My little classroom is a place of contestation, conflict and confusion though no effort of my own. First—and I do have to keep reminding myself—my writing course—the one I most teach—is required. Period. The students exercise little or no choice. Instructors’ names are not listed for this particular course, so students can’t pick among instructors even if they knew who any of them were (which they don’). Mostly a particular class is selected on the basis of the days of the week and the time of day it is offered. Since no reasoning seems to go into it, I have had lately classes with 26 people not a one of whom knows another.
While my class is probably the most resented, because required, class on campus; students resent other required classes also. I haven’t heard much complaint about it lately—perhaps because these students don’t complain openly much—but a while back a good third of the students in any class resented the General Education requirements. They just didn’t see the point.
The general education classes are there for the purposes of general education. Students are required to take a history course here and a philosophy course there and some science class and a class in literature or the social sciences. Most of these classes have little or nothing to do with students’ majors and are intended, I suppose, to produce more of a well rounded individual, a person who knows in a generally educated way a little something about the world around him or her.
I have sat through a number of these General Education courses. As part of my work as a Writing Instructor I have taught and continue to teach an occasional writing class linked to a General Education class. This means all the students in my writing class are also enrolled in the same general education; and to make the classes work together in some way I usually attend the lectures for these courses and try, as well, to do the readings assigned the students.
I understand why students have some troubles with these courses. First, since many students have to take said courses, they are usually overloaded lecture classes, with a minimum of about 240 students with a Teaching Assistant teacher and a few other TAs to service their educational needs. The classes taught more as general education courses and less as an extention of the professor’s research are the most “popular.”
I attended for example an art history lecture in an 800 seat lecture hall. About every seat was full the first day though by the fourth week perhaps a third were occupied on a regular basis. This course had a professor, not a TA; he had some vision I think of art history as arising from and registering particular historical situations. But the deeper ideas just seemed to go by the boards as the professor showed one slide after another and made a few remarks on each.
The tests were of the identify the slide variety. Students liked this class because they didn’t have to understand anything; all they had to do was memorize slides. They used mnemonic devices that had little or nothing to do with what the professor said about the painting, as in “isn’t he the guy with the pink clouds” or “isn’t he the guy with the really fat women.”