Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

An Ode to Gen. Eds.

I first heard the term “Gen. Ed.” at my freshman summer orientation. At the time, all the talk of ALUs and HSGs promptly went over my head. I was too preoccupied trying to figure out the difference between “ambient still” and “chilled still” water in the dining commons.

Since arriving at the University of Massachusetts last fall, my state of hopeless befuddlement at orientation has thankfully been vanquished. I have learned to taste the subtle differences in the dining commons’ water options and I’ve come to understand the gist of the school’s General Education Requirements program. I have even learned to incorporate its catchy abbreviation, “Gen. Ed.,” into my regular vocabulary.

I have since observed a pattern in the tone and attitude surrounding student discussion of Gen. Eds. that is largely dismissive, if not altogether negative. Often, the term is contextualized among sentences that go along the lines of, “Does anyone know of any easy Gen. Eds. that fulfill such and such requirement?” or “After this semester, I only have two Gen. Eds. left!” Students seem to feel a need to complete their Gen. Eds. as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

Caught up in the apathetic attitude toward Gen. Eds. held by many of my peers, I crammed my Gen. Eds. into my first two years with the simple intention of getting them over with. Consequently, the forecast for my remaining semesters appears to be clouded with major requirements.

I regret the hasty manner in which I approached my Gen. Eds. and wish that I had distributed them more evenly over more semesters. While I enjoy the classes in my major, I long for the Gen. Ed. classes that challenged me to utilize alternative ways of thinking and provided a refreshing change from the structural and thematic similarities of my other courses.

The desire to make the Gen. Ed. experience as painless as possible is often driven by a fear of failure in taking a class outside of one’s perceived strengths. Most students enter college with a pre-conceived notion of topics they are good at and enjoy. However, one’s perception of academic preferences and strong suits is dangerously swayed by their limited experience in high school. Any seasoned student will admit that a love for a subject is usually influenced by the teacher and the student’s ultimate grade in a class. Traumatic memories of an incompetent teacher or failed quiz hardly warrant an open-minded, optimistic approach to taking an introductory college course in the subject.

High school classes are an unreliable predictor of success or enjoyment of a college course. The course offerings at UMass – not to mention the Five College Consortium – are so numerous and diverse, and the Gen. Ed. designations so flexible, that the overall experience of a required class need not be a reprise of a miserable time in high school. I single-handedly fulfilled my biology requirement by taking an anthropology class where I played with pre-historic human skulls on a weekly basis. I also satisfied my literature requirement without reading a single novel (gotta love poetry).

Another popular reason for resenting Gen. Eds. is the restriction they impose on academic flexibility. The combined demands of majors, minors and Gen. Ed. requirements may hinder the ability to take a class for the pure sake of interest. However, if one searches long and hard enough in the murky depths of SPIRE, they are bound to find a class that not only fulfills a requirement but is also interesting. The specific requirements of the Gen. Ed. program further ensure that students take healthy academic risks and gain exposure to different disciplines they might not have chosen to explore otherwise.

Rather than a nuisance or inconvenience, Gen. Eds. should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to dabble in new fields of study, diversify a course schedule, feed curiosity and attain a love of learning extending beyond a degree and getting a job. Liberal arts exploration is fundamental to the American higher education system, and is a testament to the privilege and high quality of life we enjoy.

Our education trains students for a career, but also develops them into open-minded, well-rounded people. While major requirements may hold more direct relevance to the future, Gen. Eds. should be approached with similar vigor and verve and be viewed as equally valuable to one’s college education.

Merav Kaufman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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    Mike LFeb 8, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Gen eds should only be required for certain majors. The job market is too competitive to make everyone take gen ed classes when they need to develop more technical skills. Is it far too often that Umass students get looked over for a job because their major classes were too basic.