Thursday, May 22, 2008

Your Anti-Transcript

I once heard a faculty member complaining about how many St. Lawrence students didn't know such-and-such from his discipline. With horror, I realized that I didn't know such-and-such about his discipline myself, because I had not taken even one college-level course in his discipline!

Out of curiosity, I later pulled out the SLU course catalog and decided to see if it was actually possible for an SLU student to take a course in every discipline. The answer is that it would be very very hard. I think what I came up with was that only a student who does a single 8-course major could possibly do this, if such a student planned very very carefully. But most of that student's coursework would be 100-level courses, and faculty would not be very happy with that.

Now emboldened by this finding (if a St. Lawrence student can't do it, and St. Lawrence's requirements are not that demanding, it was surely impossible at my college, which had more demanding requirements), I decided to take stock of my education relative to the full list of academic departments and programs. I decided to use St. Lawrence's listing, since this is my current academic home.

So I made a list of all the departments and programs in which I had not taken even one college-level course. I encourage you to make such a list as well. This is your Anti-Transcript, showing the Shadow Side of your own formal education!

I think that this is part of what makes these conversations about general education requirements so difficult. We all do have gaps in our education. If we are not careful, we can get defensive about those gaps. We can try to pretend that the fields of study we have not studied at all are not really all that important -- but we don't really know that, because we don't know what we don't know. Or, out of embarrassment about those gaps, we can overcompensate by wanting to require what we had not been required to study, in an attempt to ensure that our students do not later come to regret the gaps that we later came to regret in our own education.

Part of what is exciting about discussing general education requirements is how much we can learn from each other about our different fields of study. Is there anything in your field of study that you regard as so essential that you really do wish everyone knew it? Are there ways to teach each other (faculty in other disciplines as well as students) this essential knowledge and these essential skills, besides just through courses?

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