Sunday, March 26, 2006

General Requirement

There is a wonderful guest opinion by Francis Diebold over at the Daily Pennsylvanian about general requirements and undergraduate education. The opinion may be a little bit too free market for some, but I find it very compelling.
The key problem is more fundamental than the mere content of USCAR-type requirements (more on that later). Instead, it's their existence that enables groups to impose their views on others -- not by competing successfully for student interest but rather by lobbying successfully for faculty votes. Achieving the coveted status of "requirement" is immensely valuable to those involved, allowing them to skirt competition and force themselves on unwilling victims.

The study-by-force associated with USCAR-type requirements harms students, the University and society by misdirecting the allocation of one of our most valuable resources: aggressively keen and curious young minds.
The principles sketched above suggest that all core requirements -- not just USCAR-type requirements -- are bad ideas. That is, stifling free choice is generally a bad idea, and requirements stifle free choice. If such complete reliance on free choice seems extreme -- perhaps unworkable in practice, albeit desirable in principle -- simply consider one of Penn's peer institutions: Brown University. Brown's elimination of all core requirements, for precisely my reasons, has met with resounding success. The "Brown model," as it is now called, does work in practice!


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