In addition to changes in section procedure, alternate courses along the line of "seminars," as suggested by Dean Monro, would be a healthy improvement in the lower level General Education program. Such a seminar could consist of a class group of about a dozen, much like an honors Gen Ed A section at present. Offered under the ae*gis of the General Education Committee, such seminars would offer the qualified freshman or sophomore alternatives to the lower level Gen Ed requirement.
The student might be allowed to enter in the fall, or he might switch into such a group at mid-years. A student in Social Sciences 1, for example, who did well the first term, or who, in his section man's opinion was qualified, might transfer into any one of several seminars being run in the Social Sciences area. Such seminars should do work not covered in later courses; they should not be specialized history courses or English sections. Linkages of history and sociology, economic theory and psychology in the Soc Sci area; combinations of literature and philosophy in the humanities illustrate what might be offered--area syntheses as have been suggested for possible non-honors group tutorial. Such seminars--which could be taught by teaching fellows with occasional discussions led by professors--should not serve as introductions to the departments (as for example Hum. 6 does at present) or be overly specialized. Although presumably requiring a higher level of work, they should preserve the Big Question goal of General Education.
Several objections might be raised. Would not such a scheme remove the "elites" from the other Gen Ed courses. Undoubtedly, some of the more motivated members might be channeled off, but this could easily be salutary for the rest of section. A wider participation would probably result as some of those who often held the floor might leave. Discussion would probably become more stimulating for those who remain.
It might also be argued that the content material of present courses is too valuable to permit students to leave them. Certainly, however, almost every Gen Ed course is easily divisible; moreover, the course material is often repeated in upper level classes. General Education's purpose is to introduce students to the basic questions posed in each area, and the seminar system would probably be more effective at this.
Any seminar program should not develop merely a training ground for honors tutorial. Selection by section need not follow predelineated academic criteria; section men should be encouraged to play hunches.
While similar courses might be worked out in the natural science area, here the whole area might be more profitably changed into a semester divided system, in which students could study certain options depending upon the amount of science or math they had mastered. Natural sciences pose special problems, but improvements here are certainly needed.
A combination of reinvigorated sections and new seminar-type offerings for students meeting lower level Gen Ed requirements could restore much of the intellectual excitement which the program should offer the freshman. Such changes should be instituted not with the intention of manufacturing freshman scholars, but with the goal of producing genuine thinking instead of the receptive absorption which is too often the fruit of General Education.