Debate Magazine

The Story of Oceanography 101

Posted on the 27 March 2011 by Stevemiranda

My undergraduate college had all the usual academic requirements, but the most loathed one on campus was the science requirement. Whether it was geology or biology or chemistry or whatever, these were especially painful for non-science majors because in addition to meeting three days a week for lecture, these classes also had a lab section that met once a week.

There was one exception. Oceanography had no lab requirement. That made Oceanography 101 among the most coveted classes on campus.

For five semesters I tried getting into oceanography, but it never happened. Finally, during my junior year, my roommate Bob came crashing into my bedroom late one night—I had been sleeping—and said that he’d just called the school’s telephone registration system and there were seats open in oceanography! If I called right now, maybe I could get in too!

It was an incredible moment. Seventeen years later, and the memory remains vivid. I scrambled furiously to find my registration packet, which contained the phone number and my personal password. A few moments later, I had captured a coveted spot in Oceanography 101.

I sat through all the lectures and, in the end, earned a very poor grade. The important thing in my mind at the time, however, was that I’d earned the required credit in a science. That meant that I could go back to focusing on what I was passionate about, which was honing my craft as a sportswriter.

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(The following fall, as I returned for my senior year, the college announced that effective immediately it was dropping the lab requirement for all science classes for all non-science majors.)

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The concept of “required classes” is often defended by people who insist that it’s important for young people to be well rounded. I guess there is some truth to that.

Or you might hear people argue that students don’t know if they’ll be interested in a certain subject, so establishing requirements gives them exposure to new things. I’m less convinced of this one.

I can’t think of a single time I was forced to take a class in which I had no interest, but was later surprised to find that I loved it. In fact, I don’t think that I, personally, have ever heard of this happening to anyone.

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