Thursday, April 19, 2007

The college view / obscene jokes

No, this is not about sex jokes told by college students... it's about two policies applied to college students, which, from my vantage point as a student, are pretty clearly jokes: there's a huge gap between theory and reality, and someone needs to change things.

First, distribution requirements. This gripe came to mind while reading the framing debate over at ScienceBlogs.com (that's a recent salvo in the debate, not going to try to provide a comprehensive link bibliography). Anyway, a big part of the problem is that the public in general, even the college-educated public, doesn't understand science very well. And when we're seeing this problem in the college-educated population, I think a lot of the problem can be chalked up to how we do distribution requirements.

The theory is nice. A liberal arts education is supposed to produce a well-rounded person, so everyone is required to take 12 credits each in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The result, though, is a lot of people taking food sciece, or Weather 100, or Physics in the Arts, or whatnot, and does anybody believe those things increase scientific literacy much? No, what's needed are introductory courses more like the chem course I took freshmen year, where the big project of the semester was to take a science story in the popular press and look into the science behind it. Now, I suspect we can't make a class exactly like that one; it was very math-heavy, put stress even on hard-core science people, and most humanities-types couldn't handle it. But keep the paper idea, advertise that the papers only have to be understood on a qualitative level, that it requires looking up jargon but no particular science talent, and focus course material around understanding why scientists believe the things they do about atoms, Newton's laws, evolution etc. And have every college student everywhere take a class designed along those lines.

Now, the other thing, the drinking age, prompted by an Andrew Sullivan guest blogger linking to calls for getting rid of it from the right and from the left. And, as a college student, one who spent his last summer in a frat house to boot, I can tell anyone who hasn't figured it out already that the drinking age isn't even halfway enforced. Widely ignored laws are a bad thing, folks. And I don't think most people really want the drinking age enforeced, even though people in officialish places pay lip service to it because they have to.

The think like a decent argument I've ever heard for the drinking age is it cuts down on drunk driving. However, why not just crack down on drunk driving? Some European countries give out prison time to first time offenders and, unsurprisingly, have very low drunk driving rates as a result. It's sure a better idea than a law no one really has much interest in enforcing.

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