Questioning Things

“Whose needs are being served?”

I know I often bury the lead with my posts, but I thought I’d start this post differently. Instead of wading through some personal story which leads to the main idea, I’m offering this question right at the start.

“Whose needs are being served?”

I’m offering this question as a litmus test for questioning all sorts of things, but I’ll apply it to the work we do in schools and institutions of higher education. Like many industries today, education is faced a host of new initiatives and innovations to position itself for the future. Some colleges are closing their doors while others are consolidating with other campuses. My institution (thankfully) isn’t facing these challenges, but we’re still in the process of change. We’re currently revising our general education curriculum to better serve our students for the careers their likely to face after graduation. As a liberal arts institution, my university seeks to provide a broad-based education across science, technology, arts, humanities, and the social sciences. These diverse disciplines help students see the world through different lenses and can better prepare them to solve the complex problems and careers they’re likely to face after graduation.

That’s the plan at least. Our current general education model was approved almost fifteen years ago. And while it has gone through some minor revisions and tweaks over the years, I’m working with a group of faculty to propose significant changes to the general education curriculum. Although we’ve only been collaborating for the last six months to develop new models, the work actually stretches back several years through campus conversations, self-studies, external reviews, and more. It’s an arduous process that isn’t likely to wrap up in the near future.

As we’ve been working through the redevelopment process, it’s clear that people on campus have different perspectives on what a general education curriculum should encompass. Some believe that it should be really flexible. Others believe that it should be highly prescriptive. Some want to see the curriculum organized around skills and ways of being. Others want to see the requirements dedicated to specific academic disciplines.  As we discuss these different options and solutions, I believe it’s critical for us to regularly return to the litmus test I offered at the start of this post.

“Whose needs are being served?”

As we weigh innovative proposals and hear challenges to their merits, we need to make sure that we continue to serve our students and their needs. We may have different approaches for how serve our students, but we need to remember that it’s our charge.

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