General Question

Hobosnake's avatar

Can anyone give me a good reason to care about my general ed classes?

Asked by Hobosnake (796points) November 8th, 2010

I’m a software engineering major in my first year at San Jose State University. I’m doing fine in my (more difficult) calculus and engineering courses, but I just can’t stand my general education courses, particularly my speech class, which has sent me on another “research for the sake of research” projects. I’m paying at least 6,000 dollars a semester (I try not to know the price) to come here, and I basically feel robbed. My only consolation is that in that respect I’m better off than most—I passed 9 AP tests in high school and only have 17 units of GE left assuming I pass this semester’s classes.

Yes, this is mostly flaming, but I’m half serious. If someone can give me a good reason I might get some much-needed inspiration.

On another note, where did this tradition of general education come from and how widespread is it?

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22 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

Statements gathered from various educators:

The more you gain knowledge and wisdom through study and diligence, the better equipped you will be to deal with the world you live in.

In order for the members of a Democracy to be effective contributors to the community, they should be provided with the necessary skills, social orientation and intellectual perspective to succeed. A liberal education is not job training, but rather a broad preparation to enable you to better adjust to the changing conditions of a world in flux.

Hobosnake's avatar

@YARNLADY in that case I think it should be paid for by the government and/or required of everyone (or all voters or whatnot), but I guess I see your point.

poisonedantidote's avatar

There is a very good chance that you will end up working a job that has nothing to do with your chosen subject.

Everyone i have known that has gone to university has ended up working in something unrelated to their chosen subject. My cousin studied chemical engineering, he now works as a tax man, my friend Pablo studied maths, he works in a library, and my friend Jose who also studied maths now runs a restaurant. I have a younger friend who has just started university to study physics, but something tells me he will end up either playing piano or doing maths.

There is a very good chance of you not finding work, even if you pass. you will be left with debt, and will have to pay it back some how, thats where general ed will come in.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Hobosnake Perhaps you still haven’t figured out the the government is the taxpayers, voters, citizens and yes, even you.

Jeruba's avatar

Being able to speak clearly, confidently, and effectively in front of others, whether the audience is large or small, is a skill that turns out to be useful sooner or later in almost every kind of job, and especially in a professional environment where your progress on any project is likely to be measured by what you say in your PowerPoint presentation.

So can being able to research a topic and present facts succinctly, represent different points of view, and draw conclusions.

Those skills can even be useful in getting the job at a time when smaller and smaller factors can make the difference between a job offer and a turndown.

That’s just one set of reasons. Really I think that if you are going to a liberal arts college you ought to have the maturity to know the value of the education.

perspicacious's avatar

To start with I will say that you are in college for a Bachelors degree; you are not in a trade school to learn a specific trade. A college degree is a life-enriching educational experience. Try to embrace all of your classes. Speech was one of the best classes I had in my entire college career. Yes, you do have to do research but learning to write an effective speech and deliver it is invaluable. Hopefully, when your own kids ask this question you will be able to answer it effectively.

Kayak8's avatar

I much prefer to hire employees who (while specialists) have a generalists background as well. There are too many in the software business who are limited in what they can do because many are flat-out unable to communicate with the customer/buyer. Those software engineers who can communicate well and clearly and switch back and forth from IT jargon to English are worth a great deal to a business. Those who also have a sense of history and geography and other “general” topics can become invaluable in today’s global world.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I guess I’m the anti-you (don’t take it personally, please). I enjoyed most of my non-major related classes in college, did poorly in a couple of required math classes (actually failed one of them with a big red ‘F’, the first course ever), and later got bored with some of the classes closest to my major (and not because of Linear Algebra, which was never required for anything I was doing). I quit college after my junior year and never went back: no degree.

So I’m not an engineer, as I had set out to be, but I’ve never had trouble getting a job, even in engineering-related fields, even highlighting the fact that I have no degree. And I can out-write any of the engineers I work with on a daily basis. Which may not be saying much, but still…

marinelife's avatar

You will have to write in your job. You will have to make presentations in your jobs. You will have to persuade people to spend money on your projects. You will have to make arguments for why you choose to purchase a certain package over all of the others available. You will have to persuade companies to hire you.

For all of that logic and those skills you are learning in speech class, general education classes are vital.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I understand your pain. My daughter dropped out of high school at age 16 to start college, and already had 35 credit hours going in. She too would complain about gen ed requirement classes, mostly because the classes could be large, students weren’t prepared and didn’t speak up in class.

First, you have to understand that with 9 AP tests under your belt, you are the exception to the model on which program requirements were created, and not the model. When the school set up requirements for gradation, they did not have you in mind. Second, as @Jeruba said, the purpose of the gen ed requirement is to provide a well-rounded student, with exposure to a wide range of subjects.

Speech class is extremely important; in order to advance in your career, you have to be able to present, and present well. The two things in life that people fear the most are flying and speaking in public, so cut your classmates some slack. It can be torture to sit through presentations by others who are very nervous or hesitant about speaking, but everyone can improve their presentation style and skills.

Some schools allow you to take CLEP tests or take higher level courses for Gen Ed. It depends on your school, and how well you learn to negotiate and work the process. Which is another benefit of gen ed classes; learning how to get to “yes” when a situation needs to be different for you is also part of an education. People generally want to help you if you form a connection with them, and are articulate about your goals. Another coping mechanism for gen ed classes is to sit up front, be prepared, and engage the TA on the topic- ask and answer questions.

wundayatta's avatar

A lot of people who focus on one thing, say engineering, never learn about anything else. They only know one thing, and that thing is pretty boring to anyone else who isn’t an engineer. Such people, I believe, end up lifelong bachelors much more often than most men. Your experience, of course, may vary.

“Well-rounded” means you know enough about a lot of things that you will rarely be lost in any conversation. It means you’ll enjoy listening instead of always trying to get the topic around to what you know about. It means you’ll understand more about the psychology of others. It means you’ll understand why politics are important and the history of where your nation and family came from and so many other things. Perhaps most importantly, it means you will make fewer mistakes because you have knowledge from other disciplines that could actually be applicable to your work.

You can bitch about it, but you would be far better served if you throw yourself into it. We grayheads develop Gen Ed courses because we are tired of putting out people who only know one thing. We are tired of being bored by our students. We are tired of mentioning the simplest thing and seeing that blank look on your face. “Civil war? What’s that—a divorce case?”

Carly's avatar

They’re not that important when you pay that much for them. I would highly suggest taking only your major classes at SJSU. Go to DVC in pleasant hill, or some other good community college for the rest of GEds. They’re only about $26 a unit, that means $78 for every non-lab class. If you need to figure out what will transfer go to

The classes will be easier, you’ll actually learn more (imo), and it’ll be cheaper.
Also, if you can’t afford to commute to these CCs, or you just don’t have a car, there are sooooo many online courses you can take.

gorillapaws's avatar

Besides the fact that in software development you’re almost certainly going to have to put on demos and talks for your peers, participate in technology panels, and other related activities, one huge way that having a well-rounded background comes into play is when talking with women. I have at least a basic understanding of most fields of knowledge, and have never met a woman I couldn’t engage on one subject or another. This applies to men as well I guess, and that could come in handy for networking or other business-related aspects (or if you’re gay and want to find a boyfriend). Another aspect of software development is understanding the problem domain in order to apply programatic solutions. Having a working general knowledge of many different areas dramatically improves your ability to acquire that domain knowledge.

The thing that really chapped my ass, was that my school required a language, and I had 5 years of Latin which they said didn’t count for anything despite me arguing that I could have a conversation with the Pope. Now that was a bullshit requirement.

ETpro's avatar

Can I defend general education? Absolutely! While today’s technology gives us many advantages that the men of the Age of Enlightenment would have loved to possess, the one thing it has robbed us of it the ability to be true polymaths. Don’t know what polymath means? If you need to look it up, that just proves my point.

We now live an an age of specialization, and far too many of us, despite being highly educated and perhaps having several graduate degrees in our specialty, are complete ignoramuses when we step outside our chosen field. This is a tragedy, because only those with wide-ranging knowledge can truly master all that life will throw at them.

You may be fine being a one track pony while you remain a junior programmer. But if you aspire to be a lead programmer or department head, everything you will be called on to do will touch some other discipline than programming. You may write software to handle accounting problems, help top management of a corporation visualize where their company’s strengths and weaknesses are, or even power a computer game with its intricate multivariate plot and graphics. If you are ever to rise to lead programmer you will need to be able to speak to people of many disciplines foreign to computer technology and glean from them their needs so that you can write software to meet those needs. You will need to be a resolute researcher able to dig into an industry or discipline outside your own and quickly come up to speed on it.

Regarding that speech class, you may be called on to present at symposia where you will need to speak eloquently to people with no software training but skills in the discipline your software handles—as in presenting to bankers and Chief Operating Officers.

And finally, you’ll just be an all-around more interesting person and jelly here on Fluther if you have studied a catholicity of subject matter in at least a little depth. Treasure all the wisdom and knowledge that your school can provide you. You have no idea what the future will demand of you, and what part of that wide-ranging knowledge may end up serving you admirably.

DeanV's avatar

Legally, you need them to continue with your major.

Shouldn’t that be reason enough?

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Jeruba's avatar

Excellent answer, @ETpro. <applause>

And to that I would add a point that I can’t stress enough: your education is not just for a job. It’s for your life. It helps frame your inner experience. For that you need not only process knowledge but content knowledge and some skill in analysis and reflection. Look inside you: how narrow is the scope? The broader the field that you can see within your own mind and being, the richer your life experience will be. All your life, that’s where you’ll turn for your inner resources, and you want them to be expansive. You want infinite vistas, not a postage-stamp room without windows. Someday, when your career is behind you, that’s where you’ll be living.

Believe it or not, that comes from your general education. And if your college classes aren’t broad or deep enough to give it to you, you’ll have to get it on your own. You can fit in a few electives. Take some courses in the humanities. Take literature and philosophy. Take history and art. Read. GenEd is sort of like a subsistence menu in the basic food groups. You have the brains for gourmet dining at the banquet of the world. Don’t miss it.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba Great additional point, and said so eloquently.

mattbrowne's avatar

As an academic companies won’t promote you or even hire you when they have the impression that you are lacking general education. Well, I wouldn’t hire a specialist who knows nothing about the world outside his or her special field.

Hobosnake's avatar

@dverhey Not necessarily. Some schools (such as Neumont University in Utah, which I considered) allow you to skip GE altogether and still give a fairly high guarantee of getting a job. One of the main reasons I didn’t end up going there was because I didn’t want my AP tests to go to waste.

Hobosnake's avatar

To all: trust me, I don’t mind learning in the least. AP Psychology and AP US History were two of my favorite classes in high school although they hardly relate to my major, and they (among my other favorites) are there largely due to sheer volume of new and interesting information learned throughout. I’m actually considering minoring in psychology if possible. The classes I can’t stand are those that take up my time with homework without giving me any real new and interesting information. For this reason I tend to enjoy literature while hating basic English. The only things I’ve really learned in speech have been from presenting the speeches themselves, which I do recognize I need help with. However, I’m doing the same thing in classes related to my major, such as my introduction to engineering class, as such classes do recognize the need for presentation skills but specialize the learning of them to what is relevant.

dabbler's avatar

You’re an engineering student and you haven’t noticed the difference in your general ed classes?!
There are normal people in them, get to know ‘em ! Someday you’ll be selling your latest gadget, or company, to them.

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