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Science Scares Me

April 22, 2010

Jesse Blumenthal
Science Scares Me

Admittedly, I’ve screwed up. In my three years at CMC I have taken twenty-seven classes; not one of those has been a (hard) science . There science looms, taunting me from senior year. Fully one-fourth (and perhaps more) of my final year at this lovely education institution/resort will be devoted to the study of physics and biology—with lab!

I have not taken a science class since the tenth grade—when I took an exit examination a year early so that I could focus on those courses which I better enjoyed. I spent an entire month studying for that test with the promise that I would have the rest of my high school time sans-science. And, you know what, I've been enjoying those soft sciences (government and economics) as well as certain humanities (philosophy, religious studies, history, literature) ever since. I thought science and I had gone our separate ways—alas, no.

So what is the purpose of this piece, other than for me to kvetch to a wider than usual audience? My intentions are twofold: to urge others not to repeat my mistake, and to examine why it is we have two science requirements.

The Folly: I decided during freshman year, shortly after I found out that there were science requirements, to postpone taking those classes for as long as possible. I hoped that perhaps the Curriculum Committee might reduce the burden or alter the requirements in some way as to alleviate my impending doom. Needless to say, they did not. So why was this delay harmful? Because after being here for three years, having sampled a variety of professors and disciplines, I find myself in a good position to choose the courses I might most enjoy. Sadly, a substantial block of my schedule will be filled by these science classes instead.

So, if you like me suffer from labphobia and the thought of beakers makes you yearn for an intriguing novel, or a novel argument, here's my advice: take your sciences early. Yes it is true that GE sciences fill quickly with seniors trying to complete half-forgotten requirements, but not every spot is taken. If science is not your thing, get it over with so that you can use your higher registration numbers later on to pick more enjoyable classes. I wish I had.

The Requirements: I understand, and mostly agree, with why we have a science requirement. A liberal education requires exposure to a broad range of disciplines and schools of thought. But it has always seemed to me (an admittedly uninformed observer of such things) that the scientific approach, which is to say the scientific method, is common to both the biological and physical sciences. The GE science classes require a time commitment well beyond a normal CMC class. When one considers the class time (2-3 hours/week) plus the lab time (1-3 hours/week) a science class seems to be closer to two regular CMC classes than one. The time commitment is significantly larger than those required by most other classes, but the class is not for 1.5 or 2 credits, and you have to take two of them.

So, in effect, CMC mandates four "units of academic time" be devoted to the sciences, more than the humanities (2 units) or the social sciences (3 units) or any other GE requirement. I wonder whether this use of time is most valuable. I suspect that requiring only one science plus lab would add just as much intellectual value to our liberal arts education as the two currently required. We do not require multiple introductions to any other discipline for non-majors, so why do we do so for the sciences?

I think it is fair to question this burden. It seems to me it would better to allows students to spend at least part of that time pursing a depth of knowledge in their chosen area of study. A strong standard of GE requirements, which CMC requires, is admirable. By and large, it forces students out of their shells and exposes them to multiple disciplines before we get sent out into the world. But burdens for burden's sake seems to ignore this goal. The objective has been accomplished, and yet another test remains.

I invite you, if you have made it this far in my ramble, to proffer a reason why CMC should have this requirement. I do not know the answer, but I think asking the question is worthwhile.

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