I hate math and science. I always have and I’m fairly sure I always will. So even though I will not benefit from the reduced General Curriculum Requirements (and neither will you, unfortunately, prospective freshmen included), I was thrilled to hear that the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences will no longer be forcing its right-brained students to struggle through three science and two math courses.
Slashing GCR requirements nearly by half, from 44 to 24 credit hours, gives CCAS the chance to completely redefine what it means to get a liberal arts education at GW. But in giving students the freedom to choose seven extra classes for themselves, chances are that both the dean that signs off on diplomas and the parents that sign off on the tuition checks are getting a little nervous. After all, what could be scarier than letting college students actually pick what they want to study?
The question is no longer: “How do we make sure the students get a rounded education?” but rather “How do we make sure they don’t waste all these extra credits?”
Yes, there is the chance that students would use the 20 newly freed credits to take completely random classes, but would that really be so bad? Let’s face it – there are two types of students in the Columbian College: the ones that need to know the material they are covering (try taking the MCAT without paying attention in chemistry class), and the ones that are biding their time until graduate school, law school or a job with a health care plan comes along.
With the former group, there is little danger that they will opt out of the classes they need to take, and the 24 credits of remaining GCRs will still expose them to the other side of the academic aisle. As for the latter group, how many English and history majors will actually be using the knowledge they gained in their majors? Apart from the small percentage of graduates that go into research and academia, the majority of humanities students benefit most not from the content they are studying, but from learning how to think critically and write succinctly.
So if students are fulfilling their 24 GCR credits along with their major requirements, faculty and parents alike should not concern themselves too much with what students choose to do with these extra seven classes, which may prove just as helpful as the required classes in shaping the way a student thinks. The truth is often that the classes where you learn the most are not the ones that let you check off a requirement, but the ones that you really want to take. The two best classes I took at GW were my creative writing courses. They taught me to think in a way completely separate from my psychology major, and yet they fulfilled zero major, minor or GCR requirements.
It would be easy – and tempting – to institute some other program or requirements to take place of the trimmed GCRs, but please, have a little faith in the next generation of students. You can lead a student to knowledge, but you can’t make them learn. Instead, let them chase after what it is that excites and intrigues them, without referencing a requirements checklist. If that means that a chemistry major wants to take African politics, or a sociology major signs up for a photography class, great. And if a student chooses to spent their considerable tuition dollars on the easiest classes GW has to offer, well, that too is their prerogative.
However, I am fairly confident that most GW students would not opt for that route. Say what you will about GW, most of the students here are intelligent, ambitious and curious (even if it doesn’t always seem that way). A friend recently asked me if I ever get a shiver of excitement as I look through the available courses and come across something really interesting – and I’m sure I’m not the only one that knows what she means.
Sadly, I haven’t had the chance to take as many of those courses as I would have liked, because many fall outside of any of my set “requirements.” Give the next generation of Colonials a chance to prove that they would not abuse the freedom to study what excites them, I highly doubt they will disappoint you.
The writer, a senior majoring in psychology, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.
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