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General Education Courses Generally Pointless

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Have you ever tried to explain calculus to an English major? How about the underlying themes of Macbeth to a math major? It’s about as tough as grinding your molars against shoe leather, and only about half as successful.

Ten general education courses (gen eds) are required for graduation by the University at Albany: Math and Statistics, Writing and Critical Inquiry, Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, U.S. History, International Perspectives, Foreign Language and Challenges of the 21st Century. While some courses needed for some majors are able to meet some of these requirements, the bulk of students rely on electives to reach the necessary 120 credits. This, unfortunately, does little for the students and a whole lot for the school.

The American public education system was founded during the Industrial Revolution with explicit purpose of creating a quasi-educated work force that could competently operate as a member of the industrialized society/economy. The idea around our current curriculum was that it was sufficient to supply the average American the basic knowledge necessary to enter the work force and stimulate the economy. This is why we’re all taught the same thing instead of a better method of encouraging the particular talents and skills of individual students.

Soon, I’ll be 21 years old, having not taken a math class since my senior year of high school. Anything I’ll ever know about math, I’ve likely already forgotten. And that should be okay. I’m a journalism student. I can’t imagine too many stories will require me to solve advanced calculus, and even if one ever did, it would be unrealistic for any employer to expect an understanding of advanced mathematics.

If it isn’t already obvious, the main reason behind the mandating of gen eds is no longer the building of a well-rounded workforce. The modern world expects creativity, adaptation and unique ideas. Our current system is a holdover from over 100 years ago, failing to change when the internet changed everything else. But now, the main motivation behind the mandating of general education courses, is purely financial gain. Here’s some math; 18 thousand students paying to take 120 credits is astronomically more profitable than those same 18 thousand students paying for the 30-60 necessary for a major degree. Simple as that.

This issue has helped fuel the growing, more than trillion dollar student debt crisis set to cripple this generation before it ever has a chance to grow from the shadow of its parents. It’s a byproduct of the for-profit college system that has undergone so much questioning and scrutiny in recent years. It’s an aspect of a drastically outdated education system with backwards, turn of the century priorities. The time for change came long ago, it’s simply a matter of reading the numbers on the clock.

1 Comment

  1. Ra
    October 15, 2018 at 8:16 am — Reply

    Given this and your previous article, it really doesn’t surprise me that you haven’t taken a math course since high school and, in your own words; “Anything I’ll ever know about math, I’ve likely already forgotten.” If you had taken a math course since high school, it likely would have rendered your previous article moot, and the same could be said for a history course, economics course, politics course, etc. and this article.

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