As class registration for next fall began, so too did conversation among students regarding which classes to take in order to satisfy general education requirements.
As a history major, I have often been consulted by peers for advice on which professor they should take for one of their western civilization courses. I typically respond by telling them they cannot go wrong with any of the professors in the history department, for all of them will provide a large degree of intellectual stimulation. My answer is never well received.
More often than not, my peers are not concerned with intellectual stimulation, but simply desire the professor who will require the least amount of work. However, this attitude is not a product of inherent personal laziness or unwillingness to work hard. It is the product of a structural issue that exists within higher education.
College no longer functions as a place primarily for intellectual advancement, but rather as a business designed to attract students whose central goal is to advance economically. Contemporary higher education is creating students hoping to move through college with relative ease; their goal being a bigger paycheck, not intellectual expansion. It also is creating specialized students who become so entrenched in their own disciplines that they do not stop to assess the relevance or significance of what they are studying.
While Augustana’s extensive general education program attempts to combat this problem of over-specialization, it could be a lot more effective. Rather than only encouraging study across disciplines through general education requirements, cross-disciplinary study should be required within multiple majors.
For instance, physical science majors should be required to take a philosophy course on ethics to grapple with the ethical dilemmas that exist within scientific advancement. They should be forced to formally consider the human ramifications of certain aspects of scientific advancement, and whether or not their study is useful to humankind or just a way for their name to be published in a journal.
The business major should have to take a course on social inequality where they would be forced to consider how certain business practices could adversely affect the disadvantaged within society. An understanding of inequality and its effects on the economy should be paramount for anyone who plans on entering the business world. The decisions they make could have major economic ramifications, and furthermore these decisions may affect generations to come.
Along the same lines, an understanding of history and what has caused economic downturns of the past should be vital to the education of a person studying business. Anyone who has done an in-depth study of the causes of the Great Depression can see the parallels existing between the events that occurred in the years leading up to the economic crash in 1929 and the events leading up to the crash of 2008. Without going into too much detail, knowledge of the causes of the Great Depression prior to 2008 could have possibly prevented the most recent downturn.
All things considered, the result of these types of over-specialization has been a tragically under-educated pool of college graduates that possess a very narrow and individualistic view of the world without much consideration for greater society and their place within it.
Not only should college foster a broader scope of educational study, but it should also be a place where discussion and inquiry takes place regarding complex moral and ethical dilemmas. It has become far too easy for students to attend their classes without ever having to really tackle any of these issues.
As stated earlier, the individual is not necessarily to blame for the apathy exhibited towards complex societal issues. The environment created by much of contemporary higher education caters to an almost robotic student, one whose only desire is to increase their future economic worth whilst encountering as little resistance as possible even if it means sacrificing their own beliefs to satisfy a professor.
A valuable lesson can be learned from the teachings of my mentor and sociology professor, Glenda Sehested: “We need to not simply tolerate divergent opinions on homosexuality or abortion or just war philosophies or the morality of social institutions that create and perpetuate poverty or the morality of taxation and various government programs. The goal of such debates should not be to reach consensus, but rather to literally live in the tension between various rationales and moral arguments on each of the many sides of these issues.”