by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center delves into the debate over general education at UNC’s flagship campus.
In 2016, the dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Kevin Guskiewicz, decided that it was time to update the university’s general education curriculum. To justify the laborious task of redesigning the entire curriculum, university officials explained that many students find the current curriculum cumbersome and difficult to navigate. Since then, over 18 task forces have been evaluating how to simplify the current model and adapt it to fit the demands of this highly technological and globally connected world.
But it will be no mean task to create a program that is acceptable to all factions, especially since some of the proposed changes represent a dramatic shift in its educational philosophy, from a knowledge-based curriculum toward one that is skills-based. Whereas there used to be an emphasis on foundational content, the committee charged with the revision instead emphasizes processes.
For most of its history, UNC-Chapel Hill’s general education curriculum required that each student be exposed to a common body of knowledge that encompassed core subjects such as American history, logic, and literature from the Western canon. According to UNC-Chapel Hill’s undergraduate bulletin of 1969, students’ general education included the following straight-forward, knowledge-specific, requirements: two semesters of English composition and rhetoric, one English Literature course (with substantial readings from Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton), two semesters of Modern Civilization, one additional social science, along with three natural sciences, two mathematics (could substitute with Greek, Latin, or philosophy), and elective requirements.
But following the 1960s, UNC-Chapel Hill slowly moved away from its specific knowledge-based curriculum. The current curriculum still mandates that students study courses in certain disciplines, but it gives them free reign in deciding which classes to take to fulfill specific requirements. …
… And now UNC-Chapel Hill’s newest general education proposal represents an even more radical departure from the belief that there is a core of essential knowledge needed by all educated citizens. Rather than outlining specific subject requirements, the most recent proposal decrees that students pursue certain abstract “modes of thought and action” or “focus capacities,” that can be applied in a broad context of real-life experiences. Those “capacities,” nine in total and thought to be necessary to all students, include Diversity, Power, and Inclusion and Engagement With The Human Past and Aesthetics and Interpretive Analysis.