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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Gen eds too much, not enough”

    “”Evolution is completely random.””

    At least according to my TRAD teacher’s assistant.

    If my science major has taught me anything (besides the inherent evils of hand sanitizer), it is that if Darwin heard what was uttered during this semester’s first discussion section, he’d be rolling in his grave. Evolution is anything but random.

    I switched to a different section the next day. But the unpleasantness of this TRAD course had only begun.

    Offense No. 2 came when I discovered this was one of those “”binge and purge”” classes. You know the type: Cram down the facts, regurgitate them on the multiple-choice test.

    Offenses three through five were caused by the exorbitant attendance policy.

    I do take solace in the fact that I am not alone in my annoyance with the UA’s current general education system.

    When the gen ed system that is in place today was implemented about six years ago, it was designed to not only provide students with a strong liberal arts education, but also to ease the freshman transition by providing a small classroom environment, according to John Olsen, a regents’ professor and head of the anthropology department.

    The biggest problem with the current system is a direct result of the large classroom size, according to Olsen.

    With a lack of resource allocation from the Legislature (big surprise, right Arizona?), class size has inevitably swelled into the hundreds. As a result, personal attention has decreased, and with it, so has the quality of many courses.

    What was initially envisioned as a way to ease the freshman transition while exposing students to a broad array of fields has now turned into something fit for a cattle ranch: Herd ’em in to class, make sure they stay there, give ’em a few multiple-choice questions, stamp ’em with their “”A”” or “”B,”” then herd ’em right on back out again.ÿ

    In addition to this, the allowance of make-up exams, numerous extra credit opportunities and excessive grade inflation also characterize many of these courses.

    My criticism of the UA’s gen ed system comes not because I think it should be eliminated, but because I see its need. For me, the gen ed system did exactly what it was supposed to: I discovered a field I previously didn’t know existed, fell in love with a department and switched majors.

    With the current system, however, the opportunity for this sort of experience is pretty “”hit and miss,”” not only for students, but for professors too.

    “”I’ve had good experiences and bad ones teaching gen eds,”” said Laura Briggs, head of the women’s studies department. “”Some of the best teaching experiences of my life have been in gen ed, where I have had wonderful, brilliant and inspiring students.””

    While it would be easy to point fingers at a few lousy professors who institute an attendance policy as a last-ditch effort to ensure they won’t get stuck lecturing to only their TAs (for some reason, reading slides of facts just isn’t reeling ’em in like it used to), students have a responsibility as well.

    “”I can offer brilliant, exciting class discussions and offer wonderful readings, but I’m just competing against every party that comes along – or, increasingly, long work hours and substantial family obligations,”” says Briggs.

    When a student’s guiding impetus for enrolling in a class is not the subject matter, but instead, the fact that his bra’ told him “”the tests are, like, multiple choice, dude,”” then quite frankly, I doubt he would give two Keystones about the quality of his Mind, Matter and God course.

    But for the rest of us who are, as Briggs put it, “”here for an education and not a degree,”” why aren’t we up in arms about the fact that one-third of our undergraduate education is so lame that going to class often feels like a circle in hell?

    The state Legislature certainly deserves some credit for this one. How do legislators expect a land-grant institution to fulfill the educational needs of all students when they can’t even fund a program that directly impacts at least one-third of every single undergraduate student’s experience?

    And if they refused to allocate the resources necessary to make classes smaller and more feasible, why has it taken the Faculty Senate almost six years to review and renovate a system that, without the necessary resources, was doomed to fail?

    The gen ed system is too much and not enough. It is too much memorizing, too much dumbing down and too much hand-holding. It is not enough rigor, does not have enough continuity and lacks the resources necessary to personalize the experience.

    So come the end of this semester, when I receive the first non-“”A”” of my collegiate career in a gen ed course, I will not be disheartened or disillusioned. No scarlet “”C”” for me. I realized I was done wasting time running through cattle bars.

    Courtney Smith is a senior majoring in anthropology and molecular and cellular biology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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