YCC may push for ‘life skills’ classes

Yalies who have trouble waking up for Friday morning science classes or staying awake during economics lectures may soon have a more enjoyable way to fill their schedules.

The Yale College Council is considering a proposal to create “life skills” classes that would tutor Elis in subjects such as cooking, auto mechanics and filing tax returns, YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said. The Council has not yet voted on a proposal, he said, but it is looking into the feasibility of setting up such classes, possibly at University expense and for class credit.

Marks said he thinks the classes would represent a practical addition to Yale’s curriculum, which focuses on providing students with a liberal arts education, not preparing them for particular careers.

“This is by no means a trade school,” he said. “Here it’s not very profession-oriented … What has been left out from the curriculum because of this — and this is not the fault of the University — is that there aren’t classes for teaching you how to do taxes or stuff like that.”

The idea for the classes is modeled on similar programs at peer universities, including Harvard University, which recently began a series of life skills classes, Marks said. He pointed to Williams College, where he said students can opt for a class on automobile mechanics in place of a political science or history class during that school’s “January Term.”

Harvard’s Office of Career Services is currently offering classes that its Web site says will help Cantabs “survive in the Real World,” including courses on “Car Care,” “Cooking Skills,” “Money Made Simple” and “Plumbing and Pizza.” Wait lists have already been created for some of the more popular classes, Harvard’s assistant dean for life skills curriculum development Julie G. Fox said last week. She said the classes come in the wake of a popular etiquette dinner and “future planning programs” that the university has provided in the last several years.

“Students at other schools have said that taking that class about auto mechanics has been up there with the most useful stuff they learn,” Marks said. “If you get the right kind of professor, it can be even more fun than your “History of South Asia” class.”

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the University is working to create a series of leadership training classes or workshops, although she said she does not yet know what form the classes will take.

“We’ve talked about leadership training, and we’re working with a consultant on this,” she said. “I don’t know about including life skills. I don’t know what direction this will end up taking.”

Director of Career Services Philip Jones said his department has considered offering life skills classes in the past but decided instead to put together literature — including a book entitled “Life After Yale” — meant to help graduates in the real world.

“Since every student receives this, and we update it biannually, this takes the place of classes that would likely only be able to accommodate a relatively small proportion of the senior class,” he said in an e-mail. “It also removes the burden of ‘one more thing’ they have to find time to attend.”

Several Yalies said they think such classes would be a useful addition to the existing course catalog.

Nicole Perkins ’08 said she might take classes in subjects like cooking and tax returns if she were able to earn class credit for them.

“If you were going to get credit for them, then I would do them,” she said. “But if they were something that I had to do above and beyond my normal course load, then I think doing them would just be kind of a headache.”

But Josh Garcia ’09 said while he appreciates the YCC’s effort to help students learn things that they cannot glean from their regular classes, he thinks skills such as cooking and sewing should be learned in the real world, not in a classroom.

“The whole point of life skills is that they are skills you get from life,” he said. “I think it’s artificial to be having people signing up for classes on how to do things they should learn in the normal course of living. It just reinforces the notion that people at Yale are helpless when it comes to practical things.”

The YCC will likely discuss the proposal at its weekly meeting this Sunday, Marks said.

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