It is an honor to have the opportunity to contribute some thoughts on the topic of General Education at Eugenio María de Hostos Community College. As I started to think about what it means to me, I began to reflect on the important work of the General Education Committee, whose work of late has been to specify the connections between General Education and the Hostos Mission. It has been an exciting and revealing exercise to conclude that the two are beautifully and inextricably entwined. It is a relationship that begins with access to higher education and the promotion of multiculturalism. It continues in the rigorous development of math, English, language and technology skills, serving the needs of the community in the South Bronx and creating opportunities for socio-economic mobility. It emphasizes life-long learning, inquiry, and the ability to think critically and communicate effectively and justly. In short, the goals of both Hostos and General Education are about how to better ourselves and contribute to our communities and world in ways that are meaningful, sustainable, powerful, and uplifting
General Education is an essential foundation of education as a learning process that continues throughout a person’s life. It is an environment and an approach. It encompasses all fields and disciplines. It is the way that math, language, history, science, poetry, and art, to name some examples, affect us everyday, in all parts of our life, from seeing a leaf turn from green to brown (and understanding why it does), to watching day fade into night, to thinking about the vast distance between our sun and a pinpoint twinkle of a star. It is figuring out whether a monthly MetroCard is more economical than a weekly one, or assessing how to negotiate the confusing paperwork of financial aid, applications, job opportunities, or taxes. It is about recognizing social injustices, as subtle or overt as they may be, and standing up for ourselves and others. It is seeing beauty, opportunity, and options in the world. It is feeling capable, motivated, and self-assured when faced with challenges. It is appreciating and developing community, local and global. It is about having a voice and using it for positive change.
For me personally, the most important thing has yet to be said. In order to really understand and appreciate the significance of General Education in my life, I thought about the process of learning that brought me to Hostos and how fortunate I was to attend a high school designed with blocks of courses that made it difficult to separate political science from history or geography. All of the information just sort of formed a picture of the world that was global in nature. In college, I explored majors based on requirements, ending up with abstract math for a good while before finding that I was better suited for art history.
At times, it is difficult to see a difference in the way mathematicians and artists think—they both seem to like a certain elegance of ideas. And so, in my experience with General Education, I came to value many different types of thinking and inquiry that are, fundamentally, very similar. While I learned to recognize similarities and differences, I began to appreciate similarities more, as they bring us closer together as human beings. General Education has allowed me to see deeply and broadly, and it has allowed me to pass this on to others. General Education is inclusive and essential.
Thomas Beachdel, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Humanities Department at Eugenio María de Hostos Community College. An art and architectural historian, his work focuses on landscape aesthetics/ideologies between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, particularly in connection with the histories of science and imperialism. He maintains an active international role in contemporary art practice as curator, and lectures at museums and at contemporary galleries in New York City. His current book project is tentatively titled Wrecks, Ruins, and Eruptions: The Visual Culture of the Sublime in the Long Eighteenth Century. His article, “A Visionary Shift in Viewpoint: William Hogarth’s Bathos, Edmund Burke’s Sublime, and The End of Beauty,” can be found in the Spring 2019 British Art Journal 19, no. 3. His book Marie Tomanova: Young American was published by Paradigm Press Spring 2019.