ENC is a liberal arts school; we hear it at orientation, chapel, in classes from professors, and from other students. While there are many different variations of the “liberal arts education” in the United States, something similar is found in all of them.
Liberal arts is educational diversification at its finest. The hope is that people who receive a liberal arts education will turn into a jack-of-all-trades, capable and competent in any area of study. From this, students will be free to excel at any job and be equally skilled in their chosen vocation.
Nevertheless, the concept that sets liberal arts education apart from other specialized and mechanical schools is that liberal arts education provides the foundation for creative analytical skills. This is not to say that every student taught in the liberal arts environment thinks the same; in fact, it is quite the opposite.
Students of the liberal arts educational system are diverse in their ideas because they have the tools to express what they honestly think, believe, and imagine. This is what allows for the reevaluation, creating, and sustaining of the liberal arts system. Conventionality is the inhibitor of development and invention. Liberal arts education will lose its flavor if our generation does not understand it, analyze it, and leave our mark upon it.
In the hope that this does not happen, we must understand what our own brand of liberal arts education is at ENC. According to Dr. William McCoy, Chair of the History Department, “We do everything in our power to make sure that our general education courses are speaking to issues relevant to our world today and that they prepare all of us to live faithful as Christians in today’s world.”
As a Christian college, ENC must strive to keep its General Education program firmly rooted in the Christian calling, while at the same time applicable to current issues.
Dr. David Restrick, professor of World Religions, stated, “I would say that the class is doing fairly well…there is a relatively small number of students who appear to be doing just enough to get a passing grade.”
Dr. McCoy echoed these sentiments when he said, “There were a number of students (a minority, but not a small one) who were quite disenchanted with the [general education courses]. Some felt that the courses were not rigorous enough, some found them to be too demanding. Others made it clear that they could not see how they were gaining anything that would be of significance to them in life.” These students’ opinions are important, but the fact remains: you simply cannot cater to everyone.
In an effort to help students enrolled in the general education program, ENC employs Supplemental Instructors that are available to students outside of the class time to offer extra help in understanding the course content. Elizabeth Jabs, Supplemental Instructor for West in the World, said, “I think the benefits of SI can be directly linked to the relationship between the SI leaders themselves and the students.”
Robin Dean, Supplemental Instructor for Literature and Culture, added, “One of the most challenging parts of Gen Ed classes are the large numbers…no one can ever be heard to the extent they deserve.” While this is true, students must take an active approach to their own education.
It’s important to realize that there will always be students who are not satisfied with particular courses. Should we pursue the utilitarian approach of making the course appealing to the most students, or do we go the route of making the course an academic survival course, where the most intellectually gifted benefit while the average student flounders and the deficient student utterly fails?
Liberal arts is all about the utilitarian approach, including community, collaboration, and unity. Therefore, let the academic survival happen within major specific classes, and let the general education courses educate without being overbearing.
However, I do believe the general education courses need a reconditioning. This is not because the system is bad, it is simply because the world changes. We are not the same generation that tailored the general education system. We want liberal arts education, but we want the suit to fit us. We want to tailor the appearance for our generation so that the garment doesn’t deteriorate when we pass it on to our children. We cannot afford to skip a generation, lest the garment be thrown out entirely.
Picture general education as a community of people who actually want to learn, who want to be engaged—not just with what the community is good at, but with what it struggles in. What if those people offered to help those who are not as skilled? Picture student leaders, strong in particular areas, standing up alongside professors and saying to the rest of the student body: “I will help you learn as I learn myself.”
What if we actually lived out the Christian calling in academia? What if the strong truly picked up the weak, instead of simply learning theories and going back to our rooms, separate from one another, learning in solitude?
Alone we accomplish little in life, together greatness is possible. Let it start with our generation. We are better than apathy, we are better than our solitary pursuits. Liberal arts education gave us the foundation, and our predecessors gave us the building, but it is our duty to make necessary repairs on this inherited institution.