This semester the Committee on Yale College Education will begin to formulate proposals to improve undergraduate education (“Academic review starts taking shape,” 1/30).
From initial reports, it seems that the committee will indeed advocate some necessary changes to the curriculum. But it will overlook an overarching issue: the need to liberalize our liberal arts education by encouraging intellectual experimentation and finding new ways to integrate our classes with each other and with our other, so-called “extracurricular,” experiences.
The committee is already taking one very important step in this direction by seriously considering the issue of science education for non-science majors. Indeed, many non-science majors regret the absence of demanding yet feasible science courses available to them. Thankfully, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead appears to be committed to solving this problem.
But this issue is only one facet of a much larger problem: the ways in which Yale limits academic experimentation both directly and indirectly. As one of the foremost institutions of learning in the country, if not the world, Yale should take the lead in expanding the definition of education and the boundaries of knowledge.
First and most obviously, Yale College should renew its commitment to the Credit/D/Fail system by increasing the number of courses each student may take for credit and by requiring that all courses offer the Credit/D/Fail option.
In doing so, the University will encourage us to explore areas of study in which we have little experience or confidence. Last year’s graduating class was the first class to be limited to four Credit/D/Fail courses in their Yale careers (earlier classes were allowed eight), and each year fewer classes are available for credit.
If we had more classes available Credit/D/Fail and could take more of them, we would use the system for its original purpose: to explore new topics, rather than merely to blow off a course.
More significantly, though, undergraduates should challenge Yale College to expand opportunities for non-traditional learning, both within and outside the traditional classroom. The Blue Book opens with the caveat that “Thirty-six courses of themselves do not necessarily make an education. Unless the courses bear such a relationship to one another that they both broaden understanding in several areas and deepen it in one or two, students may emerge from college with a collection of miscellaneous information but no wiser than when they entered.”
But current academic regulations can serve to limit our ability to integrate knowledge from various courses and thereby expand both our understanding and our intellectual abilities.
One way to accomplish this integration would be to allow students, with the permission of their instructors, to do work that satisfies the requirements of more than one class at once. For instance, a student with seminar papers in two different courses (which may be in different disciplines) should be allowed, and even encouraged, to write one longer paper that examines an issue using knowledge from both courses.
This kind of interdisciplinary study increases our understanding of the complex forces at play in our society.
Oddly enough, requirements for double-majoring seem to discourage exactly this kind of academic integration, penalizing students who wish to combine their majors for the senior requirement and severely limiting the ways in which the majors can overlap.
Ideally, the 36 courses taken by a Yale student should form some sort of coherent whole, and yet these limitations prevent such consistency.
Yale should also increase opportunities for learning outside of its own classrooms. Although the University has begun to encourage study-abroad programs, it has been slow to grant academic credit for experiences that differ substantially from Yale classes.
Programs such as the School for International Training and the National Outdoor Leadership School offer semester-length programs that encourage individual exploration, leadership and cross-cultural learning. Students at peer institutions who enroll in SIT and NOLS earn credit for their endeavors, and yet these programs have not been approved for credit by the Yale College Committee on Junior Year Abroad.
Along the same lines, Yale should begin to recognize that work experience is invaluable to higher education and grant credit for internships. Many Yale students argue that they’ve learned as much in a good summer internship as in a semester’s worth of classes.
The University should acknowledge that our studies can only be enhanced by integrating real-life experience with the ideas about which we read and write.
Yale’s greatest strength lies in its stellar academic offerings. As undergraduates, we are lucky to have access to many of the greatest professors in the world. But we can only take full advantage of these opportunities if we also are able to understand each piece of knowledge in the context of everything else we learn inside and outside the classroom. Yale should take the lead in recognizing the value of integrated learning and grant appropriate credit for academic experiences that expand the boundaries of traditional education.
Josie Rodberg is a junior in Davenport College.