One of the courses I regularly taught as a member of the English Department was History of the English Language. Understanding how and why English developed in the ways that it did can encourage a healthy respect for linguistic diversity and change, and (perhaps paradoxically) for what old etymologies can remind us of. (Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. That's grammatical, and in this case much simpler than the convoluted "for that of which old etymologies can remind us." But I digress.)
Words matter--enough so that some of my colleagues have wanted to outlaw the phrase "general education," because it is so easily abbreviated to the trivial and derisive "gen eds." They prefer "liberal education," with its connotation of unrestricted broadening of one's horizons.
It's true that the word "general" can have the connotation of ordinary or overly simplified (because the "general" is, or should be, accessible to anyone). However, we don't have to let that connotation prevail. Our general education programs are only dumbed-down and generic if we allow them to be! "General" also means "common" in the sense of something that is shared equally, applicable or relevant to all, not limited in its application, something that can unite us (as in "common cause"). That's the connotation meant when we talk about providing "common intellectual experiences" as a high-impact practice. That's the sense we mean when we talk about educational equity.
To have a quality "general" education program means to ensure that all students have access to empowering instruction and mentoring as they develop self-knowledge and personal and social responsibility. And that's something to be proud of.
Now that I'm enmeshed in the Oxford English Dictionary, you can probably expect more etymological ponderings in the near future.
When I was the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Nebraska Wesleyan University, we succeeded in revising our general education program to be more integrative, scaffolded, and experiential. While I was at Fort Lewis College, we also revised general education from a distributive to a thematic core model.
My perspective on the NWU revision process (analyzed through the lens of adaptive leadership developed by Heifetz et al) can be found in the June 2015 issue of Change magazine. (Apologies if you are not a subscriber to Change--I'm embargoed for about a year yet from posting the full text online. However, I'm happy to chat anytime about our experiences at NWU.)
Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning
Vol. 47, Iss. 3, 2015
Here is information about the GEMs (General Education Maps and Markers) initiative, with links to work done on design, equity, and digital concerns.
And here is a link to the general education design principles that emerged from GEMs: