As fall semester winds down and final papers and exams approach, I take a brief look back on my classes this past semeste and can’t help but feel like I wasted a semester of classes. As a history major, I don’t see the use of the required physics or geology class I took this semester; instead, I see wasted dollars spiraling down the drain.
For a liberal arts school, Bates does manage to have a good number of inconvenient requirements, specifically the Science, Lab, and Quantitative requirements (S, L, and Q) and General Education Concentrations requirement (GECs). I have to wonder whether these requirements expand our education, or instead restrain it.
Now, I don’t want to say Bates’ requirements are completely unnecessary, but I do think there could be a number of positive changes to the requirement system. The S, L, and Q’s that are academically accessible to non-science students are difficult to get into, don’t teach information that appears applicable, and take time away from other classes students find more interesting.
It is nearly impossible to get into one of these 100-level required courses due to the number of humanitarian majors that are looking for the least painful science or math course. Since my sophomore year, I have tried every semester to get into a number of S, L, and Q courses. I finally managed to get into both a S and a L course this semester, and decided to take both of them while I had the chance.
To know that half of my expensive tuition is going towards two classes that I generally dislike and don’t see the use in is, frankly, upsetting. These science and math classes should be more accessible. I agree that learning how to read and interpret a graph and how natural disasters occur is important, but I don’t see the point in memorizing rock types or explaining how a spring works.
I have to ask: why do we have to take two science courses? I understand the need for at least one science course, but why is it necessary to take a lab? What does a lab class do for a student who will not pursue science in any way in the future? I believe one science course is enough, especially for people who have no desire to learn more about science than the very basics.
I would suggest a revamping of the SLQ system that would eliminate one of the science requirements, stress the need to learn the most necessary and useful aspects of science and mathematics, and make the classes more available to humanities students.
Another one of the complaints I have heard often and repeatedly for four years is the inconvenience of General Education Concentrations, which are also known as mini-minors. GECs are, in theory, a great idea. Having students choose concentrations outside their major seems like a great manifestation of the liberal arts ideals. But GECs don’t always expand one’s academic choices, and instead seems to limit them.
One must take four classes that fall under a certain GEC. GEC titles include Ancient Greek, Beauty and Desire, The Collaborative Project, Colonialism, English, and Hazards in Nature, to name a few. While some of the courses under these GECs seem very interesting, reoccurring problems include that some of courses are not often offered, have prerequisites, or overlap with other required courses.
I understand that small liberal arts colleges don’t have enough resources to have all of these courses available or to have minors of every department. However, Bates ought to consider offering popular minors like economics, English, psychology and politics.
While some GECs have easy requirements to fill, like the English GEC which requires four English classes, only two of which can be 100-level, others are much more difficult to fill. For example, the Filmmaking in Cultural Context GEC only offers a list of ten courses which are not taught every semester. Depending on the GEC students have chosen to take, they have very differing opinions.
I discussed GECs with a few seniors in Ladd, and soon enough, a heated debate broke out. Brendan Johnson ‘14 defended the GEC system, claiming that, “The GEC encourages students to expand their academic horizons and catalyzes interdisciplinary bonding.”
Meanwhile, Matt Furlow ‘14 thought that GECs needed to be rethought or abolished, stating, “I think students should be required to take courses from at least 7 different majors, and abolish the GEC system because most GECs lack any sort of academic cohesion.”
These voices echo the confusion around GECs—whether they are effective or not. These mini-minors need to be adjusted to encourage students to take classes outside their major without constricting their choices.
GECs and SLQ requirements attempt to make students explore classes outside of their major, but in the end, these requirements force students to take certain courses when they are offered, thereby preventing students from taking courses outside their major or their GEC.
In general, I like Bates’ academic system. I have only become frustrated as I have come to realize that with one semester left, there are still many different classes I would like to take, and not nearly enough time to take them.