The Four General Education Lenses
Each time we approach a question or project, we are informed by certain perspectives, or “lenses.” At any given time, we are looking through multiple lenses, but often, one may be more dominant than the others. Throughout your academic journey, these lenses coincide with disciplines or fields of study. The lenses prioritized are: the Humanities, History, the Sciences, and the Social Sciences. Professionals in these fields all ask questions in order to gain information, but they may ask them in different ways that will help them examine different aspects of a topic. We can think of these as four different telescopes, and each lens has different characteristics. Thus, depending on the lens we are looking through, the cultural artifacts we encounter—the constructed items that convey the benchmarks of a particular culture or social group—will tell a different story.
The Four General Education Lenses – The Humanities
At the core of the humanities is human creativity, and they explore the things that humanity creates and how they offer insight into the way people experienced their present, interacted with their culture, and comprehended abstract concepts and big questions about humanity’s place in the universe. The humanities broaden perspectives and promote an understanding of multiple experiences, cultures, and values through various mediums of creative human expression—such as literature, fine art, dance, photography, philosophy and religion, film and television, music, even the internet and social media— many of which are taught as separate academic disciplines. Within the humanities, both the artist’s (or creator’s) intent and audience reception of a creative artifact are considered to help understand cultural values and why they matter. They celebrate cultural diversity while also highlighting cultural similarity.
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The Four General Education Lenses – History
Many of us are familiar with history as being a list of dates, events, and people to memorize, but history is so much more than simply dates and memorizing facts. Your primary exposure to history could have been in grade school required classes or in documentaries about subjects you find interesting. There is so much more to history, however. History tells the stories of our past to help us better understand how we got to the present. In addition to dates, events, and people, history encompasses first-hand accounts of experiences that include artifacts from an era (tools, clothes, toys, etc.), letters or diaries from people who lived during a certain time, documents from a time period, photographs, and, when possible, interviews with people who lived through the events that historians study. Together, these historical remnants help write a story of a particular time, which is then folded into the stories of history we are living and making today.
The Four General Education Lenses – The Natural and Applied Sciences
The natural and applied sciences study the physical world to help us better understand ourselves and our place in nature, and nature’s role in shaping us. The natural sciences include fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics, while the applied sciences include STEM-related fields such as mathematics and technology. Together these fields explore the questions and curiosities humans have been pondering for ages, and scientists often develop questions and use a scientific process—the scientific method—to describe, predict, and observe the natural world. This method of developing and researching hypotheses can also be applied to the other lenses as a way to organize the questions one might ask to gain a deeper understanding of our world and experiences.
The Four General Education Lenses – The Social Sciences
As people are social beings, social science is the study of society and the relationships between people. Subjects included in this lens are psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, and geography. This study of human behavior and interaction can sometimes overlap with the humanities lens, which also studies different cultures. Studying society, culture, and human relationships will lead us to an understanding of how people live and how to improve our lives. Social scientists use a variety of methods to arrive at conclusions within this lens, such as interviews, participant-observation, and primary and secondary sources. The social sciences can also intersect with the other lenses. For instance, like for the history lens, social scientists may look at the past to gain an understanding of the social relationships that took place. How do we interact? How do we work together? Asking questions similar to these has given us the opportunity to evaluate causes and effects related to people in our society. Consider how the social science lens helps us interact with the world around us and uses cultural artifacts to make changes in our lives to promote better living or promote interactions we normally would not have with others.
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