The new Knox education has been unveiled to faculty and the student body by the Knox Educational Experience Task Force with the intention to bring about many changes in curriculum, particularly in the area of freshman education and changes in education requirements. However, certain elements appear to limit students’ freedom and create a less authentically liberal arts experience for students, if they are to be integrated.
One idea in the new Education Plan is for a “First Year Experience” (FYE), which would create living-learning spaces in which students in the same Freshman Preceptorial courses, or the new incarnation therein of the course, will be placed in the same living situation. The intention is for students to be encouraged to take ideas learned in the classroom and discuss them in their living environment.
We believe putting too much weight on a single class for housing placement is worrisome. For one, this could create situations where students who would prefer not to live in mixed-sex living environments would have to do so, or create situations where FP courses are single-sex only.
In addition, freshmen who take a class focused on sustainability for their freshman course are likely to meet like-minded students. This is good on a surface level, but if students also lived with those classmates it could create an insular setting where they are not meeting students who have completely different interests.
Another point of concern lies in the new qualifications for graduation. Now to be called “Elements,” the requirements for foundations and key competencies would be combined and focus more on gaining certain skills instead of requiring study in different subject areas. For example, this means that a biology major could opt out of taking a humanities credit outside their department and instead take a course on cultural backgrounds of biology. As a college which prides itself on its liberal arts, we are concerned this change would diminish our education if students were allowed to opt out of taking courses with professors and students outside of their major field.
We have personally experienced and witnessed other students change their ways of thinking or even alter their major or career goals by taking classes for a foundations or key competency credit. Students often end up enjoying classes that they only took in order to fulfill one of their requirements.
On a more basic level, these requirements also push us to speak and share ideas with students whom we would never take classes with otherwise. Students with different subject backgrounds can provide insights which students all in the same major might overlook.
However, we do support other changes the committee has proposed, such as the concept of transfer student suites. This would provide transfer students an opportunity to live with students who are new as well, but have a better understanding of how college works than freshmen.
We also support moves to give freshmen more individualized attention in large introductory courses to prevent them from falling behind.
The Knox education hasn’t been changed in nearly 20 years and it is important for the college to change with the needs and wants of current and incoming students. However, we warn against changes based simply on the trendiness of a program or to make requirements easier but less fulfilling for students.
For an education plan which is geared to improve students’ education, there has been little room so far for students to give feedback and voice concerns. We urge the task force to reach out to the student body and hear what they have to say before approving these changes.