As the generation of “Core” students finally pass, “gen-eds” has just emerged from its probationary period with nearly every benefit, obstacle and complaint duly noted by academic and managerial administration alike. Previously, Temple’s “Core” stated to “provide the intellectual skills and the knowledge needed for academic success in college and provide a useful education for one’s career, citizenship and personal life.” The general education program, which “makes connections from academic knowledge to experience,” promises more of the same ambiguity.
Yet while the euphemisms suffer constant paraphrasing and reiteration like some enigmatic Da Vinci anagram, the role of such required courses remains the same. They are a university’s way of guaranteeing that your degree signifies legitimate growth and maturity, rather than just the ability to navigate four years of Wikipedia, EHow and SparkNotes pages.
Apparently sometime during the shift from Core to gen-ed requirements, the imperative that university graduates should have some knowledge or experience outside of American English, has disappeared. Previously applicable to all undergraduates, the two-semester foreign language requirement now applies only to the Liberal Arts, Communication, Science and Technology and Tyler schools. Consequently, the very institution that places a premium on “diversity” will cease to guarantee that graduates have developed “an awareness and understanding of cultures other than one’s own…”
Despite the drastic tone, this is not a directly culpable issue. No party is acting outside of reasonable interests. On the one hand, students who do not feel that a second language would benefit them are understandably frustrated, and have made claims as paying customers to have the language expectation removed. Faculty administration is simply catering to these complaints, while simultaneously treating any festering wounds incurred by the budget crisis.
So far, this seems like a win-win situation.
Responses to the general education program, as we have all observed and offered, generally range from “this class sucks” to “this class really sucks,” and are spiced liberally with “how will this get me a job?” Most of the opposition comes from interested parties, marginalized and fiscally-threatened language departments, and is consequently detested as self-interest. Needless to say, it’s a concern fraught with serious financial, academic and ethical implications.
It’s clear that if we, the university, and society at large acknowledge students only as customers receiving a product, then the gen-ed curriculum, along with the language requirement, makes up at least half of our investment. Yet when we look deeper into how the American “college experience” has undergone drastic redefinition – both positively and negatively – then little cuts like these are easily bricks in the pathway to a culturally intolerant, economically depreciated, and all-around dumber society.
In one of their many pedagogical studies, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, of which Temple is a member, states that, “many colleges and universities struggle to translate research and expertise into practices that help align gen-ed curricula with expectations for educating students who can thrive in a global economy and become socially responsible and civically engaged leaders at home and abroad.”
Yet this kind of support embraces cultural learning from a completely self-destructive angle. Considering the not-so-recent developments in our domestic and international economy, our role as students in an American university is aggrandized to that of a foreign ambassador.
In other words, educational success in the modern American university is measured by producing “globally competitive” citizens. Consequently, “Harper’s Magazine” contributing editor Mark Slouka discussed this trend toward economic competitiveness as a sign of the anti-intellectual times, claiming in 2009 that, “education in America today is almost exclusively about the GDP.”
I could easily cite here the exhausted, yet factual claims of how language learning helps with far more than communicative skills in a world linguistically dominated by English, Spanish and Chinese. I could show you the obvious proof that learning a second language, regardless of your level of retention, makes you much more culturally and rationally aware, and therefore more able to succeed professionally – but that’s not my point.
We should always jump at any possible opportunity to expand and raise our educational standards, not lower them. To do so, however, does not lend itself at first to economic ventures, but to cultural humility and awareness. This, to me, seems to be the only way to combat the gluttonous, gun-toting, intolerant stereotype of excess that a googling of “amurika” will unearth.
Joel Faltermayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.