Words and Numbers courses restrict students from pursuing their interests

Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Core classes are a universal struggle for Lewis & Clark students, the latest iteration being Words and Numbers courses. Each freshman is required to take one Words course and one Numbers course. The Words courses are humanities-related, while Numbers are mathematically focused. I am currently in the Numbers course “Networks and Trees,” and will be taking a Words course in the spring. My experience has not been negative, but if given total control over my course load, I would not choose to take it because of the high cost of each course. I believe students should have more control over what classes we take because of how much we are paying for each one.

LC is a liberal arts college, which means that there is an emphasis on a widespread education, which I believe was an inspiration for the current core curriculum. General education programs are one way liberal arts colleges enforce this, which in my experience has been pretty positive. At LC, these requirements often allow  students to choose the topics they want to learn about, instead of herding them into predictable entry-level courses. Requirements such as a “culture, power, and identity” course, and a “global perspectives” class steer our learning, without being too constricting, and allow us to choose courses that suit us.

While the Words and Numbers program attempts to do this, I think it is much less successful. The topics vary greatly, but the surplus of niche courses can make it difficult for students to find a course that interests them.

 The professors also vary in their preparedness.  Words and Numbers courses are generally supposed to be like English and math courses respectively, but the courses are not all taught by professors from those fields. Putting faith in professors, as LC does, can easily backfire, when courses often cover topics outside of the instructor’s specialization.

If a student does not want to be in a class they are forced to take, something is wrong. Some may say students like this do not belong in a liberal arts system, but I disagree. Liberal arts schools can offer numerous benefits, such as personal connections between students and professors and discussion-based classes. All of this can be done without forcing students into classes that are not of interest to them.

If the roles were switched and I were running LC, the only course that would be required would be some sort of social justice education. I would not want alumni running around, spreading transphobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism or any ideologies involving hate. Other than that, if students  are going to go into debt for their education, they should be able to decide  what classes they want to take without restriction. Each core class is an eighth of annual tuition, and together they are a quarter. If the preference form does not yield a fit, or none of those courses interest you, then you are wasting a lot of money. Since only a third of the courses we take are required for our major, if core or even general education classes were removed, we could fill that space with electives. We could spend our money on courses we are interested in while still widening our breadth of knowledge, and even making it easier to double major. This way, we can uphold the liberal arts tradition without wasting money. 

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