Hillsdale course catalog

Near the end of our time together in Physical Science, my chem­istry pro­fessor asked who had taken a chem­istry class before. Everyone’s hand shot up but mine. I tried des­per­ately to make eye contact, hoping to be noticed. It didn’t work.

“Good,” the instructor said. “You all have.”

I barely passed Physical Science, a class that com­bined chem­istry and physics (also an unfa­miliar subject), and struggled just as much in Biology 101 — the first Bio class I took in about 7 years after a bad expe­rience at a home­school co-op. I passed both classes at Hillsdale thanks only to science-minded friends who helped me cram enough infor­mation to squeak by. I cer­tainly didn’t learn any­thing.

Hillsdale needs a new system. The core cur­riculum requires 101 classes in biology, chem­istry, and physics, but these classes are not nec­es­sarily aimed at beginners. The admin­is­tration should decide if the core science classes are actually beginner courses or if all stu­dents should learn some­thing new in each subject during their four years here.

Science core classes at Hillsdale are often taught as if stu­dents already know most of the material. In my expe­rience, the problem largely per­tained to pro­fessors’ expec­ta­tions. All three of my science pro­fessors moved far too quickly through com­pli­cated con­cepts. Some would ask stu­dents ques­tions about material that we hadn’t covered yet and appeared sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed when no one had the answer. Some­times, pro­fessors who were used to teaching upper-level science courses simply failed to put the subject into simple enough terms that first-timers could grasp.

At the same time, some stu­dents in core classes do have a decent under­standing of the subject and are not chal­lenged. After all, a freshman who recently passed Advanced Placement Chem­istry could easily wind up in the same class as a senior who hasn’t studied chem­istry in years — if ever. Many stu­dents end up either bored or falling behind. Either way, it’s hard to learn some­thing new.

Some pro­fessors assume that their stu­dents have recently studied these sub­jects when that is not always the case. In his chem­istry class, senior Nikolai Dignoti was having a hard time keeping up and told his pro­fessor that he had not taken a chem­istry class in 10 years.

“Ten years?” the pro­fessor asked. “What are you, 25?”

“Yes,” Dignoti said.

Dignoti may be a bit older than most of his class­mates, but his story should serve as a reminder that pro­fessors cannot expect their stu­dents to remember every­thing from high school.

If the science classes are to be truly at the 101 level, then stu­dents should have the oppor­tunity to test out of them, either with an exam to determine pre­vious knowledge or with AP or similar test scores. Then, pro­fessors can teach as if their stu­dents are really inex­pe­ri­enced in the sub­jects, because they all will be.

If every student is meant to learn some­thing new in science classes, then the system should allow beginners to start at the beginning and advanced stu­dents to start at a more appro­priate level. Stu­dents could work up to a certain level, similar to the requirement with lan­guage classes.

For instance, Biology 101 could cover the material that a high-school science course would likely cover, so some stu­dents would test out of it, while Biology 102 would take things further. It would probably be nec­essary to limit the number of sub­jects studied. Rather than having to take mul­tiple semesters of physics, chem­istry, and biology, Hillsdale could require stu­dents to pass a 102 class in two of the sub­jects.

Pro­fessors in other core classes don’t assume pre­vious knowledge of the subject. Great Books pro­fessors don’t teach as if their stu­dents have all read the Divine Comedy before, and the U.S. Con­sti­tution pro­fessors don’t expect stu­dents to be familiar with The Fed­er­alist Papers. Why should the science classes be any dif­ferent?

These courses are not designed for beginners, and stu­dents with little-to-no expe­rience in the sub­jects often struggle. At the same time, those who received quality science edu­ca­tions in high school may not be learning as much as they could be. We need a system that accom­mo­dates both.


Chandler Lasch is a senior studying history.

  • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

    You seem to be asking for the addition of remedial science classes. If the requirement for grad­u­ation was the 101 class, being unable to ade­quately pass those classes means the student is not pro­fi­cient enough to graduate. Saying there is no knowledge required is not accurate in any of the cases indi­cated. No exposure to the classes in biology, chem­istry or physics means the student really wasn’t in a college prep study in high school, thus remedial classes might be in order. As to the other classes, just because you hadn’t read a certain book or papers does not mean that you’ve not read any books, or have the ability to com­prehend new material and syn­thesize answers from new material already. Quite the con­trary, you should have the reading and under­standing skills already, so the content of the new material is not rel­evant to success, but if you had no skills in reading and inter­pre­tation of books and papers, that too would be a remedial class.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    It begs the question why stu­dents are being allowed into Hillsdale who haven’t had ANY HS Chem­istry, Biology or Physics? College prep used to require that, even if you had no intention to go into a tech­nical major in college. If your exposure to the sci­ences at Hillsdale College is your first exposure to those dis­ci­plines than your edu­cation has been seri­ously lacking. If you were home-schooled you should have taken a year at com­munity college and gotten remedial science out of the way.