The pre-major (that it even came into existence) seemed an indication of the institutiton’s lack of commitment to General Education, even a stake in its very heart. General Education, as I had understood it, was there in part to give the student a look around at the landscape of learning and to locate, perhaps, in it something he or she had not seen or heard of before and might find attractive, even inspirational.
I understood the need for the pre-major as the means by which to create an artifical bottleneck that might slow the flow of students into “impacted” majors. I understood too that were I a student and wanted to get into a particular major the very first thing I would do would be to take the courses required for the pre-major. Waiting around to take your pre-major classes was bound only to prolong the anxiety about whether one was going to get in the major or not.
But so much for General Education (GE); those courses had to be pushed aside, while the pre-major was taken care of, with the result that GE’s no longer served for many as an opening vista onto the possibilities of higher education but as an impediment to getting into the major and finally an impediment to graduation. The last thing one wished to know about on the way out the door was all the things one had missed, all the things one might have learned but had shoved aside in the intererts of timely progress towards graduation.
As a result GE classes begin to fill, not with freshmen and sophomores just embarking on their educational adventures, but with jaded juniors and seniors who did not want to have any sort of educational adventure at all.
I taught a number of years ago a writing course linked to a general education course, Philosophy 5, Introduction to Ethics. Because of an ongoing beef with the registrar and inadquatee upfront advertising, my section was low. I thought maybe they would drop it, but instead I was allowed to keep it running with only 15 students.
I was terrified for these students. Each and every one was in his or her very first quarter at the university. Of the 15, three males were causcasian, and all the rest were either asian or latino, latina. They had never read ethics before; they didn’t read well in any case. They knew nothing about ethics and they were competing for a grade in a course that was 25% seniors. I didn’t think my guys stood a chance. When I saw early samples of their writing I was sure they were all going to fail.
I had to do what I hate doing. I had to cut to the chase. I told them: at the university there is no room for your thinking. You are all in any case idiots. You don’t know a thing and you shouldn’t ever get the idea that you do. Accordingly your task, in exams and papers, is:
TO REPEAT WHAT THE TEACHER SAYS. THIS IS YOUR WORK. TO DO THIS WORK PROPERLY, YOU MUST GO TO LECTURE AND TAKE NOTES. THEN YOU MUST MEMORIZE THOSE NOTES. WHETHER OR NOT YOU UNDERSTAND THE NOTES IS NOT IMPORTANT; IF NOTES ARE SOLD THROUGH THE NOTE TAKING SERVICE, BUY AND MEMORIZE THOSE NOTES AS WELL AND WHEN THE TIME COMES REPEAT WHAT YOU HAVE MEMORIZED. DO NOT FIGHT THIS. DO NOT RESIST THIS. JUST DO IT AND YOU WILL BE ABLE TO COMPETE WITH THE JUNIORS AND SENIORS IN THE CLASS WHO ALREADY KNOW WHAT I AM TELLING YOU NOW!