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Davis, California

Friday, October 22, 2021

Guest Opinion: Jocelyn Lemaitre

I am writing in response to Tuesday’s editorial, “General Education: GE reform must be sensitive to students.”

In principle, I agree that revamping the general education framework is a good idea. However, speaking practically from my own experience, it’s a good intention starting from the wrong location. No question the American public school education system sucks (and that is an understatement). But if changes need to be made, they need to be made way below our grade level, beginning at middle school if not earlier.

I found it appalling that the statewide high school exit exam everyone was required to take could easily have passed for a middle school graduation exam. That’s how bad it was. I find still more shocking the surprising lack of coordination between the AP testing system and the process by which both AP scores and transferable courses are recognized by both community colleges and the UC system and course credit given. This is coming from someone who has been told numerous times by bureaucratic red tape that such and such a course is not exactly the same as the version offered by the school and who, as a result, spent a lot of time “relearning” material I already knew.

Here’s a concrete example: You take a psychology class in high school. Then you go to community college and find out that because the AP class isn’t recognized, you get to do general psychology all over again. You need to take a statistics class, also something you passed with flying colors in high school, only to be informed that statistics for “psychology” is different from statistics for “math.” I felt the mean value of my IQ going down even as I heard this. Then when you finally transfer to UC Davis, you don’t even get to take interesting, major-specific classes that would teach you new material in the discipline. Instead, it’s PSC 100 and PSC 101. As a junior transfer student, I find that unacceptable. It’s ludicrous how many times you get to relearn the same generic material just to satisfy a stupid undergraduate requirement.

By stupid, I mean an unintelligent, uncoordinated, unbalanced reflection of what an average student’s knowledge should be at this stage in academic life. Maybe I’m part of a select few who actually pay attention in their classes and whose memory retention is a little bit better than that of a desiccated sea sponge. Somehow, I doubt that. So I offer my genuine condolences to the incoming round of students who will “have to take 12 to 20 units in each of three topical breadth areas: arts and humanities, science and engineering, and social sciences, regardless of their major … [and] 35 units within four core literacies.” It’s preposterous to try to fix now (literacy?!) what should have been fixed a long while back, and it’s outrageous to subject students to what is essentially high school all over again. If high school wasn’t good enough, that’s where repairs ought to start. Not by creating all-new undergraduate requirements that try to hastily patch over the reading skills that somehow fell through the cracks. Even with possibilities of double-dipping, it will be an arduous, unnecessary and torturous repetition for many.

There are probably people out there who slept through their high school years and are now trying to make up for it in college. That’s great. But the rest of us, the much larger part of us, are here because we have been working our asses off. We pay for our education. Don’t waste our time.

1 COMMENT

  1. One can’t help but think that proposals for increased GE requirements are a response by GE departments to a continuing lack of interest in their fields and dismal prospects for their scholars and doctoral students. We’ve all heard the classic jokes about liberal arts Phds. asking “Do you want fries with that” at their places of employment. Unfortunately, there is an element of truth underlying the joke.

    The reality is that there are only so many hours in a lifetime, and you can’t learn it all. As such, those proposing the new requirements should be forced to do three things.

    First, they should be forced to take and pass college level exams in all of the areas being proposed before being allowed to speak. (I’ll be in the booth raking it in by selling calculus refreshers, since I doubt most of them could pass an exam in college level mathematics.) Do as I say, not as I did, (or do) results in a weak argument.

    Second, they should be randomly assigned the transcripts of graduating students who haven’t met the proposed standards. They should then be required to pick the courses that would not have been taken (since no one is proposing an increased number of total units) and write a public letter to that professor beginning “Dear Professor X, the material in your course is less important than the material in my course because…” In academia, scholars examine and question each others work. The resulting rigorous body of knowledge then has a solid foundation. The same rigorous process of “scholar vs. scholar” should be applied here. All should remember that it’s a zero sum game — every addition results in an offsetting reduction.

    Finally, they should establish a series of exams, similar to the AP tests in subjects such as American History, World History, etc. that students could take on a pass-fail basis to meet the requirements. If the goal is indeed “broad knowledge”, this would demonstrate that the student has it and should be immediately accepted. If, however, this is an employment program for liberal arts scholars, then the objections will be manifest.

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