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General Education At Temple University[1] and a Personal Perspective

 

 

Ultimately, General Education equips our students to make connections between what they learn, their lives and their communities. It aims to produce engaged citizens, capable of participating fully in a richly diverse world. 

 

 

 

LEARNING GOALS

 

1. VITAL GOALS

 

The following goals are central to a successful General Education course design:

 

1. the refinement of  thinking, learning and communication skills;[2]

2. the development of  skills in identifying, accessing and evaluating sources of information; and

3. the promotion of curiosity and life-long learning.

 

2. DESIRABLE GOALS

 

Additionally, Gen Ed encourages courses that demonstrate the following elements in their design:

 

1. ethical reflection, civic engagement, and awareness of current issues;

2. collaborative learning and teamwork skills;

3. recognition of and appreciation for Temple’s urban and regional setting;

4. understanding of issues related to globalization; 

5. understanding issues related to sustainability; and

6. commitment to community-based learning.

 

 

A MORE PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE ON GENED LEARNING GOALS AND HOW THEY LINK TO DOING JUSTICE

One of the reasons I got excited about GenEd was because it brought to the foreground several ideas I had been developing in my other undergraduate courses in the last few years.

 

In addition to teaching high voltage and inherently engrossing undergraduate courses like Victims of Crime, Violence, Environmental Criminology, and Communities and Crime Prevention, I have taught courses that some of our criminal justice majors viewed as more mind-numbing, like Introduction to Criminal Justice Research, and Statistical Analysis in Criminal Justice. In all of these courses, even the mind-numbing ones, I have tried to construct assignments, topics, and exercises that encouraged students to describe, analyze, and understand what was going on "out there," outside the classroom and away from the campus with the concepts, tools, and descriptions they bumped into in the readings and in-class presentations and discussions. In many courses I will give students short 2-3 page paper assignments where they apply in-class materials to an out-of-class issue. I call these concept application papers.

 

The idea of "concept application" papers is not original. My own obsession with these probably arose from an undergraduate course I took on learning theory many decades ago. The professor was G. Christian Jernstedt and he assigned short concept application papers in which we applied a particular feature of learning theory (classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and the like) to solve a current, large scale social problem. The class was large, I received horrendous scores on these papers but, since it was a learning course, I could meet with him to get feedback. The feedback sessions were terrifying. I think I only went once. The hope was the feedback would lead to improved performance. In my case it remained only that - hope.

 

It was only later that I realized the difficulty of and appreciated the challenge of such an assignment. In a short space of 500-700 words the student must highlight the key element of the social problem, extract from the vast corpus of in-class material the most relevant topics or ideas or findings or trends, and then show how that information from the theory-and-data-world helps us understand this "real world" problem. This is just plain hard, as students over the decades have not hesitated to tell me, and as I myself have experienced first hand. When I construct such assignments, I provide students with much more detail on the parts they need to include than I ever received.

 

One bright-colored thread in the tapestry of GenEd is this idea of connecting in-classroom with out-of-classroom. This is part of buzz words like "engagement" and "ethical reflection" and "the refinement of thinking... skills."

 

As a GenEd instructor, a key issue to think about in each course is: "How you will make these connections?" What specific products will students generate as part of their course work that really demonstrates they can make these connections?

 

There are an astounding variety of ways to make this happen. As Rod Serling used to say in the introductory voice over for "Twilight Zone" episodes, the "boundaries are only those of human imagination."

 

Just one example I have used in the "Doing Justice" course. Students learn about two key downtown locations in the mid 1920s, during Prohibition. 10th and Cuthbert was where Huey McLoon was shot in a drive by, leading to the 1928 Grand Jury probe of police corruption. On the fringes of what was then called "The Tenderloin" district, it represented a typical speakeasy location in a mid/lower income blue collar / mixed-business locale. These lower income locations were targeted a lot by police doing Prohibition enforcement -- at least according to scholarly sources. The Bellevue Hotel and the Doubletree Hotel (the latter on the site of the former Ritz Carlton) were locations that, at least during the mid-1920s, were not raided frequently by police despite well known alcohol violations. In the class students learn about the elements of socioeconomic status, read a conceptual framework that links status (inversely) to strength of justice agency responses, and what happened to a director of public safety in Philadelphia when he tried to go after "the big hotels." Students travel downtown to the two sites, and observe indicators of social class in both locations.

 

Another thread that I have highlighted in both GenEd courses which I either developed or assisted someone else develop, is local engagement," my take on the idea of recognizing and appreciating "Temple's urban and regional setting." In the "Doing Justice" course I have developed a series of case studies, of varying depth, ranging from 1925 to the 2000s, involving local, state, and federal justice agencies, devoted largely to Philadelphia, with contributions from places farther afield like Hazleton City and Attica, NY. I try to contextualize the city for students by showing them how it developed over time, its position relative to the rest of the state, and showing them maps and census data about the way the city was and the way it is now.

 

Based on a fairly unsystematic open mapping exercise at the beginning of the semester, students seem able to locate few features within Philadelphia. One goal of the Doing Justice course is to help them fill in the map in a way that makes sense to them and helps them better see how the city came to be what it is today. Without that knowledge it is not possible to appreciate in a deep way the strengths, challenges, and difficulties that are part of Philadelphia today, and of other big US cities.

 

Learning about Philadelphia naturally highlights another key thread within GenEd: information literacy.

 

Information literacy to me means: knowing how to find a good data source; knowing how to interpret tables, charts, maps, and graphs; knowing how to evaluate sources; and knowing how to organize such information.

 

In the "Doing Justice" course students learn about making and interpreting choropleth maps, finding and interpreting census data, researching individuals through the 1920 and 1930 censuses at a local Federal archive, the newspaper clippings files of Temple Urban Archives, and court data available at the Philadelphia City archive. Students engage in exercises or projects where, on a small scale, they are doing research. Students learn how to access old newspapers at Paley, or how to use the New York Times index through the Paley database front end. Students learn about the differences between primary and secondary documents, and why the difference is important.

 

Finally, perhaps the most key idea for me as a social science instructor is the idea of ethical reflection. To me this means: considering the dynamics behind the phenomena observed (e.g.: the brutal response to the prison uprising at Attica, the events leading up to MOVE 2 in 1985 which resulted in a neighborhood being burned down and lives lost, police corruption probes in four different decades, "cooling" suspects in local lockups) with enough depth to be able to appreciate the powerful forces that made and keep making these kinds of things happen. I suspect students will be able to think deeply about ways to achieve real "reform" in an area only if they grasp the sets of factors that make these problems so persistent and pernicious.

 

In one iteration of "Doing Justice" students complained in anonymous feedback cards about "reading all this old stuff from the 1930s." In a follow up memo and class discussion I asked: if police corruption was a problem in the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, doesn't that suggest to you that this is a really difficult problem to fix?" To paraphrase Howard Zinn: life is a struggle, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you never give up.

 

I guess as an instructor I could simply replace "life" with "teaching."

 


 

[1] The text for the "learning goals" section was extracted from the GenEd document “General Education at Temple University,” available on Blackboard

[2] Thinking and learning skills might include critical analysis, identifying and solving problems, analyzing and interpreting data, synthesizing, inventing, etc; communication skills might include writing, speaking or  creative expression. This goal is also concerned with developing an ability to make informed judgments in the course subject matter.