not suggesting our general education program is perfect, but by WWTL’s standards, we’re doing pretty good.
Not that we necessarily want to meet their standards, which are locked into an archaic, old-as-dirt education system that is in dire need of some TLC. While I certainly can’t argue that these subjects are useless, maybe they aren’t all necessities. Maybe there are ways we can incorporate the important ideas from these subjects into other more relevant classes. And maybe requiring them isn’t the way to go about things. As much as I appreciate our flexible general education system, I know even I have been frustrated at times with how it restricts me from exploring things that I really think are important for my future.
Because, in the end, aren’t we the ones who are in charge of our education? I know I’m not paying this much a year for a college to constantly tell me what I have to take. I would rather have a college that will offer me classes with excellent professors in the subjects of writing, literature, language, math, history, science, art (seriously, where is art?), philosophy, design, communication… and then give me the freedom to choose what I think I need to learn about to live a successful life. Maybe I’ll make some mistakes and miss out on some subjects that I will realize are important later on. But isn’t that how we learn best?
Posted in Wingin' It