General education courses help students to connect with their environment and futures.
I’m an exchange student from the University of East Anglia in England, where general education classes aren’t required. “Hurrah,” you may imagine me crying, whilst I wander around smugly as I see full-time Temple students slaving over “Gilgamesh.”
But this is far from reality.
In the UK at the age of 16, I was allowed to opt to never, ever have to study math again. As a pretty naive and albeit lazy teenager, it felt like this opportunity was a grace from God. I would never have to face another math equation again, and right there and then, it felt good.
However, four years later, I find myself sitting in restaurants practically counting on my fingers to work out the tip. This does not feel so good.
Not being able to work out a tip properly may seem worth the risk of angering a waitress, if it means you get to avoid those claw-your-own-eyes-out dull quantitative literacy classes. But when you can’t figure out your tax returns or keep track of your finances, those hours suddenly seem so much more valuable.
And the same works on the contrary.
For all those studying engineering or physics, you may be able to understand complicated formulas and other scientific ideas well beyond my capacity, but this won’t help you get a job if you can’t create a well-constructed cover letter if you haven’t written an essay since high school.
It is not until you’re faced with these real life situations that all of a sudden all those gen-ed classes seem incredibly useful. Students may think, “Why do I have to bother with all these classes that have nothing to do with what I chose to study?” Well, unfortunately you don’t get to choose what happens in life, so being suitably equipped for everything it may throw at you is a necessity if you hope for any form of success.
Beyond these basic skills that gen-ed classes teach, they offer a variety of other important functions, especially for international students.
With classes in U.S. society, as well as race and diversity, it allows non-American students to understand some things that domestic students may take for granted.
Yeoun Joo Lee, an international student and international business major originally from South Korea, agreed.
“Sometimes it is hard for me to understand something I’ve never experienced, but after my gen-ed classes, I always feel like I learn more about America,” Lee said. “It’s a different perspective about what Americans think about themselves as a country.”
That’s not to say domestic students have nothing to learn from these sessions. American society and international affairs can be complex and will impact your individual lives daily, whether you like it or not.
Unless you want to get all your information from Fox News, then the classes on politics and social problems are vital. Democracy is only truly successful when its participants are thoroughly educated on what they’re actually contributing to. Ignorance in the case of politics most certainly isn’t bliss.
The gen-ed program describes its mission as “focused on making connections” – something I believe is a vital part of college life.
The world’s a big place, and there’s a lot to figure out, so anything, including gen-eds, that help you do that, really deserve some appreciation.
Rebecca Goodacre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.