In my three years as an English major, I haven’t taken any weed-out classes, or introductory courses that are intentionally designed to be difficult and deter students who don’t have a “natural ability” to do well in certain majors. That’s not to say most of my classes were easy and required little effort, but I haven’t taken a course that made me question my major. The same can’t be said for most science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors.
I’ve heard first-years cry over the exams in PY 205: Physics for Engineers and Scientists I, the science majors have mental breakdowns over CH 221: Organic Chemistry and the engineers struggle to choose the least painful 200-level engineering course. While I am thankful I never experienced these horrors, I sympathize with all STEM students.
But as students mull over the difficult, unfair classes they are required to take, I ask myself: Why? There is already a high demand for STEM workers, so why discourage people who might be interested in those fields of study? I understand students should know the fundamentals, but making the required courses mentally taxing and punishing is counterintuitive to inspire more students into these fields.
Likewise, The New York Times cites a study from Science Advances that discovered when students do well in these courses, it has nothing to do with their natural ability, but their mental state and connections with their classmates. Part of being successful in college is having good study habits and being able to work well with other people.
I would assume most students who take weed-out classes are freshmen. Since first-year students have just come from high school, they probably haven’t developed skills to study for a college course and haven’t had enough time to make new friends. They need these two things to be successful, and all these weed-out classes could set them up for failure.
Another concern about weed-out classes is that it can discourage women and minorities from entering STEM fields. A survey published by Science Magazine discovered around half of the science chairs at various universities believe weed-out classes are discouraging people from those groups.
This makes sense. A lot of women in public schools are systemically put outside of STEM-related tracts, and many schools with a large population of BIPOC are underfunded. These groups may not have access to the skills and knowledge necessary for these weed-out courses, putting them at a steep disadvantage.
Finally, the idea of weed-out classes is just archaic. The idea stemmed from the 19th century, when there weren’t a lot of STEM careers. Well, it’s 2021, and there is no shortage of STEM jobs available. It’s pointless to keep this style of teaching when there is a high demand and expected growth for these types of jobs.
The idea of these weed-out courses stems from the perspective that if a student doesn’t comprehend a topic fast or not entirely, they are not fit for the course. Every lecturer, teacher and professor can tell you that it’s not true. Sometimes, students can’t comprehend certain teaching styles. Everyone learns differently, and we shouldn’t punish them so harshly because of it.
Likewise, I never understood why some professors take pleasure in failing their students. It’s such a weird flex to be proud of when half of your class is barely passing the course. If anything, it means that you’re doing a terrible job as an instructor. After all, the goal of being a professor is to teach, not to punish.
I understand that NC State is well-known for its engineering programs, and it has a reputation to maintain. I am not saying all these classes should give out a free “A” to students. Rather, I want instructors to restructure courses in a way most students can comprehend. Instead of these large, lecture-style courses, maybe make the classes smaller and have more discussions among students.
I understand this is not a simple task and requires major work, but it will be worth it in the end. College is supposed to encourage students to take risks and experiment with new ideas. But if the introduction courses are intentionally designed to scare students away, it just contradicts the mission of universities in general.