Revitalizing general education classes

Mackenzie Bush

I’m currently taking my third and final semester of Spanish here at Grand Valley State University. Here’s the thing: I can’t really speak Spanish. I’m never going to pursue it further. And frankly, I hate it. I’ve known my brain isn’t really capable of learning another language since high school.

However, I had to take three years of it to graduate with my B.A. in Writing. So I’ve coasted, complained, cried a little and spent a lot of money, in the name of obtaining knowledge that I know I won’t retain.

This is not to say that I think interdisciplinary learning isn’t vital to personal development; I wouldn’t have come to Grand Valley if I thought this were the case. I know that I never would have decided to minor in Women and Gender Studies if I hadn’t taken its intro class to fulfill a requirement, and I would have missed out on a ton of other information without these classes as well.

I just wonder if the current structure that Grand Valley has in place is the best it can be. I think, with the way that the current system is structured, general education requirements are seen as a chore, something that students are forced to sit through in order to graduate. Because the categories are so rigid, many students are stuck in classes they never would have picked for themselves, and either struggle or sit bored in the back of the room.

Perhaps it would be more constructive for students to be required to take a certain number of classes outside of their major or minor out of a list of certain disciplines. For example, you would need 50 credits outside of your major or minor to graduate, out of at least 10 different subject areas.

This method would keep intact the current system that makes sure that Grand Valley produces diverse, interesting human beings, but also keeps students more engaged in their education. Rather than simply picking a class off of an assigned list because it sounds easy, students would have a bigger opportunity to personalize their education. They could explore without necessarily needing to take more than four years to graduate.

This would also allow students to avoid a few subjects that they already know they won’t take anything away from. Although I sat through my math class and turned in the work, I can’t say it had any positive impact on me whatsoever. However, when I chose my Family and the Developing World or Intro to Women and Gender Studies class, I knew that I would be engaged with them, and therefore learn a great deal.

I’m glad I had to take many general education classes before I went out into the world. I think they’ve made me a lot more interesting. But I think, maybe, with some tweaking, more students could begin to feel that way, too.

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