Breadth requirements don't entail well-rounded education
Breadth requirements: U of T’s latest and greatest way to make graduating more difficult than it needs to be. As fun as it sounds in theory “to provide students with meaningful exposure to areas of knowledge outside their primary area of study,” as described in the original proposal put before the Arts and Science Faculty Council in 2009, for many students, breadth requirements offer nothing more than one more hurdle in the long track of undergraduate study.
Breadth requirements, first introduced in 2010, make it necessary for students to select courses from a variety of four or five different groups. Essentially what the breadth requirement amounts to is requiring Science students to take at least one Arts course and vice versa. One course, that’s it. Surely any “meaningful exposure” to a new area of study would require more time and effort than that.
With that said, this article is certainly not advocating to increase the number of courses required to satisfy the breadth. Rather, it is important here to emphasize that any will to expose oneself to diverse fields of knowledge should be a project taken on freely by the student themselves, not imposed on them by the administration.
It is of course important to draw one’s knowledge from a diverse array of fields, especially in the earlier years of one’s academic career, before the long fall toward obscure specialization has begun. The question, of course, is whether breadth requirements really do introduce students to new fields, new critical lenses, encouraging the value of interdisciplinary study, or whether all of that good stuff is lost somewhere in the process and instead remembered as an oblong lump of cramwork about astronomy.
The current structure has failed to deliver on the university’s initial good intentions and has left many students feeling more confused and jaded than ever. Everyone’s designated programs already had specific requirements, but now students have to consider and make space for classes that have no connection to the field of study they intended to pursue.
“It just makes no sense. I want to go into English and History. Why do I have to sit around in a class learning about plants, where I have two exams, three assignments and a huge project for one term, which is more work than my major? I shouldn’t have to be paying to be forced to take something that will have no impact on my future,” said Greg,* a student from Victoria College.
As easy and cute-sounding as courses like “Sun and its Neighbours” and “Plants and Society” sound, are they really opening up anyone’s minds? Students should want to expand their horizons and dabble in diverse fields of knowledge because they want to, not because they have to.
Another student, Lia, from St. Mike’s had a more positive perspective: “I’m majoring in History, but I always really liked math in high school. I was just naturally inclined to that subject. So, I’m going to take stats, which I know I’ll enjoy and then I’ll have that over with.”
However, therein lies the problem: “I’ll have that over with” is the common phrase when discussing breadth requirements. The courses are just seen as classes on a checklist of priorities to get accomplished in university.
A more straightforward way for the university to encourage interdisciplinary learning and critical thinking would be to have less requirements and leave students with more freedom to build their own degrees, and to experiment and experience at their own pace.
Parents, professors, and TAs’ say, “You don’t get a degree for nothing.” No one can argue that diligence and perseverance are not required. Nevertheless, that should be the main requirement—to apply passion and curiosity to courses you wish to pursue.comments powered by Disqus