HEALY: Seminars a Core Component
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 02:10
After their first few weeks at Georgetown, most students are pretty familiar with their academic distribution requirements. While these requirements differ by school, at their core, they aim to give each student a balanced education in the liberal arts. Students may chafe at being forced to take certain classes, but having distribution requirements might also spark their interest in previously unexplored academic areas.
However, there is one important element missing from Georgetown’s academic requirements: a seminar course with 15 or fewer students. Students in the School of Foreign Service take a proseminar during the fall of their freshman years, and the university would do well to extend this requirement to the other three schools. The opportunity to complete a discussion-based course and interact with professors and fellow students on a personal level is a valuable part of a college education.
Georgetown offers many seminar courses, most notably the Ignatius Seminar program for freshmen in the College. Yet only a portion of the freshman class can participate in this program, and many first-years spend the majority of their first terms on campus in large introductory lecture classes. While these courses are necessary to gain the foundation required for more advanced material, balancing out large lectures with seminars would make for a more beneficial and well-rounded curriculum.
Many upper-level seminars in government and other subjects are available to upperclassmen, while specific programs like the Ignatius Seminars can be taken only by first-years. Consequently, students take seminars at vastly different times during their academic careers. While this variety makes for a diverse range of classes, it can lead to a somewhat disjointed curriculum. Ensuring that all students are required to take a seminar would provide a continuity of experience among all Georgetown students, grounding them in a specific style of learning that is in sync with the education of the whole person. A seminar course requires active participation and engagement and gives students the chance to get to know their professors on a personal level — something that is vastly more difficult in a large lecture.
The way that one learns in a seminar is different from how one learns in the typical class. Students gain knowledge through debate and exchange of ideas rather than absorbing information from a presentation. This type of discussion develops interpersonal skills that students need once they leave Georgetown. In this way, seminar courses are actually a better reflection of Georgetown’s goal of cura personalis. Having had the experience of a seminar, students would also be better prepared for lecture courses because they would have developed the mental dexterity to adjust their learning approach when facing a new set of standards.
Ensuring that all Georgetown students took a seminar would undoubtedly require administrative changes to the curriculum. Georgetown is not so large a school that the idea would be unfeasible, however, and seminars need not be limited to freshmen. Perhaps the university could phase out one semester of a general education requirement to make room for the seminars so as to not restrict students’ electives.
Having a seminar requirement would improve Georgetown’s curriculum by ensuring that students in different schools have greater similarity in their education. It would educate students as human beings and better prepare them for success in the world after college. Georgetown ought to consider this change as it continues to evaluate its curriculum in order to best serve the needs of students.
Dan Healy is a senior in the College. TALK IS CHEAP appears every other Tuesday.