A consideration of some aspects of general education in the universities of the United States of America.
Williams, Aston Rowland.
MetadataShow full item record
The three major fields of human knowledge are the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. An undergraduate, whose special interests lie in one of these fields, should be able to understand his own field in the context of the whole of human knowledge. This necessitates some knowledge of the other two fields. This practice is followed in American colleges, and is called in these pages ' general education '. Formal study is required of undergraduates in each of these fields? and the passing of examinations in them is a condition of graduation . The purposes of general education are discussed in the first chapter for the student as undergraduate , and for the man as scholar, for the man in his profession, for the man in the community, and for the man, and the woman, during leisure hours. This analysis raises the question as to what should be the aims of university education? and this is considered briefly in the first chapter, and more fully in the last. The first chapter concludes with an outline, which also is elaborated in the last chapter, of the widest purposes of general studies. These are, in the words of the authors of the Harvard report, to enable students 'to think effectively, to communicate thought, to make relevant judgments, and to discriminate among values ' . A ' liberal education' is defined in the last chapter as one which provides both the values of depth, which arise from specialist studies, and the values of breadth, which are to be found in general 'studies. Specialist studies liberate a man from ignorance and prejudice in his own field. General studies put a man on the road to freedom from ignorance and prejudice in all other fields . In point of fact, in the earlier chapters, the terms ' liberal education ' , 'liberal studies', 'general education', and 'general studies' are used almost as synonyms . This is inevitable, as the many writers quoted on this subject use these terms to mean much the same thing. The content of general education. programs is traced in chapter 2 . The major headings are: 2. 2, Harvard College; 2. 3, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 2.4, Yale College; and 2.5, Columbia College . In each casethe contributions to curricula of the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and 'communication' are given. In chapter 3, however, the major headings are: 3.1, the humanities; 3.2, the social sciences; 3.3, the natural sciences; and 3.4, communication. Here, in each case, the uses made of these fields of knowledge in undergraduate curricula are compared with respect to two very different university colleges -- the College of the University of Chicago, and University College in Michigan State University. Communication in general education is such an important subject that a separate chapter (5) is devoted to it; this forms the one component of general studies which is invariably present. Chapter 6 deals with similarities and differences in general education programs in the United States of America. In the General College of the University of Minnesota, the emphasis is as much on social objectives as on academic aims. Next, the curricula of four new colleges are sketched -- and all have strong general studies programs: Michigan State University, Oakland; Monteith College in Wayne State University, Detroit; the University of South Florida; and Harvey Mudd College in California. This leads on to a consideration of the State prescriptions in California, with three examples: the State College of San Francisco, Stanford University, and the California Institute of Technology. A description of two well-known, but atypical liberal arts colleges follows: Amherst and Antioch. Berea College, like Antioch College, has a work-study plan, but of a different kind. Finally the programs of St. John's College, and Sarah Lawrence College are given, and they illustrate the concluding section of this dissertation in chapter 9 on the philosophical foundations of general education. One stands to one side of the Harvard pattern, and the second to the other side. The division of the fields of human knowledge into the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences is obviously an over-simplification. An analysis by Cassidy of Yale at the start of chapter 7 shows the relationship of the liberal arts and sciences to their professional applications on the one hand, and to their philosophical bases on the other. This leads on to details of the requirements of the professions in America in respect of general education in undergraduate studies: engineering, architecture, law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, business administration, journalism, music, and teaching. The opportunity is taken of tracing various methods of arrangement of general studies in section 7.23 on engineering education. Chapter 8 raises the problem of finding time for all the studies which should be included in undergraduate curricula. Should an extra year be provided? Indeed, is one year less a possibility? Opponents of the practice of general education usually avoid its challenge by stressing the time problem, or by saying that its values can be attained at the secondary school level, or after graduation through adult education. A study of examination papers from M.I.T. (page 111), Columbia (page 114), and Keele in England (page 232) will show that work at this level demands a maturity beyond that of the school- boy or school-girl, and requires far more time than the adult, burdened with employment and domestic responsibilities, could find. Other ways of escaping the challenge of general education are to look to possible alternatives~ living in residence, student activities, lecture series, the cultural background of a good home. It is contended in these pages that although these are valuable supplements, they are nevertheless inadequate alternatives. Chapter 4 separates the first three and the last five chapters through comparisons of Great Britain, Canada, and the United States of America. There is much incisive writing in Britain on the value of liberal education, of which, with certain exceptions, there occurs relatively little in practice. The Colleges of Advanced Technology have good programs of liberal studies. The University of North Staffordshire at Keele has a foundation year of general education, and what would be called in America 'distribution requirements', in the following three years. Beyond this, univerSity undergraduate curricula and British sixth form courses are highly specialized, but less so in Scotland than in England. Chapter 4 contains a full portrayal of British practice with respect to special and general studies. This has been given because a statement of British reactions to the challenge of general education, it is hoped, will serve to sharpen thinking on the subject. For the Same purpose Canadian views and practice are described; Canadian universities . in this respect are closer to those of Britain and France than to those of the United States of America. Reference is made also to Germany, Holland, Australia, and India, to show the geographic spread of discussion on these matters. It is hoped that this dissertation may be of value to South African university authorities, who are considering at the moment (1963) the possibility of an extra year at the beginning of the university Bachelor's course, and this point is mentioned in section 8.24 . The extent to which a country can reject the challenge of general education i s outlined in section 4.81; the South African prescripti on for subjects outside the field of specialization is usually framed in terms of not more than rather than not less than . The difficulties of implementing a general education program can be understood best with respe ct to universities where general studies are largely absent; here too South African practice providesin section 8.52 a useful basis for discussion. Finally, South Africa is referred to again in section 9.22 in an attempt to define general education, and to show what, at the very least, a program of general education must include to be worthy of the name. This study was made possible by a Leader Program award of the State Department of the United States of America in 1955, and by a Carnegie Corporation of New York travel grant in 1960. Two stimulating and memorable visits resulted. This analysis of general education has been undertaken in the conviction that 'thinking on this subject, and fundamental thinking, was never more necessary than it is today ' , to use the words of the University Grants Committee of Great Britain. It is hoped that these pages will indicate that the world has a great deal to learn about this matter from the United States of America.