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Other In my opinion, general education classes are not a waste of time

  1. Mar 25, 2016 #1
    I used to think that gen ed classes (like literature, humanities, fine arts) were a waste of time. Now, I realize that they have value within a lucrative major.

    1. The purpose of college is to be well-rounded academically. It's what makes a college degree different from a 6-month nursing course and so on.
    2. Reading, writing, communicative, creative and critical thinking skills are important in almost any career.
    3. It's good to try lots of different things, so you realize what you're most interested and most apt in. How does one know that their subject of interest is the best possible route for them if they've tried nothing else on a collegiate level?
    4. If someone loves history teaching and has studied nothing but history teaching, but later realized they want to go into STEM (but they have no math/science courses), it's going to be rough on them. Vice-verse as well.
    And lastly, in my own experience, I've met lots of people who have narrow specializations and have said they're doing well in their fields (and are making money) so they have no need for books smarts and such. The problem is that their knowledge is widely inconsistent.

    I've heard specialized (but uneducated) people say the most dumbest things when talking outside of their specialized zone. And I think for a second, they are voting, raising children and playing other fundamental roles in society.
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  3. Mar 25, 2016 #2
    The problem is that college costs $40000. If I (or the government through grants) spend this kind of money, it better be on something *I* want to take.
    I have no problem with math majors being allowed to take literature courses. But if I wish to take only math courses, I should be allowed to.

    Incidentally, I am from Belgium where gen-eds are (thankfully) not a thing. Here we finish undergrad in 3 years, we see more material than the typical US undergrad does in 4 years, and we spend less money.
  4. Mar 25, 2016 #3
    Taking the gen eds at subsidized to save money (and then switching to University for their major) is a practical idea for the majority of people.

    Second, college has always been about well-rounded knowledge. A college degree is an indicator of worldly knowledge. Someone who has taken nothing but math courses is really specialized but I think it's deceptive to say that they're college-educated in the overall sense.

    The issue with the "School of the hard knocks" logic is that there is so much knowledge outside of the reach of just one's personal experience. There are plenty of books filled with completely different people in completely different time periods in completely different situations who can give us insights that we cannot find on our own. There are statistics and data that can show us information that our eyes alone can't.
  5. Mar 25, 2016 #4
    So? This clearly makes me specialized in math, and not college-educated in the overall sense. I really don't care. I like math, so I want to do math. And my later employers want me to know math. Taking a course on "jazz appreciation" means nothing to me.

    You see, where you go wrong is that you assume college determines how well-rounded you are. It doesn't. At all. It is what you study by yourself what makes you well-rounded and intelligent. Taking courses on intro literature, jazz appreciation and gender studies is pretty meaningless. I can (and have) studied these things by myself. I don't need any college courses for that. In fact, seeing how literature is often raped in literature classes, I am very happy not to have taken such courses.

    Yes, and I can (and do) study those things by myself. College classes are pretty meaningless when it comes to this kind of thing. I go to college to learn math, so I only want to learn math in college. It's that easy.
  6. Mar 25, 2016 #5
    I can certainly relate to the self-education point myself. The majority of what I've learned were from books (fiction, non-fiction), encyclopedias, articles and documentaries I've consumed - not from school. I also think Khan Academy is doing a beautiful thing and I hope more universities follow suit, once the point all but rams into their office doors that information is freer and more flexible than ever.

    I guess I'm moreso defending the idea than being well-rounded than college institutions selling cheap information at full price. The most brilliant inspiring successful people I've met in my life have a "T-shaped" education: well rounded in most fields and specialized in a few.
  7. Mar 25, 2016 #6
    Sure, I'm all for a well-rounded education. But I don't feel it should be forced on people. They should be able to choose for it.
    In my opinion, high school is the place where people learn new stuff from a lot of different fields. College is where they learn new stuff from one field. And grad school is where they pick one small subfield and learn everything there is to know from that in order to make novel and original contributions.

    I guess I just don't like to pay $40000 for courses that won't affect me or my worklife directly.
  8. Mar 25, 2016 #7
    At least in the United States, high school just doesn't prepare students academically to have the well-rounded knowledge one should expect from a career professional. What's a 12th grade education in the United States? Equal to an 8th grade education in the Netherlands and South Korea?

    I'd be totally for students being able to have more say in which kinds of gen ed classes they take (for example, maybe History of Mathematics could waive a history requirement for a Math major), and I'd also be in favor of some sort of way to transfer one's self-educated knowledge into college credits (placement testing, maybe?).

    I'm not sure if I would necessarily want a world of professionals who skipped literature and writing in entirety.
  9. Mar 25, 2016 #8
    Why not? What does it matter to you that a bridge was built by an engineer who doesn't know anything about literature?
  10. Mar 25, 2016 #9
    But if that engineer wants to get promoted and evenually manage that company, their overall skills at large would matter.
  11. Mar 25, 2016 #10
    Why? Why would an engineer who took literature classes be a better manager than one who didn't?
  12. Mar 25, 2016 #11


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    There were no gen ed classes in my engineering degree, and I'm thankful, I don't think there was a single class that wasn't important.

    I understand there is a campaign in the US to require a masters degree to become a licensed engineer, the point was that the number of engineering credits has dwindled as more gen ed crept in, all the while engineering had become increasingly complex. A bachelor bloated with gen ed isn't adequately preparing students for the profession, apparently.
  13. Mar 25, 2016 #12
    This is a very good point. An engineering degree is really tight with over 80 credits. The 50+ credits required for gen ed is mostly crafted for programs that only require 33 credits.

    Would a good solution be to reduce the requirement for an engineering major to: 1 reading, 1 writing, 1 speech, and 1 humanities course (no more than 10% of the degree)?
  14. Mar 25, 2016 #13


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    I'm happy with my country's approach; an accredited engineering degree is 4 years of engineering.
  15. Mar 25, 2016 #14
    I see both sides as relevant, they both hold merrit. You can want the expanded knowledge, or you can want intrinsic knowledge, in the end it all goes towards what you want for yourself. I think the options should be just that.. Options. If you think GenEd is beneficial to you, then by all means it will be useful. But if you see them as a waste of time since you could be using this time toward focusing on a goal, then this should also be an option.

    I have looked at many universities in Canada and find that things are all over the place with what criteria are for each major. I is very debatable to take certain courses over others.

    For example; If i were to take Engineering, I would skip the "impact of technology on todays society" and "technical presentations" - which would be utter wastes of time for my goals; even if i would learn some good information, I would also much prefer taking a class on advanced E&M, Photonics and Nanotech for example. These would be something that would be way more difficult for me to learn on my own than "how to present" etc..

    I mean these courses may not be quite balanced in terms of comparison, but I think it serves the purpose of that point.

    On the other hand, Gen Ed is just a way to expand your horizons and let you take a new perspective on certain aspects of life. Sometimes it just lets you tap into that extra creative juice you may not though you had, enriching your knowledge and sometimes enhancing your mathematical/ problem solving side. Imagination and creativity are quintessential in engineering design and or physics. You often need a new perspective to allow room for innovation.

    Again, this is just my opinion, but i dont think anyone here is wrong, i think it just means that choice, time, finances and planning are all key aspects to what you want out of your education.
  16. Mar 25, 2016 #15
    I think I agree with most people here. I had to take a 20th century European history course as a physics major, but when I wanted to take an intermediate or advanced piano course, suddenly it was only for majors. So silly :headbang:
  17. Mar 25, 2016 #16


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    What about looking at this from the other side? Do any arts degrees require taking science or math courses?

    The world is becoming an increasingly technical place to live and work in, compulsory coding in schools is becoming commonplace, will see this shift carry through to universities? Should it?
  18. Mar 25, 2016 #17


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    In the US, beyond English composition, general education courses are a scam. One that operates under the guise of "broadening horizons," but really ensures more money for the universities by extending the time of study for any given major.

    The idea that taking a general education introductory course in mathematics will somehow translate into an improved understanding of mathematics for an arts major is equally as silly as expecting a course on diversity to benefit a mathematics major. It won't, if for no other reason than those students probably don't care about mathematics or writing papers on diversity at all.
  19. Mar 26, 2016 #18


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    So why, in a free market system do you suppose people still chose to attend universities that operate this way? Is it because students generally believe that general education courses have value? Is it because a broader education has greater market value (i.e. employers place more value on degrees that include general education courses than those who don't)?

    It would seem to me that if there were a strong demand for a more focussed education, we would see more schools that offer such options (or lack thereof).

    Personally I don't think anyone should have to take anything they don't want to take, but I don't think it's any kind of scam to design a program that includes courses not directly related to a major. If that was the case they could just as easily add more degree-related courses and extend the length of their degrees.
  20. Mar 26, 2016 #19

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    Why does that make money for universities? If a university has 5000 seats, why does it make more money with 1000 students per class taking 5 years to graduate than 1250 per class taking 4? If anything, it's the reverse, because they are better off graduating more alumni (donors).
  21. Mar 26, 2016 #20


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    At the college where I work, general education requirements include humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and math, and apply to all students. Art majors have to take some natural science and math courses, just like physics majors have to take some humanities courses.
  22. Mar 26, 2016 #21
    You are absolutely correct, to you and like minded people, they are a scam. You shouldn't be forced into taking any courses you think won't help you in your path towards a gainful education. Although you think of it as silly to operate under the guise of "broadening horizons", that is again correct to your perspective. From other perspective, I see value toward the broadening horizons.

    If you don't think it is helpful toward your math major, then maybe you are already equipped with enough based on your own previous education, or maybe you just see them as obstacles toward a greater pure mathematics understanding. And of course that is 100% valid. As valid as the person who majors in mathematics and minors in dramatic arts for their own personal reasons.

    It should be a choice 100%, I agree that Unis have a bit too stringent of a control over their qualification for degrees.
  23. Mar 26, 2016 #22


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    General requirements, if designed well, are a great idea. They should be structured enough to force one to expand their horizons, but also flexible enough so people can choose to fulfill them with classes they are genuinely interested in.

    I do think that they often let non-science majors off easy with math/science requirements. The reason I say this is that many of these students take classes so watered down that they do not contain any math/science majors. On the other side, this is definitely not true for the requirements classes I took (although I probably took more intensive ones than was required of me).
  24. Mar 26, 2016 #23


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    If one applies the same argument to primary school, not everyone would learn about pondskaters.
  25. Mar 26, 2016 #24


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    when i was a freshman in college they told us that they instituted a gen ed program somewhat AFTER a student took only 16 courses in sanskrit and east indian studies and nothing else. i resented the intrusion on my choice, but eventually i appreciated it. indeed i wish i had taken more courses in art and music, since at some point i needed to decorate my apartment and "woo women". but i appreciated only math at the time. gen ed is an attempt to force you to broaden your horizons.
  26. Mar 27, 2016 #25
    Does anyone else find it strange that funding for the arts is so quickly cut for high- and middle-school systems, but that simultaneously in college we're pushed to diversify our education by taking art/music?
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