Last night, I spent some extra hours on campus proctoring the GEC Exit Exam. It is a test that we give to our graduating seniors to see if they learned what we taught them in the General Education Core (GEC). As I read from a canned speech, we have taught them “a particular set of skills.” I really wanted to say that in a Liam Neeson voice.
After reading the canned script, I told them what I really wanted to say. We are a Liberal Arts university and want them to leave with a well-rounded education. While being trained for a job is important, we believe that being exposed to different theories and ideas is what higher education is all about.
That is why the GEC is filled with History classes that cover Benjamin Harrison’s presidency and the Ming Dynasty. That is why it is filled with English classes where they read Shakespeare and Twain. Students often wonder why they have to take those classes and end their careers taking this GEC test. It is because we want them to know more than how to do their jobs. We want them to know about the world.
Sometimes, I fear that universities are becoming trade schools rather than bastions of higher education. Think about those words for a second. Higher education. It is great to get training to be successful in a profession. However, it is greater to be taught to think on a higher plane. That is what higher education and Liberal Arts is all about. It is about helping people to be open-minded toward ideas that are different from their own.
Open-mindedness is something that we are missing in the modern world. Heck, it may have always been missing. This makes me think about the politics of the realm in which we live. People are not willing to understand the arguments of the other side. I am not just talking about people who are conservative. I think people who have a liberal mindset are just as close-minded. Neither side is willing to concede that the other side may have some valid arguments and concerns. Let us just shut them off and yell at them.
Truly open-minded people listen to the other side. They may not agree, but, at least, they make an attempt to understand it. To me, that is what a Liberal Arts education is all about. It exposes people to different ideas and helps them understand that things out there other than what their parents, their preachers and their teachers have told them.
It is a big world, and we need to do everything we can to understand it.
Today, I taught History to a room full of freshmen. Many of them did not seem very interested. By the time they get to the GEC Exit Exam, I hope they have realized that History, English, Philosophy, Sociology and all the other stuff were not wastes of time. They were essential to help them become something more than a job-holder. They made them an educated person.