“I just have five more gen ed classes and the next three years will be all neuroscience and chemistry.”
“What!?!?! Five? Only five? I have like, I don’t know, fifteen!!!”
“Hahahahahaaaa, sucks for you.”
That is the rough summary of a conversation between me and one of my best friends last year. We had been talking about graduation requirements while enjoying the shade of a nearby sidewalk cafe on a hot summer afternoon.
To be honest, my reaction to “Sucks for you” was “Mmmm” as I sipped my drink. Because if you think about it, wouldn’t you rather be doing what you love sooner, instead of having to balance core (gen ed) classes with your major/minor requirements? As I reached for a french fry from the basket between us, I tried to remember when a core class at Loyola turned out to be something I “loved” without knowing it.
Maybe I had missed something, a discussion in Theology that really got me to think about a global issue, a poem in English that inspired me to write one of my own, a lesson in CompSci that made me appreciate the complexity of the web*. At the time, I couldn’t come up with anything. Don’t get me wrong, I liked those classes, loved them even, but nothing stood out that made the core at Loyola “essential” to my understanding of “the bigger picture.”
And then last semester happened.
I don’t know if it was the combination of classes, the professors, or just the content, but suddenly everything started to click. Every week I had a Eureka moment of “Oh my God! We just talked about this author in my other class! And he relates to both classes! Ah!”
Here’s a less vague example: My first core History class started with the Renaissance, as did my Art History class. Throughout the semester we’d be covering the same time periods, but focus on different aspects of society and I was able to see how politics and cultural trends directly affected the art world, in every era. My Art History class covered the 1970s feminist contributions which were later discussed in my Life Drawing class because the representation of the female nude is a huge point of contention. That Life Drawing class also had assigned readings relating to philosophy and the concept of what makes us truly human which my Philosophy professor ensured we discussed when we read Plato’s Timaeus. Those connections made those classes worthwhile. I was excited for whatever came next, knowing that it might relate to a different class.
You don’t get that in high school, and you definitely don’t get that in all colleges. There’s a lot of early specialization in state schools, and if there is a core, you don’t have to take 2 classes of Theology, Philosophy, English, History, and Social Science, courses which teach you to think in totally unexpected and different ways.
Unexpected. That’s the best way to describe it, I think. We’re reading Frankenstein right now in my Lit class and Rousseau in my Philosophy class. Suddenly the debate about human nature and man’s “natural state” takes on a whole new meaning. I just learned about comparative cost in my Microecon class and boy does that change my rate of procrastination!
Maybe it’s pure luck that my classes are working out this way. Maybe my attitude has changed from last year and I view classes differently now. Maybe I’m just paying more attention.
No matter why this change has occurred, what’s important is that it has. Last year I was frustrated at not seeing how my classes tied into each other. I was forcing that connection the Loyola brochures advertise as an advantage of the core. This year I see, hear, and understand those connections. I finally get it. And it’s beautiful.
*For the record, since this chat with my friend, I have realized all of those possibilities are true.