ERIC Identifier: ED362253
Publication Date: 1993-09-00
Author: Cohen, Arthur M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
General Education in Community Colleges. ERIC Digest.
The term general education has been used periodically to rationalize almost
every non-vocational program that community colleges offer. Life adjustment,
guidance services, core curriculum, basic skills training, physical education,
and Great Books courses have all fallen under the rubric of general education.
As an all-encompassing concept, general education yields little guidance for
specific curriculum formation. If general education means course requirements
that all students should fulfill, what happens in an institution where three in
four students attend part-time and one in eight completes a prescribed program?
If a state's universities agree that a student with an associate's degree shall
be assumed to have fulfilled general education requirements, how will those
requirements be imposed on the vast majority of students who will never complete
a degree, never transfer to a university? And if general education is that which
all people should know in order to sustain themselves as productive citizens,
how does it fit into occupational curricula which are so tightly impacted that
little room is left for anything else? This Digest presents an overview of
general education as discussed in the Spring 1993 issue of "New Directions for
THE STATE OF GENERAL EDUCATION TODAY
philosophy of education which allowed students in previous decades to select
courses willy-nilly to fulfill general education requirements was challenged in
reforms which took place in the 1980s--reforms which brought tighter curricular
structure and emphasized global studies, gender and ethnic studies, and the
integration of knowledge. At present, however, coherence in the general
education curriculum is still threatened when curricular decisions are made by
disparate units: academic departments, occupational divisions, articulation
committees, and accrediting bodies (Gaff, 1993). Gaff recommends a second wave
of reforms in general education to focus on involving students actively in their
own learning, enabling faculty to match pedagogy with educational goals, and
reinforcing all students' learning with activities and human contact on campus.
In a study of the current status of general education, Raisman (1993)
reviewed courses offered in Michigan's 29 community colleges. With no
centralized governing board, Michigan's colleges are free to determine their own
programs. He found that although chief academic officers reported that their
institutions were emphasizing general education, an analysis of 22,931 course
sections offered in Fall 1989 did not support that conclusion (Raisman, 1993, p.
14). Over half the curriculum was in career education, with general
education--mostly introductory math and composition courses--accounting for only
three courses in ten. He concluded that administrators must take an active role
in assessing the true status of the curriculum and, if necessary, organize
GENERAL EDUCATION AS HABITS OF THOUGHT
can be envisioned in terms of "habits of thought" which cut across curricular
disciplines (Eaton, 1993). Community colleges are charged with providing
education for an enlightened citizenry while also accommodating the part-time,
non-degree-seeking student who, today, dominates the community college
population. Eaton offers two solutions. The first is to make general education
requirements proportional to the number of credits taken. At minimum, students
who take at least twelve units would also be required to include general
education courses. The second solution is to integrate general education with
liberal arts or occupational course materials so that students develop "habits
of thought" to "strengthen their reasoning capacity, their awareness of social
and civic relationships and responsibilities, and their attention to values and
moral issues" (Eaton, 1993, p. 28).
Teaching habits of thought can include values development and clarification.
Values are "inevitably espoused" in general education classes, according to
Thomas (1993, p. 41). Thomas describes four methods to teach values. First, an
instructor may openly assess the worth of an idea or event. Second, the
instructor may express a line of thinking leading to an opinion. Third, the
instructor may provide more than one alternative to a problem and explain the
underlying values for each alternative. And fourth, students can be encouraged
to explore their own values and express judgments. Thomas argues that general
education courses that deliberately teach values are more useful than those
which teach facts and concepts.
GENERAL EDUCATION TO MEET LEARNERS' FUTURE NEEDS
preparing students for the future, general education should include courses
which promote an understanding of the cultural and geographic relationships
among peoples. Sjoquist (1993) believes that the promotion of cultural literacy
can help students respond well to change and diversity in their own lives. The
problem lies in trying to fit global education into the general education
curriculum, since instructors often do not have the background to teach such
courses, and students often do not have the requisite reading skills. Sjoquist
advocates a "diffusionist" method for teaching world civilization courses based
on "topical" organization, such as studying the topic "unusual creativity" across time and cultures in a World Civilizations course.
In building for the future, students must learn to be "expert learners," to
know about their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and interests as learners;
to understand how to accomplish the tasks involved in learning, such as how to
read a book or take notes from a lecture; to develop a repertoire of learning
strategies and study skills; and to build on their prior knowledge (Weinstein
and Van Mater Stone, 1993, p. 33). In addition, Weinstein and Van Mater Stone
argue that expert learners must learn to monitor their own comprehension and
manage their learning. The steps include:
a plan for carrying out a study activity;
the specific strategies or methods to achieve the goal;
and self-evaluating progress;
methods or goals if necessary; and
an overall evaluation of their methods and accomplishments.
GENERAL EDUCATION FOR THE AT-RISK STUDENT
The goals and
processes involved in becoming self-regulated learners are common to both
general and developmental education. Franke (1993, p. 61) states that these two
curricular areas are drawing closer to each other, as general education begins
to emphasize developing thinking skills over learning specific content, and
developmental education begins to recognize the feasibility of developing
subject knowledge along with basic mechanical skills. To narrow the gap between
developmental and general education, Franke recommends that general educators
learn the cross-curricular techniques of developmental education, including
writing across the curriculum, content area reading, or applied mathematics, and
that developmental educators learn from general education practitioners the
means of introducing higher-order thinking skills into developmental students'
first courses. Crossover teaching and course pairing are two ways of
strengthening the relationship between general and developmental educators.
Rendon and Frederickson (1993) suggest other ways to bring today's diverse
student population into the general education mainstream. They contend that
Boyer and Levine's model curriculum (1981) is particularly suited to minority
and underprepared students. This model focuses on six broad cross-disciplinary
categories: "our use of symbols for communication; shared membership in groups
and institutions; interdependence of production and consumption; our
relationship with nature; our use of time; and our shared beliefs and values"
(Rendon and Fredrickson, 1993, p. 67).
INTEGRATING GENERAL EDUCATION AND OCCUPATIONAL
Business needs and technological change are dictating that skills
deficits in the U.S. workforce be remedied. Jacobs (1993) predicts a "shotgun
marriage" between general education and occupational education, rather than a
voluntary alliance. The integration of general education and occupational
education should emphasize critical thinking skills and basic skills for
computing, deducing, and communicating. Also needed are the abilities to grow
and change in response to new worklife situations, to advance along a career
path, to update knowledge, and to acquire the skills for gathering and analyzing
information and making quick decisions.
Despite widespread agreement that occupational students need general
education skills to succeed in the workplace, various obstacles must be overcome
to integrate general and occupational education. Carole Finley Edmonds (1993)
suggests that many of the barriers result from differences in the attitudes,
approaches, and orientations of occupational and liberal arts faculty. The
pressure to change, along with the resistance to change within both camps,
"often result in both groups feeling attacked" (p. 88). When attitudinal
barriers between occupational and liberal arts faculty and administrators can be
overcome, important benefits accrue to students.
For general education to be successful, a vision
is required of what a generally educated person does in specific situations. But
society is not static; culture is fluid. We will never be able to describe the
person with a general education in a manner that satisfies everyone. Still, the
effort is a worthy pursuit, and the educational leaders who have a vision of the
generally educated person can at least ensure that the institution has goals
toward which most of its curriculum is pointed.
Boyer, Ernest L; Levine, Arthur. "A Quest for
Common Learning." Change, 1981, 13(3), 28-35.
This digest was drawn from "Directing General Education Outcomes, New
Directions for Community Colleges," Number 81, edited by Neal A. Raisman;
published in Spring 1993. The cited articles include: "Toward a Second Wave of
Reform," by Jerry G. Gaff; "The De Facto State of General Education," by Neal A.
Raisman; "General Education in the Community College: Developing Habits of
Thought," by Judith S. Eaton; "Broadening Our Conception of General Education:
The Self-Regulated Learner," by Claire E. Weinstein and Gretchen Van Mater
Stone; "Teaching Values through General Education," by R. Murray Thomas;
"Globalizing General Education: Changing World, Changing Needs," by Douglas P.
Sjoquist; "General and Developmental Education: Finding Common Ground," by
Thomas L. Franke; "General Education for At-Risk Students," by Laura I. Rendon
and Janyth Fredrickson; "Vocational Education and General Education: New
Relationship or Shotgun Marriage?" by James Jacobs; and "General Education in
Occupational Programs: The Barriers Can Be Surmounted," by Carole Finley