What was the point?
As my first year in college comes to an end with a flurry of finals and essays, I have spent some time reflecting on the course that every Reedie must take – Humanities 110 (HUM 110). I find myself asking one basic question: what was the point?
From the student perspective, the point of HUM 110 is often completely and utterly missed. Most upperclassmen I have spoken to about the class immediately groan, and those currently taking the class show frustration and burn out.
In an attempt to examine HUM 110 from a more objective perspective, I have identified two sections or goals that HUM 110 attempts to achieve as a class. The first goal that HUM 110 is trying to achieve is to build skills that students can carry into other classes. Examples include close reading texts, having thoughtful discussions and analysis, and essay writing. The second goal is to put every student on a fast track to cultural literacy by piling content into the syllabus.
The issue is that the structure of the class makes it near impossible as a new college student (or a new Reedie in the case of transfer students) to achieve either. On one hand, the breakneck speed of the HUM 110 syllabus has forced students to skim or spark notes their way through readings, negating the argument that HUM 110’s goal is to build cultural literacy. I have not met anyone who has watched the HUM 110 lectures and read the readings close enough to gain value from them, let alone someone who has done every single HUM 110 lecture and reading. As a result, we as a student body are not building the close reading and analysis skills that HUM 110 is supposed to provide us so we can be successful in the rest of our time within academia, again negating another goal of HUM 110. I will admit, my essay writing has improved over the past year, and I have gained some amount of cultural literacy from the content on the HUM 110 syllabus. But it isn’t enough to justify the structure of the class. By far, the most valuable skill that HUM 110 has taught me is one that I believe is unintentional – how to fake my way through a class.
How can we be expected to have thoughtful analysis about readings that we barely have the time to get through, on a range of primary sources that we have only loose context for? The content of the HUM 110 syllabus is so random that the cultural literacy that the original hum syllabus attempted to give is being lost. However, that by no means is an argument to bring back the original syllabus (which had a frankly racist and eurocentric tone). But tacking on Mexico and Harlem in the second semester is a duct-tape fix.
I want to clarify that I am not arguing that HUM 110 is pointless. The value of building skills needed in an academic environment is not lost on me. However, I believe that any course that provokes students to ask questions like “What was the point?” has fundamentally failed in whatever it is trying to achieve. HUM 110 coordinators need to reevaluate what the actual goal of HUM 110 is, and restructure the syllabus and conference format to meet that goal. Otherwise students will continue to pointlessly trudge through thousands of pages of readings for no other reason than to grind away endlessly.