Appendix 2: WAC and General Education

General Education is general because it involves study of a wide range of subjects, and because it is education for a general audience. It is general in another sense because, despite the variety implicit in the subject and the diversity of the learners, it requires certain skills that are common to all subject matters and learners. In the past, these skills were referred to as “liberal arts,” giving general education its other name, “liberal education.”

In the Middle Ages, the trivium or the arts of words, were valued as the arts of interpretation of meaning (grammar), of invention or creative writing and speaking (rhetoric), and of coherent, systematic argument (logic). These liberal arts of reading, writing, oral expression, and logical thought, which include quantitative thinking, are part of the modern curriculum as well because every course involves thinking and communication. 

Curriculum (WAC) is a national movement to focus the attention of higher education faculty and students on these arts common to all their subjects. 

The need for such a movement arises, in part, from increasing specialization in the graduate studies and research of the faculty. Typically there has been insufficient concern with general education goals that are distinct from those of the specialized fields of inquiry. Because these goals are skills of thought and expression common to all subject matters, they are essential to success in liberal education. It is not too much to say that they are the means for the liberation of the mind. The term “spiral curriculum” is used in WAC to provide a verbal picture of how general education courses, the major courses, and elective courses move together in an intertwined fashion to contribute to a liberally educated person. 

For many contemporary students, television has replaced reading, the telephone and e-mail have either eliminated or diminished everyday writing, and an inconsistent educational system has failed to cultivate analytical thought. The increasing requirements of externally administered examinations, support the faculty judgment that many students need to cultivate the skills of reading, writing, and thinking.

Using writing-to-learn activities and focusing on the writing process makes writing a valuable tool for the acquisition of knowledge and critical thinking about a course’s subject matter. Students write in an effort to figure out what the reading or the lecture has said, and not merely to record ideas that they have already mastered (or, too frequently, struggle to write as if they have mastered them). If pursued diligently by the faculty, the WAC requirements at York College will not only have students reading and writing more, they will foster closer connection between reading and writing and the process of learning the course content and mastering its materials.