Core Classes are Important, But They Shouldn’t Wreck Our GPAs

Josie Schuman, Op/Ed Editor

Philosophy, theology, quantitative analysis and issues in social justice. All the classes that everyone just wants to “check off their list.” I firmly believe that these core classes are at the core (see what I did there?) of John Carroll’s identity as a liberal arts university

However, I believe the ways these core classes are incorporated into our curriculum needs to be revamped, meaning that core classes should not count toward our GPA.

I am one of the nerds (and yes, I’m an education major too) who enjoys her core classes. These classes have given me unique opportunities to learn about subjects that I would never have pursued otherwise, such as philosophy. In an introductory philosophy class called Ethical Theory, we discussed different moral philosophies and their implications on evaluating moral issues, which always led to interesting debates.

In a more general sense, philosophy classes have introduced me to a whole different way of thinking. I learned how to create a logical argument on extremely broad topics with clarity and concision—or I think I have. Judge for yourselves! Even if you aren’t interested in the particular topic of a core class, you can still learn valuable skills that are applicable to other subject areas.

Core classes have also led me to incredible opportunities and were the primary reason that I ended up having the best time of my life studying abroad in Spain last spring. Due to the language requirement, I took Spanish during my first year. I went into the class with a mindset that I wanted to get the grade and move on to what I thought were “more important” classes.

However, the class reminded me how much I enjoyed learning about new languages and cultures. I ended up becoming close with my professor, and he noticed my interest.

As a result, he shared different study abroad opportunities that would allow me to hone my language skills and to experience authentic Spanish culture. I decided to take him up on his offer, which was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Because of this required class, I not only studied abroad, but I decided to pursue a Spanish minor, I am considering returning to Spain for graduate school, and I discovered a new interest in teaching English as a second language — all of this because of a core class.

In addition, core classes are important in shaping a well-rounded individual, which is an undervalued characteristic in a world that heavily emphasizes the importance of specialization. Especially in college, we are forced to choose a major, then a concentration and so on, until we are studying a niche area in our field. Specialization is not a bad thing; it allows us to develop expertise, but it also narrows our perspective.

There is no reason that biology majors can’t be well-versed in literature or that communications majors can’t be physics experts. Not only can these interdisciplinary crossovers exist, but they are necessary for navigating a 21st century world.

The world is naturally interdisciplinary. Society’s problems are too complex to be solved with a single skill or body of knowledge. Instead, we must evaluate situations from multiple perspectives, and core classes contribute to our ability to do so.

While core classes help to shape versatile individuals, I do not think they should count toward our GPAs. Even though core classes are valuable opportunities to learn, they should not be included in a representation of how we are performing within our major.

I recognize the value of core classes, especially in relation to the Jesuit mission of education and John Carroll’s identity as a liberal arts school. However, I also recognize the reality that, at the end of the day, these classes are not in our area of expertise, so why should they be treated as such?

Core classes can contribute to how we perceive and apply the skills of our major, but they should not affect how our understanding of our major content is perceived by a future employer or a graduate school admissions counselor.

After college, our employers will be able to see the fruits of these core classes in our personal statements, interviews and, if hired, in our work. But, our achievement level in these classes should not be the make-or-break factor in whether we get the dream job, which, because of the effect on our GPA now, they could.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who is going to contribute any effort to core classes if they do not count toward their GPA? Valid point. However, this question points to the larger problem of what our education system serves to do. The fact that most people would not put forth effort in classes that aren’t being graded speaks to the extrinsically motivating nature of grades. People don’t take core classes to learn. They take core classes because they have to.

I believe that one way to motivate students to engage with core classes would be to make core classes pass/fail.A pass/fail system provides the external motivator necessary to convince people to exert some effort in the classes, while also taking a more holistic approach to education. There would be less risk of core classes negatively impacting GPA, which would allow more freedom for engaging with the subject material.

Making core classes pass/fail would be one step toward the radical transformation the education system so desperately needs. We need to move away from the rigid ABCDF system. Instead, we need a grading system that values learning over achievement.

Rather than giving students an arbitrary letter, we need to give them constructive feedback. Rather than having a one-and-done mentality, we need to focus on revision. Rather than teaching students the right way to do things, we need to cultivate their creativity.

We need a system that fosters the kindergartener mindset of school. Remember that? Remember when you used to be excited about going to school? Where did that sense of passion go? It’s hidden somewhere under a pile of As, Bs and Cs.

I am currently taking a one credit research class that several students, myself included, considered to be a waste of time. The professor knows her class has this reputation and acknowledged it last week. She wrote two words on the board: valuable and bullsh*t. She proceeded to tell us that the class can be whatever we want it to be.

If we want to go through it, head down, and just get the grade, then that’s our prerogative. However, if we want to use the class to improve our research skills, to investigate a topic that we are passionate about and to add our voice to the broader conversation of academics the opportunity is there for that, too.

But we have to make the choice: valuable or bullsh*t?

I think this mindset applies perfectly to our core classes. It’s a cliché, I know, but you get out what you put in.

We have an advantage here at JCU. While the curriculum has its problems, it gives us the opportunity to learn about a wide range of topics that not only will enhance our knowledge in our career field, but also our perception of the world.

So, while we are waiting for my pass/fail system to be approved, I encourage you to see your core classes in a new light. Next time you roll out of bed at 8 a.m. to go to that philosophy class that you hate, consider it an opportunity to learn something new, rather than a random requirement to check off a to-do list.