Gen Eds: Not So Pointless After All

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General Education required courses. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em; am I right? As much as students pretend not to mind our gen ed classes, most find them a huge nuisance. From History of Jazz to Impact of Disabilities, every undergraduate student is perplexed as to why mindless classes are such an important part of the academic college experience. I definitely think I could go through life without taking Introduction to Earth Science and knowing which part of an island brings more prosperity to villagers. Nevertheless, students have no choice but to succumb to this bothersome requirement.

So we might as well learn how to make the most of the experience, right?

Wait—Why Do We Take Gen Eds in the First Place?

Students often wonder why these classes are necessary. Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Florida Dr. Joe Spillane shed some light on this tell tale question. The issue of the mandatory gen ed class begins with the difference between vocational education and higher education. Vocational education focuses on training individuals in specific skills to perform certain occupations, whereas higher education intends to train individuals in subject areas. “This way, students are able to obtain a breadth as well as a depth of knowledge,” Spillane said.

Surprisingly, the development of general education courses stem from the philosophical issues concerning general education. “It becomes a matter of how much of a shared experience do you want general education to be, as much as an individual experience,” Spillane said. For example, What is the Good Life?, a required humanities course at UF that combines elements of history, art, literature and philosophy, is all about the shared experience. Besides football games, Good Life is one time all UF students come together under the same roof. Pass the tissues; it’s getting a little sentimental in here.

Become More Well-Rounded

If nothing else, there will be a time in your life where you find yourself out with friends or significant other’s parents and an insanely random question will pop up. What is the name of the mythological daughter of the king and queen of Troy with the gift of prophecy, along with the curse that no one would believe her?

Desperate to make a good impression, you’ll realize you actually know the answer. In your most pretentious voice you eloquently spill out the answer, “Cassandra, Daughter of King Priam.” You know why—because you were forced to take that class on Greek mythology your freshman year of college. “I think that it is helpful to be forced out of your own strength/interest area to actually develop a basic understanding of topics outside your area.  You’re more able to interact with people with a range of strengths and interests and you generally come off as a bit better educated because of it,” Associate Director of Academic Advising at UF Dr. Lynn O’Sickey said.

Explore New Subjects

If your major is public relations, trying physics or astronomy wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps Intro to Anthropology changed your perspective on a particular subject, which led you to change your major, which altered the course of your future career. “I talked with a student this week who started in biomedical engineering, changed to business and now is changing to philosophy,” O’Sickey said. “He was doing fine in business, but took philosophy for his gen ed humanities freshman year and that inspired him to think about a minor or possible double major. He took a second philosophy course this term and is loving it and has switched into philosophy.”

You never know where a gen ed might take you in the course of your college career. Instead of pursuing biology, you might fall in love with your Intro to Anthropology class, major in sociology and move to Portland like you always dreamed.

Take A Nice Breather

Instead of packing your schedule with core classes and finding yourself well into your sophomore year with one semester left before graduation—take some gen eds. They’re a great buffer from your other classes so you won’t get overwhelmed with a heavy schedule. That way you can stay on track with your major and still rage at tailgates before the big football game or take a casual afternoon off to rot in your room, doing nothing but watching Netflix and challenging yourself to see how much you can eat before the next episode of your favorite show. Basically, c’est la vie.

At the end of the day we have to face the truth of gen eds. These so called “nonsense” classes are actually great ways for you to find your yogi center and take some well-deserved mental breaks.

Lauren Hoffman: writer, jaded romantic, and always making a serious effort to be a flamingo among a flock of pigeons. In my spare time, I am an English Major with a Business minor at the University of Florida.

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