Justin Guiffre: GCRs aren’t all bad

The other day I was sitting in World History 038, and after a cold trek across campus to the Elliott School, I was less than ecstatic about the exchange of people, plants and animals from the Old World and New World after Columbus landed here. But after a surprisingly interesting lecture, my professor raised his voice to a near yell and cut to the chase: “This process continues today, and it is true that almost all historical events since 1500 were affected by Columbus stepping foot off his boat. In this way we are the heirs of Columbus.”

It was an eye-opening statement that he had argued definitively. It reminded me that if World History 038 wasn’t part of my General Curriculum Requirements I would never have taken it.

For some students, GCRs seem to be the bane of their existence. At Monday’s Student Association town hall meeting, more than one student stood up to ask administrators about the academic rigor and purpose of these courses – one student even claiming his GCRs made him reconsider attending college. I sympathize with some of the concerns. The Columbian College has too many GCRs that inevitably lead to some dumbing-down of courses to ensure students are graduating on time.

Nonetheless, I had to disagree with the generalization of GCRs as a bad thing. Dean Michael Brown of the Elliott School pointedly explained that creating a common basis of knowledge for students is important for continuity. But more than that, I have had some truly excellent GCRs that I would never have signed up for otherwise.

One of the specific classes attacked was UW20. A student questioned the academic level and said that his experiences with this course had been far less than useful. My UW20 class was the polar opposite experience. Two factors set GW’s UW20 program apart from other aspects of our education. First, teachers are competitively trying to entice students into signing up, making the subject matter more interesting. Secondly they get to specialize, ensuring a teacher who is knowledgeable about the topic.

I carefully read the descriptions of all UWs and fought to get into the coveted “Fight Club” UW, focused on analyzing violence in America. The class was interesting, the professor pushed us and it ended up being more than worth the ride to the Vern three times a week.

Come in to each class with an open mind. I have no specific interest in history as a career or even taking more history classes, but I try to enter my History 038 class realizing that the University probably wouldn’t require students to take it if there wasn’t something to gain. I can’t say that I’m wildly interested every day, as with any class, but I’m glad that I had to take it.

Some classes in college won’t be fun or particularly challenging, students need to come to grips with that fact. But even if you’re not inspired, it’s no reason to consider leaving GW or college. I was fortunate to have a history professor that could probably hold his own against Howard Zinn, even though it wasn’t my dream course.

I still don’t like the idea that I have any connection to a person like Columbus, but it’s an interesting prism to look at the world through.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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