Happy Thursday, everyone. What a cruel change of events that has led you into this classroom this morning. A week ago you were recovering from a nasty New Year”s hangover the awful aftertaste of too much tequila and too much Tennessee. Today you”re dealing with the fourth day of class. You”re in an overcrowded, overheated, entirely uncomfortable room somewhere (possibly the MLB). Professor isn”t just going over the syllabus and letting you leave like she did on Tuesday she”s teaching. She”s got chalk in her hand. Her notes are prepared. This is class. You”ve bought the books, you”re enrolled and there”s no going back.
But there ought to be.
What if you were able to jump ship today or tomorrow or two weeks from now? What if there were no assignments given by your professors in these first weeks of class? What if there was no expectation that you did any reading? Indeed, what if there was no expectation that you even set foot in any line at any bookstore?
This version of academia (which is utopian to the slackers among us) exists in universities that are not ours. At some schools, most notably Yale, students are permitted a “shopping” period of about two weeks, during which they are encouraged to attend any and all classes that may pique their various interests. Professors are sympathetic to their students” decision-making process and ease into the material without requiring, for instance, the purchase of textbooks. Students have the opportunity to better gauge the requirements and content of classes may be, determine their affection or disaffection for the professor and the class itself and then choose whether or not to enroll permanently. From there the professor can go to work with a class of kids who have had every opportunity to bail on him, but have chosen to pursue whichever subject with eagerness and excitement.
I would like very much to see a version of this “shopping” system implemented at the University.
I understand that ours is a large, public university and that there are certain constraints that exist here that do not exist elsewhere. But surely something can be done to provide students with more academic freedom in choosing their classes.
As things stand now, students are allowed 20 or so days to settle into their permanent schedule. There is a drop/add deadline and wonderfully there is a late drop/add deadline (which I have benefited from on two separate occasions), both of which are necessary.
The problem is that if I am enrolling in a class at the end of January because I found a class that I had been enrolled in on pre-colonial Peruvian architecture to be, say, over my head, I am likely going to be woefully behind in this new class on global biodiversity. Readings have been assigned, discussions have been had, papers may have been written but for three weeks I had been reading about the Gateway of the Sun at Tiahuanacu, convinced that I could figure out how Moche architecture differed from Nazca. I couldn”t. I dropped the class. I need X number of credits still and have always been intrigued by biodiversity.
Our school, which feigns a belief in the merits of a liberal arts education, has seemed to me in my three years as an College of Literature, Science and the Arts undergraduate to be inconsiderate of the myriad interests of some students. Organizational studies and interdisciplinary studies are offered, but they are a small token for students who, like me, hoped to sample from the palette of academic colors.
There are so many classes I want to learn about. But I have a limited number of hours in the day, a limited number of credits per term and a limited number of terms in my four years. I have some classes that are required and the rest are ones that I genuinely want to take. Do I sacrifice my desire to learn for the sake of a less stressful term or perhaps for a better grade point average resulting from having to juggle fewer classes? If that troubling sacrifice is made, how is it made? I”m a curious kid. Class A and class B both sounded good. Let me get a real taste of them before I decide.
A shopping period would be a possible approach to providing greater freedom to the kids who last week were as far (intellectually, physically, emotionally) away from school as they could be and are wondering today how they ever convinced themselves that they could handle Organic Chemistry or Nietzsche or pre-colonial Peruvian architecture. Throw students a lifeline and open up the doors to every classroom as the new semester begins.
Oh yeah And to my various professors this term I love you all and I wouldn”t dream of going to any class but yours.
David Horn can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com