Biology of Dinosaurs was a class many of us took to fulfill our college’s science requirement. Its premise is perhaps self-explanatory: You studied the biological makeup of creatures that died out millions of years ago. You tracked small raptors’ evolution from the Jurassic to the late Cretaceous Period. You memorized the bones of the Velociraptor. You learned that a few later dinosaurs had feathers, primitive wings, and were capable of brief stretches of tortured flight.
The only time this information has ever been useful—save a drunken viewing of Jurassic Park, when I screamed at the TV that raptors should have feathers, dammit—came two weeks ago while vacationing at the beach. I watched a seagull shit on the head of a small child, then I watched one of his friends complement the attack by dive-bombing a discarded McDonald’s french fry.
This, I thought, represented a pretty amazing evolutionary development for the seagull. Its raptor ancestors hunted in packs, stalking much-larger prey. They would pounce in coordinated movements and fucking disembowel their food, then leave it to bleed out and die. They were tough. They had a primitive honor. They’d be horrified to see what their fast-food-eating descendents had become.
Actually, it’d probably be similar to what my parents said when I told them I was taking Biology of Dinosaurs.
The culprits for the travesty that was Dino Bio—as well as Rocks for Jocks, and Italian I, and the Jane Austen seminar taken by Billy, the Comp Sci major—are general education requirements. By the time you graduate, about a third of your college classes will have been gen-ed. Your first two years will be dominated by them.
They are pointless. They are cost-inefficient. And I’m here today to tell you that they actually are making you dumber.
Gen-ed requirements, in theory, make sense. High schools are arguably becoming worse at teaching core English, math, and science—statistically, people have found this to be the case, and, anecdotally, I know I’m way worse at fact recitation than older generations. Try this 1912 eighth-grade test. Those kids may have thought polio was caused by promiscuous women, but you can’t say they didn’t have a better grasp of basic material than we do now.
College, then, should fill that void, providing you the core knowledge to be a “well-rounded” adult, capable of talking like Smart Brendan Fraser in Bedazzled.
But here’s the problem: What classes, exactly, are you taking to fulfill those requirements? Physics, so you can say you’re scientifically literate? Or Dino Bio, so you can receive a grade and move on from the fucking subject? You—and the hundreds of other unmotivated kids around you—are looking for ways out, classes that barely scrape the theoretical edge of what can be called “science” or “math” or “history.”
By sophomore year, you’re the Picasso of the Rate My Professor decision. You’re able to glean who are the trolls and the suck-ups with ulterior motives, and you can find the true reviews from similar souls, people will accurately tell you if the class in question is a 2-exam/semester joke. One of those beauties that allow you to knock out gen-ed requirements with minimal effort.
(The great myth, by the way, held by detractors of Rate My Professor is that it’s the No. 1 criteria used by slackers when choosing classes. It’s not. At all. It’s the No. 1 criteria for students when picking gen-ed requirements. By the time they’re working on their major, the website is barely a factor.)
Your most in-depth reading all year will come when you find a class with an online syllabus. You immediately enroll in History of Film after you scroll to Materials Required and see, "Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted’s; 1989." Another gen-ed down.
And when all the requirements have been exhausted, and you’ve amassed an impressive resume of fish-out-of-water stories, you'll realize you failed to retain any real, actual subject matter. You’re still, for all intents and purposes, Basketball Player Brendan Fraser.
Then, there's the other side of the coin. "Screw the subject-matter.” Gen-ed requirements teach you how to think. They correct bad habits from high school. They show you how to write and read with a critical brain.
This isn't true. You actually might get dumber from freshman to sophomore year.
Bill Gates, whose foundation spends millions trying to figure out how to fix American education, was interviewed last year about the college system. He said this:
About 45 percent of the students showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or written communication during their first two years in college. (On more recent tests, the students didn’t show much improvement in their junior or senior years, either.)
Students said most of their courses required surprisingly little effort. They reported studying only slightly more than 12 hours per week on average. Few of their courses required 40 pages or more of reading per week or writing as much as 20 pages over the course of a semester.
One criticism of the [study] is that it doesn’t look at subject-matter learning. But I think most people would agree that skills like critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing – the things the test does measure – are pretty important.
The two years, of course, is when you’re taking the compulsory classes. Those two years exist, some say, to improve your critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills before you delve into the meat of your major. You don’t improve.
If Billy Gates is to be believed, those two years serve no real, useful purpose anymore. They exist for college tours—when a guide can point out to parents that Junior will one day be able to take every fucking subject under the sun. They're a waste of everyone's time.
Over the next decade, a college revolution will occur. Costs are too high, the online barriers of entry are too low. Massive online classes will disrupt the traditional status quo, and students will be allowed the freedom to more accurately tailor their curriculum to their skill set. You'll be able to graduate more adapt in whatever personalized major you've chosen, and you might not have to spend nearly as much time in the process. Why waste time learning things you know, at 18, that you'll never need?
Gen-eds are bullshit. Send them the way of the raptor.