Ispend way too much time on Penn InTouch. With Advance Registration looming over my head, I feel obligated to spend my free time creating mock schedules, deleting them, testing out the possibilities. It’s fun, to an extent — I can take a mural painting class?! — but when reality sets in, the process gets more frustrating. Instead of taking any class that sounds interesting, I need to chip away at Penn’s College curriculum requirements. But while that’s an annoying aspect of registration, course requirements don’t deserve all of our complaints.
Penn’s curriculum isn’t especially constraining compared to other top schools. Fair Harvard estimates that general education requirements make up 30 percent of a student’s total coursework. Old Yale forces students to take at least 10 general education classes, two for each “sector of learning.” Columbia is notorious for having a set of six classes that all students must take .The exception, of course, is Brown’s open curriculum, which boasts no requirements at all. In the words of 1850 Brown president Francis Wayland, the average student should be able to “study what he chose, all that he chose and nothing but what he chose.”
While that’s all well and good for Brown students, an open curriculum creates the temptation for students to stick with what they know they’re good at. Academically, I’m extremely lopsided: I gravitate toward English and history and tend to stay away from anything close to a hard science. If I went to Brown, I’d most likely take only humanities courses.
But there’s an intrinsic value in pushing past our comfort zones. Penn’s core curriculum forces me to take classes I might not enjoy as much, but will make me a more educated citizen. I’ll need to work my butt off to fulfill the Quantitative Data Analysis Requirement — maybe more so than I would in the creative writing class I’d take in its place — but I shouldn’t graduate without knowing how to think numerically. Penn has an obligation to turn us into well-rounded thinkers, or at the very least to ensure we have a standard knowledge base.
That aside, course requirements can be a useful tool — for freshmen especially. In a school this pre-professional, it’s tempting to gravitate toward the classes we “should” be taking, but course requirements force us to think outside our plans. My friends who swear they’ll go pre-med might fall in love with an Arts and Letters class; my tentative poli sci and English major plans might crumble when I take a formal reasoning class. The point is that we’re young, we’re in our first year of college and it’s okay to not know what we want to do. Course requirements stop us from specializing too early.
It sucks that I have to put off that creative writing course I’m interested in until next year, but I want to become a more educated person. Requirements raise us to a level of competency so we can graduate with the knowledge base we need to take on the world. English majors need rudimentary math skills to survive; Wharton kids need to know how to write. Learning across disciplines allows us to pick up skills we wouldn’t otherwise have, to teach us how to think. If that’s not the purpose of college, I don’t know what is.
Some complaints about the general requirement system are fair. Penn should allow AP credit to fulfill requirements — the AP curriculum is standardized across the nation; those classes are widely recognized as college-level courses. Furthermore, other Ivies let students use APs to get out of requirements. Why should Penn be different? But our foundational and sector requirements still have value.
Am I annoyed that I have to put off taking a cool comp lit class so I can check off my req for Living World? Yes. But Penn forces us to be more educated. It’s like eating our vegetables: complain as we might, ultimately, we know they’re good for us.
Dani Blum is a College freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Danalyst” usually appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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