State of General Educ LO6606

Marion Brady (
Thu, 11 Apr 1996 09:10:04 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO6536 -- was: Degrees with Expiry Dates

Joanne takes me to task:

>I am troubled by these references to general education as "appalling," the
>statement that "not a single discipline" addresses or teaches us to
>criticize our fundamental assumptions about reality. . .

Perhaps I overgeneralized. But I don't think so. Where, for
example, in America's traditional kindergarten-thru-graduate school
curriculum, are students required to think about their assumptions having
to do with causation? Different societies have wildly different
explanations of why things happen, none of which can be proven either true
or false, but I know of no place in formal schooling where our assumption
that all events are attributable to either the action of chemical or
physical forces or human will is examined, or where the assumptions about
causation of other societies are treated as anything other than mere
Again, different societies have radically different assumptions
about the nature of the self: It's an integrated whole; it's composed of
two warring forces; it's simply another manifestation of nature. We see
it as three or four almost autonomous entities--physical, emotional,
intellectual, spiritual, loosely bound together in a single skin--and our
assumption that the four have relatively little to do with each other
drives everything from medical school curricula to daily personal routine.
Again, different societies have differing time orientations, and
those differences are at the bottom of much intersocietal misunderstanding
and irritation, yet if I ask a class of college students what their time
orientation is, they don't know what I'm talking about.
I could go on. And on. Thirty or forty such societal assumptions
drive our individual and collective action and thought. An occasional
teacher in an occasional class may touch on an obvious one ("Whoever dies
with the most toys wins") but in none of my education-related roles as
student, teacher, teacher of teachers, administrator, writer, consultant,
or member of accreditation teams, have I ever once witnessed anything that
came close to an examination of these kinds of our deep-seated societal
I agree that an examination of such assumptions would be
appropriate, as you point out, in English, anthropology, sociology, and
political science (and I would add the rest of the social sciences, the
natural sciences, and the humanities to the list). But (1) we're talking
the traditional _required_ general education curriculum here, and (2)
we're not talking about what content _would_ be appropriate, but about
what actually gets taught and learned. I'n the last 20 years I've written
two books and myriad articles, and talked non-stop trying to convince the
education establishment of the absolute centrality of making our
implicitly held societal assumptions explicit if we want to achieve _any_
of our stated instructional goals at a defensible level, and about all
I've gotten are blank stares.
There's no mystery here, of course. The ubiquitous is hard to
see; perhaps all but impossible to see by those who have no basis for
comparison. A fish, according to an old saying, would be the last to
discover water.
Clarifying our societal assumptions--exploring the lenses thru
which we view all reality--should be the foundation of the curriculum.
I'll stick with my contention that, in our classrooms, nothing remotely
approaching that is happening. If it had been, we'd be living in a
markedly different world.

Marion Brady


and the idea that >general education's function is to perpetuate some definable model of >itself. Perhaps I have misunderstood; forgive and correct me if so. > > Many educators (in higher ed and especially in English, sociology, >anthropology, and political science) explicitly surface models, teach >students to analyze and evaluate them, and offer new critical perspectives >on taken-for-granted "realities." This is the stated purpose of "general >education" in many higher learning institutions. > >I will be the first to admit that these purposes are not often realized. >In many institutions, research productivity receives more respect and >greater financial rewards than innovative or reflective teaching and >curriculum development. In other institutions, dreadful teaching >conditions make it tough for instructors to demand the quality and >quantity of thinking, talking, and writing necessary to develop reflective >abilities and dispositions. > >Instructors who make such demands are therefore often in a minority and >must contend with their students' personal and cultural resistance to >change and ambiguity (see another thread, "facts in the data," on dealing >with ambiguity). > >Nonetheless, general education can stimulate critical reflection and >serves as an important counterpoint to US society's tendency to >congratulate itself. Its effects reach far into the future, although they >are not irreversible. Someone on a posting I cannot now retrieve >(regretfully!) suggested we need to do less blaming and more supporting of >education. I could not agree more. The health and wealth of our nation >depends on it. > >Cheerfully, > >Joanne Gainen, Ph.D. >MTD & Associates > >- -- > > > > > Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations > For info: <> -or- <> > >------------------------------ > >End of learning-org-digest V1 #608 >********************************** > > For info on Learning-Org, send email to > with the message INFO LEARNING-ORG > or Web browser <-- "el-oh" not "one-zero" > Mail with comments or problems. > Learning-org and the format of msg ids (LO1234 etc.) are trademarks > Marion


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