Friend of the site and fellow faculty member Mark Higbee alerted me to an article in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education that features both an interview and images of him and some of his students. It’s called “Which Core Matters More?” and it’s behind the CHE firewall (the link here will prompt EMU-types to login to get the whole thing; if you’re on campus, it’ll just pop up). Other than the pictures, the part featuring Higbee comes later in the article where he discusses a “Reacting to the Past” approach for teaching history.
The article claims to be about a “new” debate on the direction of general education and/or “core curriculum” in higher education, but actually, the debate is not new at all. It boils down to the value of curriculums that see the benefits of process and “critical thinking” versus a return to the basics and specific content. That’s a debate (generally characterized by liberals versus conservatives) that’s been around for a long long time.
My own thinking about general education is shaped by the paradox of being a writing teacher in an English department.
The one (almost) universal component in general education in this country is first year writing (e.g. “comp and rhet”): even innovative and “cutting edge” general education curriculums (like the one at Portland State which this article discusses in some detail) require all students to satisfy freshmen writing. The same is true at EMU. I have complicated thoughts and feelings about this, but I generally think it is better for students to take more courses that involve writing rather than less.
On the other hand, we have a general education program now at EMU where students never have to take any literature course if they don’t want to because they can satisfy that area of the gen ed by taking courses in history, communications, philosophy, and so forth. I don’t want to take anything away from those other areas of study since they too are obviously important. Still, it seems reasonable to me that if we’re going to have a general education program at all, we ought to require students to take at least one literature course in order to earn a bachelors degree.