Letter: Stricter standards would support education

Nov. 10, 2013 @ 01:42 AM

To the editor:

The recent News-Topic headline declaring that a “Conservative group opposes freedom, choice” is highly misleading. Many of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy’s recommendations for UNC-Chapel Hill’s general education program were made specifically to support and preserve freedom.

For freedom — of the kind that U.S. citizens have enjoyed for several centuries — is not something that endures unless the population actively works to preserve it. This includes ensuring that the young people who will eventually become leaders in government, business, and education — such as the graduates of the state’s flagship public university will do — fully appreciate the underpinnings of liberty. Without that understanding — and studies show that many college graduates are woefully unaware of such things — it is possible for society to lose its way and move away from freedom toward tyranny.

That is why the Pope Center’s recommendations direct students toward the study of American history and Western civilization  —to ensure that our future leaders appreciate the sacrifices, the checks and balances, and the trade-offs that allow a society to remain free. For it is in the study of such topics where students will encounter the ideas and events that led to the founding of free societies and how they have struggled to remain so.

The claim that we are against choice shows a lack of understanding of the true purpose of a general education program. There is no reason to have a general education program except to make sure that all graduates have a certain base of general knowledge. That means restricting the course offerings, by definition. Otherwise, why not just have major subjects and electives and dispense with the whole general education concept?

As such, the current general education program at Chapel Hill fails to make necessary judgments about the relative merits of various courses. Students can pick from among approximately 4,700 courses, with “American History to 1865” considered equivalent to “The History of Hip-Hop Culture.”

UNC-Chapel Hill is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, to the tune of roughly $500 million per year. We believe that their interests are better served by a general education program that favors “Introduction to Comparative Politics” over “Geisha in History, Fiction, and Fantasy.”

Somebody must be serious and set meaningful standards. We at the Pope Center for Higher Education hope that UNC-Chapel Hill will follow our lead and do just that.

Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis

Jenna Ashley Robinson, director of outreach

J.W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy