I normally fill with joy when hearing my chemistry professor’s awkward pauses and nerdy humor, but on this day, the standard go-over-the-syllabus day, my mood made a turn for the worse. The catalyst: ACE requirements.
The very sound brings pangs of regret to my tired heart, uninspired by the tedium of having a “well-rounded” education forced upon me since elementary school.
“Eat up,” they say. “You’ll be big and strong and a better human when you finish.”
Unlike the value of mother’s veggies, the notion that a tertiary-level institution should spoon-feed their definition of a well-rounded education to young adults continues to baffle me. Even if we work under the shaky assumption that students need schools to teach them, well anything at all, the ACE program still misses the mark on its goals and wastes the time and money of every undergraduate.
All entering students obey the ACE overlords, but few understand the purpose of their existence. Listed below are the most important points, or rather, the points I’ve chosen to attack, which lie behind the lazy philosophy of the University’s well-rounded nightmare called ACE. For full effect, read them in a hypnotic magician-esque voice (a pocket-watch pendulum is optional, but encouraged):
●ACE is outcomes-focused. ACE is designed to help students integrate what they learn throughout their education and in their lives.
●ACE enhances the undergraduate experience by providing broad exposure to multiple disciplines, complementing the major, and helping students develop important reasoning, inquiry, and civic capacities.
●ACE gives students more responsibility for their own learning.
●You will awake when this column ends and I clap my hands twice.
The intended outcomes of the ACE program consist of lofty aims like becoming proficient in writing texts, using scientific methods and, my favorite, addressing problems in the humanities with knowledge, historical perspectives, analysis, interpretation and critical evaluation. Godspeed, Intro to Literature kids. It looks like you’ve got a rough semester ahead of you. Perhaps you won’t totally fulfill the outcome, but you will start to develop some skills. For example, after analyzing and interpreting the list of the 10 ACE outcomes, I have determined that they are a complete joke. The punch line is that the ACE outcomes aren’t “expected outcomes,” but merely “desired outcomes,” ideals which the one semester course might somewhat work toward, but can’t possibly come close to reaching.
Hypothetical scenario: You’re at a job interview and the boss explains that she seeks someone who can effectively communicate ideas orally. Are you going to respond by pulling out your transcript and proudly displaying your passing grade in a freshman speech class? Of course not. You’d accompany it with the syllabus saying it’s ACE 2 certified for “demonstrating communication competence.”
A hazy specter haunts most students when signing up for classes for the upcoming semester. The reminder that they still need to complete ACE 7, ACE 10, ACE 3, etc. persists in the back of their mind, usually until their last semester.
This checklist mentality leads to a fear of taking classes out of pure interest and stifles intellectual curiosity. Even if a student manages to complete the ACE requirements, the time wasted on uninspiring, auditorium-style classes may mean that any new interest developed from taking “for fun” classes may arrive too late in the student’s college career for he or she to pursue it further.
However, the most likely scenario, as has been the case for generations put through the factory-style American education system, is a death of the natural curiosity which exists in all persons. Instead of exposing students to a variety of fields, hopefully sparking their interest in a few, the ACE system shuts the door to entire fields which students dismiss as uninteresting or “too hard.” Young freshman, I know your pain. Memorization and regurgitation of any subject would leave even the strongest feeling sick. What kind of perverse institution requires a battery of torture exercises before allowing students to have fun with their classes?
The symbolism behind my 200-person biology class’s location in a movie theater is just too blatant. In lower-level general education classes, students inevitably end up as spectators, removed from the only legitimate reason for the existence of schools — creative discussion.
Fortunately, my professor complements clicker questions with “clucker” questions where students catch a rubber chicken and have a personal mini-discussion about the material with the teacher.
I’ll admit, deciphering the final point about ACE giving students more responsibility for their own learning left me puzzled. I suppose they’re trying to say that ACE gives students responsibility by allowing them the freedom to pick their own poison. If the administration took the task of holding students accountable for their own learning seriously, then they wouldn’t attempt to force learning outcomes down students’ throats.
A more sensible system would remove general education requirements entirely (the way the rest of the world works). Other American universities such as Brown, Grinnell and Amherst have started to embrace an “open curriculum.” But since that would mean less tuition money spent on cheap, mass “education,” such a reform won’t reach UNL anytime soon (“innovation campus,” my ass). One feasible alternative is to require very loose distribution requirements (two social sciences, two humanities, one science, and one math class). This maximizes freedom and minimizes the checklist mentality, while allowing healthy exposure to different fields. Or, if the university still clings to the belief that they are responsible for teaching students what they didn’t ask for, at least develop a more rigorous and extensive core series of classes that might actually approach the ACE objectives.
In short, I came to UNL to get a degree in microbiology, not microbiology plus at least a year’s worth of entry level courses which no one shows up to but still, at least from the administration’s point of view, “develop students reasoning, inquiry, and civic capacities.” ACE’s goals are noble but unnecessary, uncalled for and probably harm the student’s learning.
In my younger days, I stared at the plants on my plate and wondered how anyone could call them food. I didn’t trust authority. “Justify yourself!” I commanded the vegetables.
Eventually, they did.
Today, I still don’t trust authority, especially not with handling something as important as my education. So I stare at the ACE requirements on my schedule. “Justify yourself!” No reply.
Shariq Khan is a freshman Microbiology major. Email him at Opinion@dailynebraskan.com