What’s an education for?
An education is about learning things you don’t know. Just as we need to try foods we’ve never eaten before, we need to approach unfamiliar subjects. Life’s menu can be innovative, varied and delightful, but without outside influences, it can too often be limited, boring and unappetizing.
Curiosity, like originality and delight, has to be nurtured. But if we keep emphasizing the notion of familiarity and security at the expense of new and potentially challenging experience, then we’ll be stuck with the intellectual equivalent of a 1968 Swanson’s T.V. Dinner.
Authentic education demands that students learn, and not merely that they are taught. It’s not about simply offering access to information or data. What happens in classrooms is not the same as what happens at UPS: it is not like transferring an unexamined parcel of information from one person to another. It must include, as all reputable teachers know, instructing students in academic discipline and personal responsibility.
This is one reason that students should be required to take classes from outside their area of specialization. Their futures are under construction. While they may have blueprints in place, perhaps handed down through their families or fantasies from glittering daydreams, there are many architectural models from which to choose. That way they won’t end up with the academic equivalent of a five-story one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen and a bathroom on the roof.
Read the entire piece here.
I appreciate Barreca’s point about students taking courses outside of their area of specialization. At Messiah College, students are required to take a 100-level history course (a United States history survey course or a Western Civilization survey course) to fulfill their general education requirement in History. But there are also other opportunities in the curriculum to take a history course. A student can take World History to fulfill their Non-Western Cultures requirement. Or they can take Native American History, African American History, the Historical Study of Peace, Immigrant America, Urban History, Women’s History, or Pennsylvania History to fulfill their Pluralism requirement. They can also take a history course to fulfill their Social Science requirement. So, if I got this right, it is possible for a Messiah College business or nursing major to take four history courses to fulfill general education coursework.
But every now and then we have students who take history courses purely out of intellectual curiosity. This semester in my colonial America course I have two students–an accounting major and a sustainability studies major–who are not required to take the course, but just find the subject interesting. I applaud them and regularly tell them how much I appreciate them, but students like these are becoming increasingly rare in this age of specialization.