General Education Requirements Fall Short in More Ways
In continuing our recent coverage of the new General Education proposal that will dictate all-college requirements, we write on shortfalls in the requirements for language study. The Board agrees that learning a foreign language is important for global citizenship, but feels the proposal fails to make the case that foreign language “provides insight into cultural differences” and “provides an alternative means of perceiving the world.” The proposal requires that students take at least one semester of a course “focused on acquisition and or analysis of a language other than English” in order to graduate. While other changes on the policy are advantageous for students, we do not support this continuation of the current general education policy.
The one exception to this requirement is for students who take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for admission to the college, who can successfully complete EN103 instead. The fact that students required to take the TOEFL can satisfy the language requirement by completing EN-103 raises a disturbing question. Some may wonder if U.S. students who take EN-103 are made to think that they do not have a primary language, since they must still complete a language other than English in addition to EN-103. When asked for comment on this, Erica Bastress-Dukehart newly minted Chair of Committee on Educational Policy and Planning (CEPP), declined to comment on this or any other matter.
Board Members also wondered whether consideration was given to students who did not take the TOEFL, but speak a language other than English as a primary language. If the goal of the requirement is to ensure student literacy in other languages as it pertains to cultural understanding, then allowing students to prove competency with a test, just as they do for Quantitative Reasoning I, would be appropriate.
Furthermore, the Board is curious as to why the proposal make the conclusion that "language provides insight into cultural differences?” It’s not evidently clear from the resources at the end of the proposal, which seem to speak more to the importance of understanding cultural difference, not language specifically. While inclusion of culture in language courses provides necessary flavor, it should not take away from the primary focus: to learn a new language. The proposal claims, but does not prove, that language inherently teaches cultural understanding. Without this connection explained, we found the proposals wording to be insufficient for justifying language’s relationship to culture, even if there is a case to be made. Approving a proposal that lacks sufficient justification reflects badly on the efforts of Skidmore to impart empirical thinking. Again, CEPP declined to comment.
Issues within the language requirement of the General Education Proposal mirror problems that appear throughout the document. Wording is within grasp, but despite four years of work, is not ready for approval. Considering that this proposal would not be instituted until 2024, the risk of delaying the vote for at least another month is a reasonable price to pay considering the far-reaching impact of the general education requirements. If it is approved this Friday, the general education requirements would not likely be revisited for another twenty years; therefore, we need to ensure the proposal reflects conclusive work.
Editor's Note: A sentence on U.S. students who take EN-103 has been corrected to better reflect the wide range of students who enroll in the class.