Common quotes heard around Northwestern include:
“You didn’t finish your gen-eds before your senior year?”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to getting my gen-eds out of the way.”
These quotes reflect a prevailing attitude about general education that it is secondary to the rest of a college education. As economic anxiety rises in college students, our perspective on our college careers begins to be molded in the shape of economic cost/benefit analysis. Many have made their college experience about the economics of their future: money spent now for money made later. This is a limited view of the education that students receive in gen-eds at liberal arts institutions.
To begin, the idea that employers are looking for the skills that the liberal arts develop through a vast general education is not just a mantra that admissions devises to get prospective students to come to Northwestern. The communications and critical thinking skills that are developed through the general education are valued highly by employers even in highly skill-oriented careers. While you will not be employed if you do not know the skill, people with a liberal arts training will be valued even more highly. On a purely economic level, the liberal arts are still valuable as an education.
However, this conversation should not revolve around economics solely. As human beings, there is a lot more to our existence than merely our economic future. We operate as physical, intellectual, emotional and even spiritual beings. As we progress out of college and into our future vocations, communities, and society, it is an education that addresses each of these parts of our human experience that will benefit us most. Gen-ed classes address each of these things through various means and methods. Not only will these classes prepare us for the challenges that we might face in our future workplaces, but they better prepare us for the variety of people we will encounter in our lives and the challenges we face in our communities and churches.
To choose to neglect gen-ed courses because they do not apply to your specific career is to view your future through a lens of economic opportunism.
The world we inhabit today tends to emphasize three things: economic prosperity, personal satisfaction and social influence. The main benefactor of these three values is the individual seeking out and determining what those three things mean for themselves.
The culture we inhabit might convince you to pit your way of life against how “those” people live out of these values. Yet there is a call, beyond all selfish ambition and out of self-sacrifice, to love God and to love your neighbor. These gen-ed courses help us to encounter different parts of the world that we don’t normally get to encounter. We hear the stories of people we would not normally interact with; observe connections between ideas we would not normally see and have opportunities to love our neighbor in ways we do not normally get. Through gen-eds, we might practice the sacrifice of our own interest for the sake of others.
It may be that your gen-ed classes do not pertain to your career. However, they pertain to your vocation as stated by Christ Jesus: love God and love your neighbor. Gen-ed is not just about graduating from college; it is about the way of life that we adopt. General curiosity about our world, education and neighbor might be the means through which we can best show love to who or whatever God places in our path.