Open Letter to my Disgruntled Students

In response to the grumbling I hear every semester about Core and General Education requirements, I’m going to share a story about my undergraduate studies.

It was my last semester of Western Classical Music theory and I was given an assignment to write a 20th century composition (a twelve-tone piece, for you music nerds out there). I told my professor I wasn’t comfortable writing in that style and he said, “I never asked you to be comfortable, I asked you to write me a piece of music. Good composers compose, Mr. Esposito,” he said. So, I got over myself and realized that if we spend our entire lives doing only the things we know we’re good at, or only the things that make us comfortable, we’ll grow about as fast as does a glacier.

You’ll never find the expectation on a syllabus that you tell the professor everything you already know on a topic and then she’ll give you a grade on it. Nor will many professors ask you what sounds interesting to you about the topics of the course they are teaching. The university is asking you to satisfy the requirements of a degree, so the courses you take should be making you stretch beyond your comfort zone, learn things that you don’t already know, and do so in subjects that are the choice of the institution.

I appreciate that you may not fully understand the method to the madness that your selection of courses appears to represent, but you need to trust the educators who have developed the curricula here and learn some things on topics that you don’t already know things about. I’m not trying to lecture you all, I’m just trying to encourage you to embrace this reality with a slightly more open mind than you have been and to embrace the fact the you’ll be a stronger student on the other end of every course you take.

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About Art

I've been a higher education professional for over 15 years and an Academic Advising administrator for the past eight of those. I have a background in exploratory student advising and have spent a great deal of time guiding students through contemplating their personal college-to-career pathways. I've published, presented, and consulted on the intersection of social media and academia and am a firm believer in social media's power as a tool for engagement rather than solely information delivery. I've worked at public and private institutions as well as 2-year colleges and 4-year universities. I believe in Academic Advising as a teaching and learning activity, that learner-centered education is the key to students' academic success, and that as long as we keep students' individual goals and success at the center of our decision-making process, the problem of college-level student attrition can be solved.
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