General Education

Summary of reform: Although general education reform varies from institution to institution, central to this reform are the concepts of content, coherence, and comprehensiveness. The idea of content relates to what students should know and be able to do with that knowledge after graduation. The idea of coherence has emerged, to a large degree, in response to the fragmentation of the general curriculum. A coherent general curriculum seeks to restore higher levels of intentionally, clarity, and rationale to the curriculum. Related to the issue of coherence is integration of knowledge. As a result, interdisciplinary arrangements are important to general education reform. The third idea, comprehensiveness, involves the rethinking of the general curriculum. Such reflection considers content, appropriate pedagogies, and the institutional support needed.
Level of institutionalization: General education reform requires changes or modifications of the existing formal curricula, a such, it requires institutional level support and panning for effective implementation.
Outcomes: Inquiry, abstract logical thinking, critical analysis, literacy, understanding numerical data, historical consciousness, science literacy, development of values, appreciation of arts, multicultural and international experiences and understandings, and in depth knowledge of a set of given subjects.
Description of assessment: Historically, institutions have assessed their general education on their own initiative and done so as a starting point for curriculum reform. However, in the wake of public scrutiny, politicians, agencies, and associations are calling colleges and universities to determine what students should study and to demonstrate the extent to which such learning has taken place.

Resistances: Many of the resistances to general education reform are similar to the resistance to science reforms. Student culture is seen as a barrier as students often feel they are not being taught and are resentful and skeptical as a result. Faculty and students are both frustrated at times because these classes move more slowly creating a perception that students are not learning as much content as they would in a traditionally structured environment.
Evolution/History: While the concern with general education has a long history, the current focus on the core curriculum began in the late 1970s and continued into the early 1980s. Since this time, faculty and staff from the majority of American colleges and universities have engaged in discussions, seeking to identify constructive means for improving general education.

Connection to other reforms: The breadth of this reform and its varied outcomes suggest connections to many other reforms. For the most part, general education refers to the "core" curriculum of a university or college. It is related closely to critical thinking, cultural literacy, less specialization and greater coherence, higher standards, and interdisciplinary study.

Link to suggested readings: Articles on General Education


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