LC creates general education “super team”

Illustration by Anna DeSmet

By Gelsey Plaza

The General Education Steering Committee is in the process of devising a Core and General Education curriculum that reflects the Lewis & Clark identity. The Steering Committee, commonly referred to as the General Education Super Team (GEST), was formed by last year’s Curriculum Committee (CC).

GEST is chaired by Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Kathy FitzGibbon. The committee also has two faculty members each from arts and humanities, social sciences and math and natural sciences. There are also members who attend and participate in the meetings but are not official voting members.

According to Fitzgibbon, there is a lot of enthusiasm among faculty for doing something quite different for Core, such as replacing Exploration & Discovery with a different freshman requirement. In May 2017, the College of Arts and Sciences faculty approved DisCo (distribution requirements and Core) as the framework for general education.

“The balance between how much is Core and how much is Distribution could be different than it is now,” Fitzgibbon said. “But we want to start from the perspective of our commitment to the LC identity and to our students, and then make sure that our requirements really reflect who we are as an institution.”

The CC and GEST would like to retain the Foreign Language requirement, further enhance critical inquiry skills with Symbolic and Quantitative Reasoning in the first year and sustain a first-year Core experience to best meet teaching goals and to foster community. However, a big question surrounding the Core experience is whether Core would exist solely in the first year or if it could potentially be incorporated as a part of the senior year capstone experience.

According to Associate Professor of Computer Science Peter Drake, GEST is trying to create a transparent, inclusive and deliberative process. The topic of general education provides endless discussion, which is why this process has been going on for nearly ten years.

Drake hopes to see a quantitative component to Core, taking advantage of the growing interest in data science across a number of departments.

“The notion of truly interdisciplinary core courses is also intriguing,” Drake said. “E&D was originally meant to provide this, but in practice it has become a humanities course. Students have told us that they want to learn how to have discussions with people from different backgrounds; breaking disciplinary boundaries is the first step in this direction.”

As an English major, Katie McFarlane ’19 also thinks that E&D is similar to a humanities or even English class. She thinks that E&D does not completely deliver its purpose of being an interdisciplinary class.  

“Overall, E&D classes serve a purpose but are generally disliked by students,” McFarlane said. “I think this is in part because we are forced to take them during freshman year. The rest of our general education requirements can be completed at any point, but E&D makes it harder to explore other classes as a freshman, which is when I wanted to try out different majors the most. Because I was taking English courses my freshman year along with my E&D classes, I didn’t feel like I was exposed to a well-rounded liberal arts education.”

Alden Chatfield ’19 also thinks that Core isn’t very interdisciplinary.

“In my experience, each professor teaches their core class essentially in whatever way they want, randomly throwing elements of their department and training into the result,” Chatfield said. “While this makes each class stronger on its own, the presumed idea of a ‘core’ general requirement is to create an equalized, consistent educational basis for all students. I think a better approach is to require actual interdisciplinary exploration by making some 100 level courses for all range of departments required.”

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