Reading responses to Dean Edelstein and Gregory C. Wolniak, Tricia A. Seifert, and Charles F. Blaich

Please share your responses to these two articles about electives and general education:

Dean Edelstein, “Lost in the Middle” in Inside Higher Ed (January 21, 2011): Excerpted from Views: Lost in the Middle – Inside Higher Ed

Gregory C. Wolniak, Tricia A. Seifert, and Charles F. Blaich, “A Liberal Arts Education Changes Lives,” Liberal Arts Online (March 2004)

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6 Responses to Reading responses to Dean Edelstein and Gregory C. Wolniak, Tricia A. Seifert, and Charles F. Blaich

  1. Jonas Reitz says:

    In “Lost in the Middle,” Dean Edelstein outlines the typical college experience as:
    1. requirements (year 1)
    2. electives (year 2)
    3. specialization (years 3 & 4)
    and comments that much emphasis is placed on first-year requirements (by the college curriculum committee) and major specialization (by departments), but that the “electives” portion, where much of what we call general education takes place, is neglected. At CityTech I almost feel that a more appropriate title would be “the Middle is Lost,” as our students seem to be propelled from requirements to specialization without much room in between. Our majors are so diverse, and so often driven by the external demands of industry and accrediting agencies (CityTech is in the rare position within CUNY of having a number of associate degree programs that violate the 60 credit maximum requirement, each exception being granted because of these kinds of external demands), that it feels like there is very little wiggle room for establishing “a broader and and less discipline-focused foundation for their future lives” (as Edelstein puts it). However, I was inspired by his discussion in paragraph 10 of “departments joining forces to offer genuinely interdisciplinary core courses” — this idea could offer an exciting opportunity for collaborating with our colleagues, could expose students to a broader array of subjects and ideas while using a relatively small amount of our free credit “wiggle room,” and could build on our existing Learning Communities.

  2. I was not as impressed with this article as many of the others. It appears their “first pass” did not reach the desired conclusions, so they changed the defintion of “liberal arts” to a set of 6 criteria. The first four have nothing to do with liberal arts specifically, while the other 2 are weak. The liberal arts scale also has many items not unique to liberal arts such as instructional clarity and , academic effort.
    Their conclusion was that their definition of liberal arts helps underrepresented groups and those with less developed academic skills. Closely examination of their work would show a sound education approach with good instructors and motivation will do well.

  3. Sean Scanlan says:

    Dan Edelstein’s “Lost in the Middle” was directed at an audience that, clearly, was not intended to include City Tech. Edelstein teaches in the French and Italian Department at Stanford University, and he did his graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. So, when he says, in the penultimate paragraph, that “our academic divisions may make sense for research purposes, but are often at odds with our pedagogical goals,” the “our” he is using is for elite, PhD granting universities. I do not blame him for not including schools that grant both associates and bachelors degrees, but I also do not take his pronouncements to heart.

    My real critique of Edelstein is on his own terms; he suggests that “breadth of knowledge” is lacking, but does not back up these claims. When he says “whether students chose to major in English, religious studies, anthropology, or history, there are in fact no structures in place to encourage or enable them to acquire a solid foundation in other disciplines, cultures, literatures, and historical periods.” Two structures come to mind. First, the single course is a structure that could/should encourage and present the cross-points of other disciplines and other histories/cultures. Second, the distribution requirement might help to structure the foundation as well. Are these structures good enough? Here, then is what I did gain from Edelstein: we need to question the structure of “breadth of knowledge” and examine it in terms of City Tech’s unique educational mission. Then we need to decide if more than one interdisciplinary course and one distribution requirement is enough. Perhaps we need to implement a new course requirement or new distribution. Edelstein mentions team teaching–we’ve got that already. He also mentions building a new program and wondering if students would come. Ah, a new program, perhaps a program for all entering first-year students, one that would be interdisciplinary and interesting to the students? The costs and complexities are, of course, hard to imagine, but isn’t that what we are here to do–imagine? When we finally get our program going, I think I will write Professor Edelstein a thank-you letter.


  4. I do think that Edelstein is imagining–he’s not letting his big ideas get bogged down in the realities of many universities, whether his university has those limitations or not. Having a course team-taught by three faculty members is fanciful from a City-Tech-oriented position, as interesting a course as it may promise to be. What he seems to say is that there would be a benefit in exploring something from multiple perspectives, from realizing that disciplinary approaches and vocabularies vary, from making connections across the range of what he considers humanities (which would not all be in our course catalog as such). What does this mean for City Tech? It encourages me to think about highlighting connections across disciplines, to show students where other courses pick up where mine leaves off, or where in my course students should draw on their experience from other courses. Are learning communities another way to embrace interdisciplinarity? Sometimes–but not always. What stands out most about that team-taught approach is the big impact it can have on students, when done well. How can we implement teaching practices that encourage that kind of intensity?

    Douglas raises an important question in his comment on “A Liberal Arts Education Changes Lives: Why Everyone Can and Should Have This Experience”–are the positive outcomes really the result of a liberal-arts education, or is it just the effect of students following a course of study that encourage them to think critically, write, read, engage with effective faculty, go to school full time, etc? That is, does it matter what one studies when those very positive elements are in place? I don’t highlight this question in the negative, but rather to say: can we have these positive results (whatever those results actually were) regardless of the subject matter of the classes students take if we encourage certain habits, interactions, and levels of commitment?

  5. Shelley says:

    “A Liberal Arts Education Changes Lives” is the most powerful, short, down-to-earth and relevant-to-City Tech statement in favor of a ‘liberal arts’ education that I have read, and it includes a straightforward definition of what the authors mean by a ‘liberal arts education.’ We are not discussing ‘icing on the cake.’ The outcomes described are those very ones most valued by employers.

    What do you think? Could this be a core text for the work of our project?

  6. In reading Dean Edelstein’s excerpt I have to agree with parts of what he said about giving the students choices to explore different areas offered in colleges and universities that may be outside of the specialized programs they are intending to complete. However, that being said, I think that is important primarily for students who are unsure of what degree they would like to complete while attending college, and also for students who are studying in areas that require broad knowledge about many different subjects. I also agree that the elective or general classes should not be so specific that they aim to make the student an “expert” in a single class if they are not majoring in that area, it should be more general to maintain interest and promote interest in students looking for variety, diversity and broad knowledge areas. I do differ in opinion from Edelstein when it comes to making all students take classes outside of their specialized programs though. I think if a student knows what program they want to study and they are definite about this, then taking more then a few classes that have no interest to them and will not help them in their future studies is useless and a waste of time for the student who should be studying their field, as well as for faculty who then have the burden of teaching students who are taking their classes only because the students had to choose an elective in order to obtain their degree. I think it really needs to be differentiated based on the student it pertains to.

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