Thu 9 Feb 2017
“Profound changes?” Really? Shallow people often think that This Time Is Different, that no one before has ever had the thoughts that they have now, that the historical moment in which, by sheer happenstance, they inhabit is unique in some way. Historians know better.
And this is all the more true at Williams College. Do these authors really believe that students 30 years ago where unaware of the importance of “power,” that they were unconcerned with issues of “equity?” Professor Kurt Tauber was teaching Marxism at Williams 50 years ago!
What would the excellent professors in the Williams Philosophy department make of this sort of prose? I bet that Joe Cruz or Alan White would offer suggestions like these:
The Writing Intensive requirement
is dedicated to the critical and practical development of communication over diverse fields towards developing varied, multi-disciplinary methods of transmitting and exchanging knowledgemakes students better writers. … Finally, the Difference, Power, and Equity requirement will give students the opportunity to develop their own critical perspectives about evolving social questions from past to present, thoroughly grounded in information about and theories of differenceteaches students critical thinking about social standing. (? — Some examples would be useful.)
Leaving these quibbles aside, we are left marveling at the magical thinking embedded in this Williams Curricular Triad. (Useless capitalization is the best sign of nonsense at Williams. Recall the Williams House System.)
First, are they necessary? One would hope that every Williams in any of the humanities — History, English, Philosophy, et cetera — would involve extensive writing. (Any such class that doesn’t should be cancelled.) Very few students would graduate from Williams without taking a writing intensive course even if no such class were required, especially given the existence of the Divisional requirements.
Second, do they do any good? The main impact of these requirements is probably the effect the combination of the three minimum courses in Division III and/or the Quantitative Requirement has on students who don’t want to take any math/science classes. Do such students benefit from being forced to do so? I doubt it. Do any readers have personal anecdotes to offer?
Fortunately, there is a simple way to answer these questions: Randomly select 200 members of the class of 2021 and free them from all requirements (except for 32 classes and a major). Then, in just four years, we can estimate the causal effects of these requirements. In line with the null hypothesis of education, I predict that forcing students to take courses that they don’t want to take has no effect on any outcome we care about. Ultimately, though that is an empirical claim. Why won’t Williams — which Adam Falk often claims is and/or should be a leader in college education — perform this simple experiment?
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