Man cannot live on breadth alone

By Scott Strasser

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 3:30, I drag myself over to Science Theaters to pretend to listen to a lecture regarding pyroclastic rock debris, convergent plate boundaries and a number of other topics I have no interest in. Looking around the lecture hall, the sea of bored faces surrounding me in geology 209 confirms that I am not the only one who doesn’t want to be there. No disrespect towards geology, or the people who study it. It’s just not our cup of tea.

Every time I force myself to study for this class, I get bored within minutes and my mind wanders. I read the same sentence over and over again, until I give up and do something I find more interesting, like watch paint dry or read the dictionary (I’m up to the J’s now).
Why do I and so many others take this class if we have no interest in learning about the scientific miracle lying under the Earth’s crust? The answer is because we are only there to satisfy our breadth requirements.

Geology 209 is not a class for geology majors. In fact, you are not even supposed to be majoring in the sciences if you take this class. The people who take it are mostly business or arts majors, people who take easy science options to fill their breadth requirement.

Breadth requirements exist for all University of Calgary students. If you are in business, you are required to take humanities and social science classes. If you are in arts, you are required to take a full course credit of science classes. If you are in engineering, you’re probably not reading this because you’re too busy studying for your finals. Good luck, you smart bastards.

According to the people in charge of such things, breadth requirements exist to provide students with a more rounded education. University administrators argue that by taking courses from other faculties, students broaden their horizons and open their minds to new knowledge that will help them at some point during their lives. Exactly when an engineer is going to need to know what an Oxford comma is, I’m not sure. But when the time comes, he sure will be glad he sat through a semester of English 202.

In theory, breadth requirements make sense. You should try to develop a diverse set of skills as you advance through your program. Some students take an elective and end up discovering a new passion.

Taking classes that aren’t specific to your degree broadens your mind. Every science student should learn to write. Every arts student should learn to observe something and form a hypothesis.

But the reality is that the majority of students taking classes to fill a breadth requirement do not care about the information they are supposed to be learning. Instead they are just memorizing the necessary information long enough to pass whatever test they have to write for that class.

Language learning is a passionate hobby of mine. Right now I am taking a fourth-semester German course. German is my minor and it’s a subject I enjoy. But even in a fourth-semester German course, there are unenthusiastic classmates who are only there because their degrees require it. They have no interest in learning German — they just want to get their damn language requirement out of the way. This sucks for people like me because foreign language classes require interaction, participation and enthusiasm to be useful. A class full of people staring at their shoes and not saying anything doesn’t work in the small setting common to foreign language classes.

Universities want students to take a wider range of courses so we can broaden our skill sets. But we’ve already taken classes we didn’t want to for 12 years. We’ve done our time. We learned and studied what other people told us to, so that one day we could go to an institution and study what we’re really interested in.

We finally arrive at this institution, only to be told no, you need to take this, this and this. Let the geologists study geology. It’s what they love and that’s cool. Let the linguists study languages. Don’t force someone who doesn’t give a shit about German to take four classes in the subject. If they’re not enthusiastic, they won’t learn anything anyway. At $700 a class, it’s not worth their time.

In case you were wondering, pyroclastic rock debris is fragments of igneous rock propelled from a volcanic eruption.

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