Sky Singer: GW should offer more classes focused on specific current events

It’s time to stress out about class registration again. Over break, I eagerly scrolled through the registrar’s website to browse the list of classes for next fall. For the first time, I’m free to take any upper-level political science classes I want, and I was excited to take more intensive classes focused on specific current events. But when I looked at the political science course options, I was left feeling disappointed.

Given all of the interesting and important political events over the past year – like the Iran Deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the Syrian conflict and, of course, the presidential race – I was hoping to find more classes that focused on one specific current event. But I was met with courses almost identical to the selection from last semester.

Instead of recycling a similar list every year, GW should offer courses that further examine a specific current issue, bridging the divide between traditional subjects and relevant case studies.

Many classes I’ve taken, like “U.S. Foreign Policy” and “State and Urban Policy Problems,” take a traditional textbook-style approach and aren’t particularly focused on any one topic or event. GW should be bolder with the humanities courses it offers and give students the chance to study specific current events in depth.

Of course, professors often work current events into class discussions – but that isn’t enough. In my foreign policy class, we reference the civil war in Syria when talking about our readings, but it would be more beneficial if the course was completely designed around the conflict. This would allow us to discuss foreign policy tools like diplomacy and military action through the lens of this one particular topic.

It isn’t unusual for other schools to offer courses taken straight from news headlines. This past fall, GW’s peer school Emory University introduced a new course called “Ferguson Movement: Power, Politics and Protest.” This discussion-based class explored issues like policing, media, politics and the demonstrations that swept the nation last year.

Last spring, Dartmouth University offered “10 Weeks, 10 Professors: #BlackLivesMatter.” Professors from different departments each led a segment of the course that related to their specific field. GW could easily use this innovative class format on any social issue, especially given the number of adjunct professors on campus.

Stanford University offers a political science course called “Climate Change and Conflict: Will Warming Lead to Warring?” This class asks students to consider a thought-provoking question that incorporates science, public policy and a hot-button issue. Not only does the course let students talk about a topic that interests them, but it also diverges from the typical class format by homing in on one subject.

Of course, basic introductory classes that help students understand the fundamentals of a major are essential, and I’m not arguing that they should disappear. All schools have general introduction classes – like basic international security classes, or introduction to American politics and government. I’ve taken classes like these, and they’re necessary to lay the groundwork for upper-level courses.

While creating a course around something that is evolving in real time could create more work for professors, it would pay off for students. As we get further into our college studies, it’s important for us to take the background knowledge we’ve learned and apply it to issues that interest us and face our generation. We’ve all heard friends ask, “When will I ever use this?” when they talk about their classes. Many of us have probably asked that question ourselves. By offering more issue-specific courses like other schools, GW can help us answer that question and make classes feel a little less abstract.

Plenty of college graduates have told me that college doesn’t really do much to prepare you for a career. Since I’m still in school, I have yet to confirm whether that’s really the case. But if that is true, there is even less reason to abide by the textbook-style, traditional class structures. A class tackling a major current issue could better prepare us for our future – when we will be living with the results of today’s conflicts and policies.

We should be using our college years to explore ideas that intrigue and maybe even confuse us. We live in a constantly evolving world filled with issues that political science and international relations students might be dealing with in the future. The courses available to us should match that world.

Sky Singer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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