lepblo / politiku

General Education

The proposed general-education curriculum revision for the liberal arts and sciences taught at UOG is making its way through the university review process. It has been approved by the SVP and awaits the president’s and Board of Regents’ attention. I have noticed two primary points of concern.

The first is the removal of the second-language requirement from the curriculum. Second-language learning will still be available to students, but not required or clearly presented. Faculty members have previously protested against this to the review committee, the committee’s chair, and our faculty senate, to no avail.

Dr. Gerhard Schwab (Social Work) and Dr. Miget Lujan Bevacqua (Chamorro Studies) are continuing to ask questions about this move and co-sponsoring a forum Thursday night at 6 in the CLASS Lecture Hall on campus for the community to be informed about the ramifications of this decision. Indeed, I would agree with them that the study of a second language, whether Chamorro, Tagalog, Japanese, or another of the many offered at UOG, is not only a way to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and people but a way to increase one’s chances of career success in our ever globalizing Asia-Pacific region. Anyone entering Social Work would do well to speak a second language common among our populace. Students of anthropology in our region would find it useful to know an Asian or Pacific language. Anyone studying literature in English would find it useful to be able to read German or French as well. Business students would almost certainly find Japanese or Chinese useful.

A strong general education at UOG levels the playing field for all. Removing a core component long honored by tradition and proved by later career experience is a profoundly anti-intellectual, anti-academic, and anti-humanities decision.

A broad general foundation in the sciences and the humanities, including mathematics, composition and rhetoric, literature, and history, is necessary to prepare students to be wise adult citizens making their way in the world. From my perspective as a university professor who frequently works with students just out of high school, it is also very necessary to offer remedial courses in these fields.

Our students, compared to those at other “liberal arts” institutions, will now be receiving a subpar education and degree that puts them at a disadvantage in both the competitive global marketplace and the theater of ideas. In terms of the quality of the education provided to our students, this can be expected to have some negative effect on our chances of maintaining accreditation as a university. I never heard of a decent liberal-arts college or university whose general education program did not include as a matter of course second-language learning. Our non-tenured instructors in all languages will now find their jobs and livelihoods threatened for no good academic reason. The students majoring/minoring in our vibrant young Chamorro Studies program with its classes in language, history, and culture, its lively engagement with our community, and its strong academic projects, are now facing bureaucratic purgatory.

The University of Hawai’i, to give an example of a comparable institution, requires “Hawaiian or a Second Language,” stating, in the time-honored academic tradition:

“Knowledge of a second language encourages deeper awareness of the structure of language and its relation to thought. It develops sensitivity to other ways of ordering personal experience and social institutions, provides a direct way of comparing another culture to one’s own, and provides insight into the workings of one’s native language.”

But there is more at play here. A young person who is told not to pursue a solid general education as foundation to specialized courses in a major field is being deprived of a full education. I fear that there is an attitude of privileged carelessness toward the well-rounded education that every young person deserves, based on assumptions about blue-collar workers or the sciences being separate from the rest of the world, uninformed by the ethics of philosophy or the humanity of the arts. In a democracy, public education should provide opportunities for gifted students, help for those challenged, and a solid knowledge base to all.

How often do we really give our children the “Chamorrocized” education envisioned by Pilar Cruz Lujan, former senator, longtime educator, and former acting director for the Department of Education?  To me, this means first honoring and teaching the cultural traditions of the indigenous peoples of this region, as well as sharing together in a general education based on a global and enlightened view. I frequently work with high-school graduates in my 200-level general-education literature courses who had never been informed of the mere existence of Chamorro literature, or any Pacific literature, in their high-school classes. How is it that we are not naturally studying Chamorro and wider Pacific authors as part of a general global education and also as a location-specific, culturally relevant field?

A student who receives a liberal-arts education can begin to see, in the tradition of the European Renaissance, how all the arts and sciences are connected. A liberal-arts student can have a sufficiently open mind to see how modern science, medicine, and mathematics can learn from ancient indigenous traditions, as my UOG colleague Nick Goetzfridt has discussed in terms of Pacific ethnomathematics. A liberal-arts student can have the humility to recognize that humanity is not limited to the most practical banalities possible in existence. A liberal-arts student can take ownership of knowledge and wield it as a tool.

The liberal arts and sciences are fundamentally practical. It only makes sense to ensure that our students – entering college from a K-12 public education system intended to give them a broad educational foundation – do have that broad foundation.

Learning a second language as an adult – as I am currently studying Chamorro – is a process with no particular finish line that I have been able to identify. However, I am also interested in what we can learn from the process of learning itself, with the mental pain as new neural pathways are physically constructed, the importance of remaining patient with oneself and relaxed through the difficulties, and the sudden leaps of discovery about how words and sentences fit together according to the rules of language itself, and the pain of grinding out sentences or essays in the new language, or engaging in a linguistically unpredictable dialogue with a native speaker.

The pain of the new is the pain of birth. We are born to new knowledge of what it is like to be a human learner. How does the human learn? How does oneself, as a specific individual, learn best? This is the process of birth that is the general-education framework. From the ages of 18 to 22, the human prefrontal cortex is still in the process of changing. This is in fact an ideal time for a general education as preparation to engage deeply with a more specific field or fields of study.

My second point of concern is that the new curriculum arbitrarily removes Women and Gender Studies’ introductory course from its present place alongside PI 101 as a course that fulfills the general-education requirement for philosophy. WG 101 will still be an option for students if they search for it and request it specially. WG 101 is a popular course among students currently, but if students are not shown it as an option, fewer will be aware that they can choose it. Again, this is an example of a smaller program with no faculty receiving the short end of the political stick at UOG despite student demand for WG 101 and the dedication of faculty affiliates.

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