The effects of culture on general education: A historical analysis of a great books model



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A revival of general education can be defined as an increased awareness of the need for and the value of general education leading to changes in the curriculum. Revival has a goal of adding to the existing competencies developed by general education curriculum. Three periods of general education revival have been identified in the United States.

This qualitative study was conducted on a great books model of general education at a liberal arts college in the Southwestern United States, Great Books College (a pseudonym). A period of 28 years was reviewed. Since Great Books College does not have courses as in the traditional distribution/core model program, a longitudinal listing of great books studied at the College during the review period was developed and used to analyze the curriculum. This data was obtained from college catalogs. Other data sources included archival research, a site visit, nonparticipant observations, and interviews.

Data collected was used to identify curricular reforms that were caused or influenced by societal interactions. Due to the subtleness of the reforms, the most useful method of identification was to identify great book additions or deletions that might have been related to societal interactions. These research threads were followed both backward and forward in the archival data to determine if related social interactions existed.

The study found that similarities exist between distribution/core models of general education and the great books model of general education at Great Books College relating to the effects of culture on general education reform. The main similarity identified was the types of interactions, both internal and external to the institution, that affect reform.

Student influence on general education reform at Great Books College was found to be a major factor. This is not surprising based on the high level of student involvement in leading the educational process observed during the nonparticipant observations.

An example of the differences between traditional distribution/core model general education and great books model general education was evident in the results of this study. When student-writing skills were identified as a weakness, Great Books College went to great measures to address this through peer-writing tutorials, implementing writing standards, peer critiquing of papers, and consistency in quality of writing. This is an example of an "across-the-curriculum" method used in great books model general education verses fragmenting the corrective action into a series of courses, the traditional method used by distribution/core model general education programs.

The results of this research are important considerations for Great Books College in planning of curricular reform and analyzing issues of accountability.