Monday, December 17, 2007

Required Thinking for Requirement Thinking

Yes, the Yeshiva College Curriculum Review is actually happening. And general requirements are being discussed.

Here is what I think: Asking which general requirements should be required and which should not be is simply asking the wrong question.

For starters, the term “general requirement” is too vague. Conceptually, I think there are three categories of such requirements, which, if clarified, will enhance the discussion.

  1. REQ (pronounced “wreck”) - The knowledge expected of a graduated student. An example: YC expects that every graduate will know how to write. This category includes the subcategory of OnceREQd, knowledge expected at one point of a graduated student. NYU, for instance, has a OnceREQd: President Joel is expected to have taken calculus, but he is not expected by NYU (his alma mater, or YU, for that matter) to know calculus now. (I wonder if he does...)

  2. PreREQ – The knowledge expected of a current student. An example: Every student in Physics II should have the knowledge of Physics I.

  3. X-REQ – The experience expected of a graduated student. An example: Harvard has every student complete a thesis. The thesis entails much content, but it also involves a certain experience, namely, writing a long paper, working with direct guidance on an advanced topic, etc.

REQs, PreREQs, and X-REQs – O My!

What to do with these categories? (I don't want to deal with the very strange notion of OnceREQd here.)

The Pass-Out

The notions of REQs and PreREQs are not bad ones. If YC is to have any expectations of its students, it will needs REQs and PreREQs. But as opposed to X-REQs, they should be pass-out-able. We already do this with Advanced Placement exams. (Whether actual credit should be granted is a different question, which, I think, should vary depending on the subject.)

The question then becomes which courses should be experienced and which have pass-out-ability. (See The Scandalous Misuse of X-REQs below).

The point of this argument is not that students should take fewer courses. It is arguing that students should take more appropriate courses. If a student already has the knowledge taught in a given REQ, then he should not take that REQ. This would enable (and ennoble) that student (and the professor of the REQ) to take (and give) more advanced courses.

Thus, if a student, because of deep personal interest, already knows the material taught in Medieval Jewish History, and can pass a test to that end, then he will be able to take more advanced courses in Jewish History. And Jewish History professors will thus be able to teach more advanced Jewish History courses. (For the record, next semester there is only one Jewish History elective – this is scandalous considering the amount of professors – great professors! – in that department).

The Scandalous Misuse of X-REQs

Somehow, many courses at YC are treated as X-REQs. This, I believe, borders on scandal. It simply makes no sense for intro courses and science-for-dummies courses to not only be learned, but experienced.

Intro courses are not X-REQs. They must always be considered PreREQs.

Hebrew courses are not X-REQs. They must either be considered PreREQs or REQs. (Look out for a future post about YC Hebrew.)

Labs, of course, are X-REQs. From just about everyone I have spoken to about the subject, both science and non-science majors, just about the only thing gained from taking a lab was, indeed, the miserable, guinea pig-like experience. As one friend recently put it, “I spent 2 hours confirming that, in fact, gravity still works, at least at the time of my experiment.”

Whether labs should be required, in light of this categorization, is another (I think very good) question. (Look out for a more fleshed out future post on this.)

Physical Education, right now at least, is treated as an X-REQ. I personally do not understand why this should be required, or at least why it needs to be viewed as an X-REQ. I do not get what its role in YC is, besides, of course, sustaining itself and offering fun classes for people who want to take them or not. Should this be required? Why?

Great Expectations

What does YC want of its graduated students? Right now, I can think of 5 things:

  1. YC wants to give them a broad liberal education.

  2. It also wants them to have a religious education at one its affiliated morning programs.

  3. It also wants to give them a solid Jewish (cultural, historical, lingual) education.

  4. It also wants them to have depth in at least one specific major.

  5. During their free time, they should also have a “college experience”

Now, of course, expecting all of that is simply crazy given the amount of time YC students have. Forget four years – to do that properly will take at least a decade. So how should YC balance those 5 basic goals?

For starters, YC is not going to be able to compromise the expectation of its students having a religious education with an affiliated program. The best it will do is to allow IBC students to take courses which count for YC credit or to allow Roshei Yeshiva to teach Bible, as I suggest.

So, how to balance the other 4 goals (liberal education, Jewish education, depth in a major, and a “college experience”) in 3-4 years?

I think consolidation can help. Having Bible as part of the religious education instead of the YC education gives YC greater ability to achieve its other goals by knowing that part of its Jewish education is being taken care of.

Offering more interdisciplinary courses that can cover more required knowledge in less time would also be wise.

Pass-out-ability will help too.

As for the rest, I have no miracle answers. But I think this is good thinking for the discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For the record, even Harvard does not go so far as requiring a thesis of every student - only those in the self-selected honors track (really a choice made in senior year).

But they certainly do have far more expansive homework assignments than the typical YU class. A frequent 7-10 page paper is not uncommon, and more challenging science/math classes can have 15+ hours of work a week. The question is whether any of this is viable in YU's "double curriculum" setting, or if it will create uncomfortable choices instead.

Do we want to create more intense options, with the risk of forcing some talented students to make painful choices between high level secular classes (or even Judaic Studies ones) and their limudei kodesh, due to time constraints. Obviously, this already is an issue today, but do you want to run the risk of exacerbating it to the point of forcing all these students out of the top secular classes (all now too intense), or out of night seder?

Every attempt to up the level of YU courses and/or ambition of workload (including a thesis or more expansive projects) must tackle this question.