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Do arts students need to take science courses?

Yes, breadth requirements help students get a better education


By Babur Ilchi, September 29, 2015 —

Arts majors should take science courses. Science majors should take arts courses. The point of attending any post-secondary institution is to learn, and saying that you hate taking science or arts courses closes your mind from the world you live in.

The University of Calgary’s bachelor of arts programs require you to take science courses, and they should. People should make an effort to improve themselves in all academic aspects. Sure, you may particularly enjoy urban studies or political science, but university isn’t a vocational school. The U of C is a public research institute that provides people from across the country and around the world an opportunity to gain a well-rounded education and develop skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Besides, taking a science course doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience filled with ghastly equations and long, hard-to-memorize words like ‘deoxyribonucleic.’ Many 200-level science courses rely on information you already learned in high school.

Remember Math 30 and whatever science courses you happened to take? This time, it’s not your gym teacher reading from the chemistry textbook. It’s an instructor who cares about the topic and wants to share the knowledge they have with you.

Unless you’re taking a course that uses calculus or an advanced course geared towards science majors, the most math you’ll use is the plug-the-values-into-the-given-formula type. As for the actual courses? There’s such a wide range that everyone can find something that interests them, or at least something they’ve always wanted to learn about. Astronomy teaches you about the stars, geology about the earth and biology teaches you about life itself.

Science also goes hand-in-hand with the arts. Before you start arguing with your other political science friends about what should be done about global warming, it helps to learn what it actually is. Studying topics like geology and biology allows us to better understand the problems we study and develop new solutions.

You don’t always need to go back to the basics to study a new topic, but understanding the scientific driving force of your field can help you see things differently, leading to new insights and a better understanding of your major.

We have a great opportunity as university students to study what we love so we can do what we love. But science and art are both necessary in our society — so they should both be necessary in education. Specialization can be great, but life isn’t something that can be experienced with blinders on. Our world is incredibly complex and diverse, and you’re doing a disservice to yourself by not using your brain to see and learn as much as you can.

No, forcing students to take classes is counterproductive


By Gary Lai, September 29, 2015 — 

Before university, I had an idea of what makes up an ideal education. Sports were important to me, but so were the humanities. I even liked math.

So one would think I should be an ardent proponent of a balanced arts and science education at both the secondary and university level. But hear me out: universities should not require students to take science courses.

There is, granted, immense pressure to do so. Prestigious schools like Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago have science requirements, even for literature majors. They are hidden in so-called ‘general education requirements’ that require students to take a range of courses unrelated to their majors. Sociology students have to take art appreciation courses and art history majors have to take a class on diversity.

Though schools vary, the science requirement may ask students to take anything from calculus courses to dumbed-down classes with names like ‘Frontiers of Science’ or ‘Physics for Poets.’

There is pressure for students to be scientifically literate in this
technological age. Even former Harvard president Larry Summers felt compelled to tweak science requirements to produce well-rounded students.

And one more course isn’t all that many, given the sheer amount of courses in a student’s university career. But students should have the freedom to choose which courses to take.

After all, the student is the paying customer forfeiting more and more in tuition. And as paying customers, they should have the right to choose what they spend their money on.

If a student needs to take a science course for personal enrichment or career progression, they will. Call it the invisible-hand argument of laissez-faire tertiary education. An example of this in the upper echelon of higher education is Brown University. Despite being another Ivy League university, it has no general education requirement. Students there can take — or not take — any course they want. This is the strategy the University of Calgary should adopt.

Students should enrol in university courses because they want to. My highschool interest in mathematics was because of my friendships with other math students. It could not have been forced on me by a math class. While institutionalizing
science education could make more well-rounded students at the U of C, it takes time and energy away from work that students are passionate about. Artists could have used that time for another studio class, and aspiring graduate students could use the room for an independent study or research course.

While there is a trend towards implementing mandatory science classes in university students’ curricula, the U of C doesn’t have to. It should allow students to take whatever courses they choose and, by doing so, give them the freedom to learn in the way that best suits their needs.


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