Benefits of the Honors College curriculum

Claire Fisher

One of the biggest complaints many students at Grand Valley State University have is the pointless nature of the general education curriculum. The information doesn’t apply to their major, the classes are difficult, and they feel like they’re memorizing information for the sake of memorizing information. For these students, the value of a liberal arts education is not clear.

Students in the Frederik Meijer Honors College take freshman year interdisciplinary sequences and upper level honors courses instead of the general education curriculum. The interdisciplinary sequences cover special topics like American civilization, national security, or design thinking. Through these topics, students learn history, math, philosophy, writing, art, and many other skills and requirements of the general education curriculum.

Students in honors classes are asked to think critically, be questioning, own their education and make connections between the content in their courses and the world around them. These connections are the value of a liberal arts education. The interdisciplinary nature of these courses and their basis in critical thinking help honors students become well-rounded and educated professionals and citizens. For this reason, these courses should not be exclusively available to honors students, they should be integrated into the general education curriculum.

The Lanthorn published an article in March called “Why students flunk classes.” One of the students interviewed, Caleb Baird, said the classes he failed were general education classes. He cited busy work and a lack of cognitive thinking as the reasons he felt it difficult to apply himself in the class. His experience is representative of how many students in the general education curriculum feel.

On the Frederik Meijer Honors College website director Jeffrey Chamberlain is quoted saying the Honors College interdisciplinary sequences are challenging because they are “not work for the sake of work.” No class should be work for the sake of work. Many students, like Baird, think that their general education courses are busy work and would benefit from a Frederik Meijer Honors College style education. An education based in critical thinking rather than memorization.

Many general education courses are introductory courses for specific majors. These courses are designed to set up students in that major with a basis of knowledge that will prepare them for their future courses. This can make these classes memorization heavy and more in depth than somebody not in that major really needs to go. Taking general education courses does not directly introduce students to critical thinking skills and making connections, it only gives them introductory information about a given discipline.

In my own experience, my honors courses have specifically encouraged me to think critically, be questioning, and make connections between the material I’m learning and the world around me. From all of this, I have gotten more out of my liberal arts education than some of my peers in the general education program. While my peers in the general education program were memorizing the definition of a virus for their biology class and took a test on it, I was doing a project in my honors style biology class about the role the media plays in informing the public about the flu virus and vaccine.

I learned the same information they did and was learning to connect the information to my own major (journalism), making this class much more valuable to my education. I am also much more likely to remember and apply the information I learned in my course than my peers who were asked to regurgitate the exact definition of a virus.

There is no reason why classes that emphasize critical thinking should not be available to students outside the honors college. Just because you didn’t have a stellar GPA in high school or a super high score on the ACT, doesn’t mean you are incapable of thinking critically or making connections.

In the video on the Honors College website, Craig Benjamin, an honors history professor, describes the ideal honors student as someone who wants to be pushed constantly to do their best and asks, “Who knows what I’m capable of unless someone keeps pushing me to see what my potential is?” I would argue this is the definition of the ideal student in general. All students and all citizens would benefit from the type of critical thinking education provided by the Frederik Meijer Honors College and should be given the opportunity to do so.