Are your classes bullshit?

    Registration means one thing: a significant amount of time spent with CAESAR open in one browser window and CTECs open in the other. As we get ready for Winter Quarter, we’ll search for the perfect schedule that satisfies our desire for short walks, late mornings and distro requirements. We are on the prowl for that one class, the one that is the perfect mix of easy tests, lectures we don’t have to go to and discussion sections that are optional. The class that we know and love, affectionately known as bullshit.

    Photo by Katherine Tang / North by Northwestern

    We’ve all had one or two in our time, the class that we joke about with our friends as a waste of time, with lectures that you can sleep through and tests you can cram for the morning-of and still manage a 90 on. Take, for example, Bio 104, Plant-People Interactions, which has CTECs for Winter 2008 giving it an overall rating of 4.5 out of 6, with the word “easy” being referenced 47 times in the comment section. The same applies to Religion 170, Religion in Human Experience, which also had an overall rating of 4.5 for Fall 2007 with “easy” being mentioned 48 times. The ultimate question, though, is whether these simple classes are worth it. We’re paying significant cash to go to this school; shouldn’t we get the most bang for our buck?

    The value of our classes depends on our reason for coming to Northwestern. Are we here to get an education, to learn and broaden our horizons? Is the point of an “institution of higher learning” just that, higher learning? Or, conversely, is learning an afterthought, secondary to getting a high GPA for grad school and a fancy diploma so we can get that dream job? If this is your mindset, a bullshit class is the optimal way to spend your time: You do little work for a good grade and get more time for resume-building activities.

    Many of us, though, are (or should be) part of the former group. We might joke around about being here for good jobs and corner offices, but secretly we know that we came to this school so we could take classes about topics we care about, with professors and peers who share our passions. We want classes that aren’t complex but are still interesting with professors that will challenge us without punishing our grade too harshly if we don’t succeed. We are intellectually curious nerds at heart, and we expect our classes to hold some value.

    Once we identify what we like, we can make it part of the criteria for next quarter, looking for classes that will come easy because we’ll enjoy them — not because they’re purportedly “bullshit.”

    But how do we define that value? On one level a class that is valuable is one that fulfills a distribution requirement, helps us graduate, and gets us that much closer to the real world. If it’s not interesting, though, if it’s not a class from which we leave and feel like we’ve grown, where does the motivation come from? I can’t see the point of spending ten weeks in a class where you don’t care at all.

    Weinberg senior Kristin Buterbaugh said “I look for classes that matter,” defining a class that matters as one in which the professor is engaging and the topic is interesting, with a priority on the first. She firmly believes that if the professor is good, even the most ridiculous topics have value. “Human sex is interesting… a lot of people take it as a joke, but maybe it’s worth studying,” she says. CTECs and interviews have indicated Human Sexuality to be a very fun class, but it’s clearly harder to get an A in than expected. Buterbaugh agrees that many mistake Human Sexuality as a bullshit class simply because of the subject matter. “People conflate easy with fun. Just because we enjoy it doesn’t make it easy.”

    Simply enjoying a class can make it a hell of a lot easier, though. Communication sophomore Shira DeCovnick warned of Modern Cosmology, saying that “to enjoy it, you had to have an interest in astronomy already” and that in order to succeed, one had to “put in a lot of effort.” That isn’t necessarily bad though. What is the cause and what is the effect: Are we enjoying classes because they are easy for us, or are they easy for us because we enjoy them? While that might seem like a pointless rhetorical question, considering why we like the classes we do is a necessary part of self-evaluation. Once we identify what we like, we can make it part of the criteria for next quarter, looking for classes that will come easy because we’ll enjoy them — not because they’re purportedly “bullshit.”

    There are so many things to take in to consideration as we gear up for registration for Winter quarter. Location, time of day, subject matter and professor factor in accordingly. This time around, though, consider the value of your time and your money, rather than inflating your GPA. Weinberg freshman Claire Hannah put it succinctly: “You’re paying this much for tuition. You should at least get something out of it.” Whether you value a class for the boost it gives your GPA or for the way it makes your brain feel like it’s going to boil over, it’s easier to wake up in the morning and make the trek up Sheridan when you feel like the destination is worth it.


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