It’s common to walk around a college campus and hear students complain about general education requirements. Usually, these complaints are eventually shrugged off by students who recognize that regardless of how irritating it may be to take classes outside their major, it’s vital to be well-rounded across subjects. But there is a line to be drawn on how useful these general classes are after a certain point.
Students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences are required to take an additional science with a lab on top of the University’s lab science requirement. The two courses are redundant and prevent non-STEM students from pursuing subjects they’re more passionate about. The extra science forces students to put effort into a class they aren’t interested in and that likely won’t be of any practical value, while also preventing students from taking a course more useful to them. CCAS should drop the second science requirement so students only have to take one science with a lab, allowing students more opportunities to take classes more relevant to their future and worth their while.
To fulfill the requirements, I’m currently taking Contemporary Science for Nonscience Majors and last semester, I took environmental chemistry that was also geared towards non-science majors. Although I found the lecture part of the first chemistry class interesting, I was at a loss to find a second science course I had even a meager interest in. Remembering that one of the mere 40 classes I will be able to take in my four years here with such a high tuition price tag is being filled by a redundant science class is frustrating to say the least.
This is especially true since I don’t have time to explore numerous subjects that I’m more interested in – like philosophy and history – in as much depth as I want, or perhaps even at all. I already have to meet graduation requirements, plan to keep taking a foreign language and know I have a limited tenure at GW. On top of these concerns, my class meets three times a week with an hour and 50 minute lab and two 50 minute lecture classes, making it difficult to schedule other classes around all three obligations.
For both chemistry classes I took, I found the lab section to be especially unworthy of my time. With all information taught in the lecture and tests based off the lectures as well, the lab seems extraneous. Although the objective of the lab section is to teach students how to think scientifically, the experiments we conduct are more akin to the simplicity of baking a cake. Students follow the lab directions, just like a recipe, to get to the desired outcome and then they write down the numbers they get and do basic algebra. Sometimes questions are proposed to encourage students to draw connections with concepts learned in class to that week’s experiment, but the discussion of these questions typically lasts five minutes out of the nearly two-hour lab period and doesn’t introduce any information that couldn’t be incorporated into the lecture. With 9 lab periods for my course this semester, that’s about 18 hours wasted. There is very little critical thinking involved in these labs and truthfully, the most thinking that I’ve done in the lab is finding out ways to multitask so that I can leave earlier.
Laboratory periods generally teach students how to use equipment and conduct experiments for when they go on to do research in the future. For students who aren’t going into a science field, the lab does very little to enrich their class experience. The time given up to attend the lab is a greater loss than whatever meager benefits can be derived from the week’s experiment. The few benefits from taking a lab are even further diminished during the second required lab class, as students have already learned how to follow the lab manual’s instructions and analyze the results of an experiment.
Meanwhile, the Elliott School of International Affairs doesn’t require a second lab science course. Since the international affairs major also requires students take courses in disciplines housed under CCAS like economics, political science and history, it seems absurd to suggest that a career in those fields will need a greater knowledge of physics or chemistry than that of an international affairs major.
Georgetown University has an interesting solution to the problem of requiring a science class. Students there have the option of choosing two classes from a list of math and sciences, meaning they could take two math and zero science courses, two sciences and zero math or one of each. However, if they choose to take classes that are tailored toward non-STEM majors, then one must be in chemistry, physics or biology and the other must be in computer science or math. While this may sound complicated at first glance, this requirement gives students greater flexibility in their course selection. For economics at GW, both calculus and statistics are major requirements. At Georgetown, taking both of these classes would exempt me from taking a science at all because they are both math classes that are not altered for non-STEM majors. Similarly, Wake Forest University requires two math or science classes as long as they are not in the same department.
CCAS should follow the example of the Elliott School, and Georgetown and Wake Forest universities by dropping their additional science requirement so that students are only required to take one science with a lab. This will allow students to spend their time more wisely by taking more of the subjects they are passionate about and reduce redundancies in the GPAC curriculum.
Kelly Skinner, a sophomore double-majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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