Iyer: Easily gutted education

A long, long time ago, in a Blue Book far, far away, there was a New Hope. It was called “Biology of Gender and Sexuality.” And it had come to assist in the fulfillment of the Science and Social Science distributional requirements needed for graduation by all Yale students.

Like clubs with free food, TAs who speak English and Provost Salovey’s mustache, “gut” science courses can be the target of frenzied, chaotic quests. Since 2004, when Yale instituted new distributional requirements, students have searched for the best “Sc” classes, including the aforementioned “Porn in the Morn,” which was recently stripped of its “Sc” credit, and which the News reported yesterday would be taught no more. At a college with a centuries-old liberal arts focus, this search is unsurprisingly common across campus. But the fact that such gut “Sc” courses are available to us has an important effect on the collegewide education (besides an apparent schoolwide obsession with “Biological Anthropology”). As a result, insofar as the detailed breadth of one’s studies goes, science majors, not humanities major, graduate from Yale much better educated.

Before I find dense pages of Plato being thrown at me, let me make clear that I’m not trying to accuse students of the humanities of doing anything wrong, or of not studying well. Nor do I doubt that they are as intelligent, eager to learn, and interested in their subjects and majors as students of the sciences. Taking easier courses outside your interest area is a natural, even an economic, choice on the part of rational students. But that doesn’t change the fact of who comes out better educated.

Real science study comes from learning how the world works on a microscopic scale, what molecules do in different organisms and why the chemicals you mixed in that test tube are smoking suspiciously. This whole sector of an intellectual edification comes from learning the facts, theories, and particular analytical skills of chemistry, physics and biology. Because of gut science classes, many students bypass a crucial part of a liberal arts education.

It is difficult to take a history class at Yale that does not teach the real analytical abilities taught in a history class. Even in easier classes that fulfill the “Hu” distribution, it is hard to avoid learning true humanities. As a result, science majors who take only two “Hu” classes get a wider intellectual look at all the liberal arts than many other students at Yale, like the many who major in the humanities and take only two “Sc” classes.

Yale’s reputation for being stronger in the humanities is a self-fulfilling prophecy that means many science students come to New Haven knowing they will be surrounded by both the arts and the sciences, and that they will have to engage in both areas. They come to Yale to complement chemical engineering with Donald Kagan.

Yale College has great science programs, and it has made it known to college guidance counselors around the globe that it wants such departments to be better noticed for their value. The administration has built new science facilities, like the Malone Center on Prospect Street, and promoted its science and engineering programs in its public relations efforts.

But the effort to improve Yale’s science programs cannot be restricted to campaigns targeting core students in relevant majors. Yale’s History Department is well-known because not only do history majors take great classes with the best professors academia has to offer, but almost all other students can, and do, as well. If sciences are to be better appreciated, all students should be able to value them. The first step is to incentivize students to take real science classes in the first place.

I’m not trying to extend onto others the “difficulties” of those who choose the life of the Hill, or scold anyone for taking “Porn in the Morn.” From what I’ve been told, it was supposed to have been a very well-taught and interesting class. Maybe my Blue Booking hasn’t been detailed enough and I’m being too narrow-minded in talking only about science guts. Perhaps there are myriad gut humanities and social science classes I’m ignoring. But if that’s the case, these classes should have their distributional requirement credits taken away as well.

An obvious problem with that, of course, is that it would essentially tell a professor that her class on a given social science no longer qualifies as one. But as far as I know, the Blue Book’s sphere of influence does not contain the global academic categorization of different course subjects. And most professors probably won’t re-evaluate their places in academia based on the credits Yale undergraduates are given.

Yale administrators should use the distributional requirements as a system of incentives to educate us as comprehensively as possible, so that we can go into the world with knowledge, analytical skills and thoughtfulness (and an active ATM-happy ability to help the University’s endowment bounce back).

Yale has Political Science, History and Art departments among the best in the nation. And I doubt that any humanities students who are at our school are incapable of learning, or doing well in, chemistry, physics or biology. But in the broad sense of study, most science majors are getting the better education. The distributional requirement system should be changed to equalize, by leveling up, all undergrads’ ranges of scholarship.

Until then, we can take advantage of the situation as it is. May the “Porn in the Morn” of the future be with you.

Serrena Iyer is a sophomore in Silliman College.

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