Distributing away the breadth of education

by Sarah McCarthy
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

When plotting my schedule for the coming semester, I first, carefully, make up a bizarre-world schedule—one full of classes that I am unqualified for, that I would not like, and that I would sooner drop out of school than take. This spring’s schedule includes: LIB 100: Use of the Library, SSRA 250-A (Intercollegiate Basketball-men), Advanced Printmaking, and, most importantly, Honors Thesis—BBMB. Once I finished cackling with delight at my bizarre-schedule’s bizarroness, I realized two important facts about my real schedule: first, that I am nearly done with my distribution requirements and second, that by all rights I should not be. To act truly in the spirit of distribution requirements, one must make up a bizarre-world schedule and then actually take one of the classes on it. I have desecrated this spirit in the most shameful of ways.

My first act of desecration was to take Astro 110 as my science with a lab. Astro 110 was, may I say, a delightful class taught by an extremely delightful person. It moved my soul, made me want to cry for the sheer beauty of the universe, and taught me the most important fact I’ve ever learned: that on Saturn, the rain is liquid helium. The class was many things, but a science with a lab was certainly not one of them. No labs occurred. It is impossible to exaggerate the extent to which there were no labs. Indeed, unless the word “lab” has been redefined to mean “worksheet,” not a single lab happened.

I tacked on my remaining two science credits by taking an even more tricky class, “Seminars in Nutrition.” The class met once a week, included no papers or a final, and, trickiest of all, it appeared as the impressive-looking Bio 427 on my transcript. The actual students in the class were an ungodly hybrid of both classics, theatre, and English majors hungry for distribution and, strangely enough, people going for honors in BBMB who needed a few more upper-level Bio credits. Mostly, we just stared at each other in confusion as BBMB people presented on the science behind macrobiotic diets and the classics majors talked about instances of feasting in “The Odyssey.” We were united, however, in our desire to use fats, oils and sweets sparingly. At the end of the semester, we had an awkward but nutritious potluck. Rarely has there been a more amazing class.

Perhaps my best trick of all has been fulfilling my alternative voices with a class that teaches me the foundation of Western civilization—Latin. Latin, like astronomy, is a great, maybe even a perfect class. In simply no way, though, are the voices of ancient Rome “alternative.” Have the voices of Ovid, Cicero, and Virgil been too long silenced? In upper-level Latin and Greek, both of which count for alternative voices here, you essentially just read things you did in Core in their original languages. This is all well and good, of course, but “alternative” it is not. I plan to take one of the “women” classes—women as composers, maybe, or women in ancient Greece for my next alternative voices. I will take them and not worry very much about whether a group that comprises 52 percent of the world’s population can really be considered “alternative.” To carry the logic further would mean that being a woman is really just a less-favorable alternative to being a man, but the course catalog cannot be blamed—it states that those classes are alternative and I blindly believe it.

In that this long saga of my schedule there is a point, and it is this: Distribution is silly. The fact that you are made to take SIX credits in every area is un-called for and simply bad manners—it’s a bit akin to the restaurant manager in “Office Space” demanding that people wear more than the minimum amount of “flair.” If you want us to take two classes in every subject, mighty Whitman, then just say so; but don’t make this dreadful policy that spawns two-credit quasi classes in which little to no learning occurs. Or better yet, realize that if you have to bend the rules enough that you can weasel your way out of as many requirements as I have, the rules need a change. The change is not stricter requirements but fewer of them. Change the number of credits to four per subject area and allow people to opt out of at least one of them. If they’re careful enough readers of the course catalog, they’ll manage to opt out anyways. Leave bizzaro-world schedules for bizarre world—allow people a little more time to take what they actually want.

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