Editorial: ‘Silly’ courses offer real education

By Staff Editorial

Going to college and taking The Joy of Garbage seems kind of counterintuitive to attending in… Going to college and taking The Joy of Garbage seems kind of counterintuitive to attending in the first place. It’s what liberal education affords.

In recent years, some courses offered in colleges across the nation, prestigious and arcane have taken on a different quality. The classes focus on a seemingly silly topic; their names deceive their worth. The Joy of Garbage, offered at Santa Clara University under environmental studies, explores the technical aspects of waste decomposition and waste processes, according to The Huffington Post.

Another course in which students view, discuss and comment on videos, called Learning from YouTube, is offered at Pitzer College. Courses like this and the one at SCU might seem to be “joke” classes, but they are just as educational and ingrained in the curriculum as traditional courses. Part of this might have to do with retention rates.

Students are, in the crudest sense, customers to a college or university. College students are active on campus and network with faculty, but at the end of the term, there is still a tuition bill to pay and courses to sign up for. Universities might be offering these courses to strike a chord with the college crowd, to make it more attractive to prospective students. Moreover, colleges need to keep customers coming back; current students can still transfer to other colleges.

Retention might not be the only, or most important, reason for strange-sounding courses cropping up. Perhaps these courses speak of the liberal education Americans seem to hold close to their heart. College is surely about training for a career, or preparing for graduate level study, all in the hopes of a satisfying living. But it is also a time to explore interests, and really, to just chill out.

There are already enough courses with traditional read, think and write coursework or derive, formulate and solve problems, which plague students on campus. These courses are the backbone of college education that makes the job market easier or makes one eligible for further study. They are often wrought with stress accordingly.

Four years of post-secondary education, compared to direct technical programs in other countries, means some free time to explore. Courses on waste disposal are inherently interesting because they are rare. But they also offer hands-on experience that a lecture hall could not offer. Getting out of the building and doing it first hand makes for a more memorable and enjoyable experience.

Another course, Philosophy and Star Trek offered at Georgetown University, explores the philosophy presented in the episodes and applies traditionally taught principles to more enticing subject matter. These types of courses in fact stay true to the rigor of college education but also offer an angle students might be interested in.

Liberal education implies varied coursework. The diversity comes from different disciplines that are studied. However, there is no reason to not extend that diversity in other qualities, like how the class is taught, where is it taught or what the coursework consists of. The traditional pen and paper must make room for the new.

Scheduling for classes has already started at Pitt, and the variety of interesting courses is no less than other colleges. Students can take Vampire: Blood and Empire and learn about vampirism in text and film, Fantasy and Romance and engage in fantastical alternations in the ordinary or even Organized Crime.

These kind of engaging courses offer varied education. At the same time, one must earn a grade, so it is possible the stress will still be there. But if the material is more involving and is at the same time enjoyable, it makes the learning easier.

Reed College offers Underwater Basket Weaving. But if you think about it, weaving a basket under water is actually a pretty difficult thing to do.