The Debate Over Core Class Requirements

For many students, core class requirements can be a pain. Science majors grumble about when they would ever need to know about ancient philosophy. English majors whine about if and when they will ever need to put their calculus knowledge into use. Business majors gripe about the usefulness of taking an art appreciation course. Yet, these core class requirements help students to have a more rounded education and most schools allow students at least some freedoms when it comes to picking their core courses. The schools provide the credit requirements and the areas in which they must be fulfilled, and the students get to pick which topics within those areas they will learn about. But that may not be enough to ensure that students learn all of the "essentials" of knowledge, according to some who are now questioning whether this lack of stricter course requirements is a good idea. After all, if students are not required to take a single mathematics course, then chances are they will graduate from college without having taken a single mathematics course, which may not be the best for those touting a college education.

Surprisingly, it is some of the country’s top schools, like Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, and Brown University, that are being faulted for not requiring students to take courses in more than one major subject groups, according to an article published in the Washington Post. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an education advocacy group, gave the schools a bad rating because the universities essentially allowed students to not take any courses in subject groups like mathematics, science, history, economics, foreign language, literature, and writing. Instead, like many schools across the country, these universities operate on a pick-and-choose system for their credit fulfillment requirements. Rather than mandating that students must take a certain number of classes in specific subjects, they can take any class they want as long as they take a certain number of them. This means that students may completely neglect all English or mathematics classes if they so desired, which could result in graduates who do not have a comprehensive core education.

Yet, advocates of this style of core course arrangement maintain that students enroll in college to learn to think and solve problems, not to become an encyclopedia full of facts from different disciplines, according to the Washington Post article. In fact, very few universities today still have the rigid class requirements that ACTA demands for a good rating. But that does not necessarily mean that all o the students of such schools are not receiving a full and in-depth education. On the contrary, Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges in Washington, said in the article that ACTA may be exaggerating the issue of core class requirements because even students who do not take a course in Shakespeare will "be taking [courses in] Milton or Chaucer instead, which isn’t bad."

The debate over what type of core education method is more beneficial will undoubtedly vary from student to student because they are the ones who are taking the classes. Those who want to learn will learn, no matter what subjects they enroll in. On the other hand, those who are not interested in learning will not gain anything from a stricter core class regime.

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