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The Importance of General Education Courses

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The Importance of General Education ClasssesPerhaps you have heard the saying, “A child needs to crawl, before he can walk.”  But have you ever given any thought as to why?

Although I am no child development expert, I suggest that crawling is necessary before walking, for a number of reasons, including the following:   respect for the stages of cognitive development, a need to first experience surroundings from the safety of the lesser need of balance required of movement on, “all fours,” and the need to develop confidence in movement in general, before attempting the more developed form of movement, required by walking.

So what does this have to do with your approach to completing an undergraduate degree?  Actually, everything.

Most undergraduate degrees require the successful completion of what I will refer to as, “General,” or, “General Education,” courses.  These are English composition, general History, Humanities, etc.  courses.  For many degree disciplines, these, “General,” courses have little, if anything, to do with the degree discipline itself.  So why are these, “General,” courses required?

An often overlooked concept in higher education today, is that earning a degree, is intended to educate the person.  To truly be able to consider himself or herself an educated person, the degreed person should have been introduced to a broader spectrum of disciplines and concepts, beyond the knowledge necessary for proficiency within the discipline of the degree awarded.  For the privilege of being considered educated, therefore, the person who has earned a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree, should know something about American, or world, history.

[How to Choose a Major]

Another value to, “General,” courses, however, is that they are intended to develop in the student, the skills needed for success in the higher level, more intense courses, required within the discipline of the degree.  These are the, “Core,” “Major,” and/or, “Concentration,” courses, of the degree.

The skills needed to succeed in, “Core,” “Major,” and/or, “Concentration,” courses, are developed within the, “General,” courses, of the degree.  Before a student can expect to succeed in his or her, “Core,” “Major,” and/or, “Concentration,” courses, he or she must have developed, for example, the writing skills demanded of upper level courses.  It is no coincidence that, “General, “ courses are lower-level, less intense courses, and, “Core,” “Major,” and, “Concentration,” courses, are upper-level, more intense courses.

Think of the, “General,” courses, as the crawling stage of your academic development.  It makes sense to successfully complete, “General, “ courses, as you are introduced to the new environment and demands of higher education.  While taking your, “General,” courses, you will develop the skills and confidence needed to walk with your, “Core,” “Major,” and/or, “Concentration, “ courses.

More specifically, “General,” English composition courses, should be among the very first courses successfully completed in any degree.  Most courses, even most other, “General,” courses, will require the research writing skills learned in, “General,” English composition courses.  Remember, you will need to learn to crawl, before you can walk.

Do some infants walk without ever having crawled?  Sure.  But most do not.  Before attempting upper level courses without having developed the academic skills learned in, “General,” courses, honestly assess your own abilities.  Consulting your Academic Advisor may be a good step to take, to determine if you may be one of the few students ready to walk, without having ever crawled.

By H. Brian Strecker
Academic Success Advisor at American Public University

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