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College Discussion / Colleges and Universities / CC Top Liberal Arts Colleges / Amherst College

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## Replies to: So How's That Open Curriculum going ...

3,438Senior Member81Junior MemberMy Brown senior is a math & economics major. Her transcript reveals difficult courses that are spread among a variety of subjects that would satisfy distribution requirements at most colleges.

My Amherst freshman expects to major in math & biology. Shes currently taking multi variable calculus among her other science, music, and humanities courses. I expect that she too will take a broad range of courses that dont demonstrate a lopsided transcript.

Since both girls received perfect scores on a variety of math & science SAT & AP tests, they certainly dont fall into any category that stereotypes students in an open curriculum as math & science averse. In fact, like most of their friends at these schools, they hyper-excelled in a variety of areas including music and sports during high school.

Both schools were chosen after careful review of the math departments. Math departments at most colleges have issues of one sort or another because math majors are generally rare compared with other subjects. Though the Amherst department is indeed small, thus far, all indications point to the possibility of an excellent education. And there are potential pluses to go along with the minuses. Of course, a small department does mean fewer courses in a smaller variety of subject areas.

Finally, the # of majors in hard sciences at these schools doesnt necessarily correspond to the concept that English & History majors rarely or never take science courses at these schools. So, though there are undoubtedly students who avoid math & science at places like Amherst, a quick look at the schools SAT breakdown should get across the point that the school generally accepts students who excel in multiple areas. And none of the students I know personally at Brown or Amherst fall into the purported categories discussed in this thread.

8,305Senior Member3,438Senior MemberOr to put it another way: what is the downside of schools with distribution requirements, if your course selection will be broad enough to fufill distribution requirements anyway ?

3,438Senior MemberBased on the available data, it would seem that Amherst has both a low number of math/science majors (at least relative to other top LACs), and relative disinterest in math/science among the humanities majors.

81Junior MemberIdeally, youd have to ask them that. But, especially with the younger one, she was willing to make other sacrifices to attend an open curriculum school.

If I had to sum it up on their behalf, Id guess they wanted to maximize their control in order to take what they wanted when they wanted with the widest possible degree of freedom but that doesnt necessarily mean they believe distribution requirements are inherently bad. They simply chose the option of being free of such constraints. I know my oldest daughter will graduate Brown wishing shed had time to take other courses that interested her. Imagine how she might feel if shed missed an opportunity to take a class she coveted in order to fulfill someone elses concept of what she needed to learn

81Junior MemberIsnt your use of the word disinterest an assumption based on the stats? For instance, Amherst doesnt award credit for A.P.s. Do you know which kids took A.P. Calculus and A.P. Chemistry in High School and decided that now theyd devote the fleeting time they have at Amherst to other pursuits? And is that inherently bad? These are very bright kids many of whom will educate themselves in a variety of subjects.

Jessica got a 5 on the A.P. Physics test. Suppose she doesnt take any additional Physics courses at Amherst. Your #s only tell us that she didnt take the course at Amherst not whether shes using the open curriculum concept as a crutch. In fact, I think that looking at students who chose to go to Amherst through the lens provided by these numbers simply leaves us with a skewed view of the school and tells us little about how knowledgeable students actually are in a variety of disciplines.

Most of the adults I know dont retain the information they dont use. In the remote past, I learned Spanish, lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, and spoke the language. Now, I barely remember a word. If you force a student to take a math course for the sake of providing a broader education and the student never uses the knowledge and cant help his or her own kids with their homework in that subject years later precisely what have you achieved? (Of course, if you can get students excited about classes outside their comfort zones, thats a different story.)

Regardless, I was simply providing my own experience and that of my daughters.

3,438Senior MemberThe question is whether the open curriculum has any particular effects. Hence the title of this thread: "So how's that open curriculum going?". In particular, the Original Poster asked if Amherst students, given complete freedom to choose courses, tended to avoid particular disciplines.

This is a perfectly fair question. It deserves an answer.

The reality seems to be that Amherst students do, in fact, tend to avoid math and science courses. They are also less likely to major in math or science, at least relative to peer institutions like Williams or Swarthmore. Both of these facts are consistent with the hypothesis that the open curriculum is disproportionately attractive to applicants who do not want to study math or science in college.

Given that math and science departments at Amherst have relatively few majors and low non-major enrollment, it is not surprising to find that math/science faculty numbers are low (again relative to Williams and Swarthmore), and that renovation of the science facilities has been postponed for decades. These seem like significant effects.

I have no objection to an open curriculum, or even to de-emphasis of science and math. But I do think Amherst should be candid about the way that the open curriculum works in practice. Amherst obviously uses the open curriculum as a key selling point -- yet it seems (correct me if I'm wrong) that the data needed to address the Original Poster's (simple) question can only be found buried in password-protected reaccreditation reports prepared independently by NEASC.

3,438Senior MemberStudent A: I chose Amherst for a number of reasons: open curriculum (no more math!) ...

Student B: The open curriculum and never having to take math again was a nice option as well.

Student C: she ... had vowed that, after high school, she would "never take an art class, never take a science class, and never take a math class"

[in fairness, this student apparently did start taking art classes]I am not going to insist that all of these students would be better off if they took linear algebra. My only contention is that if a school tends to attract students with such attitudes, then realistically, this might have a negative effect on math enrollments.

81Junior MemberYoure taking liberties by alternately spinning and ignoring my comments. I believe I made my point for anyone who chooses to read this thread. Youve reiterated yours quite a few times. And seem to have a great deal invested in arguing with me. Im not even disagreeing with you. Ive simply provided my familys experiences as a counterpoint to your generalizations. Perhaps you should write us off as an anomaly? After all, to answer the question you posed again in post #54: Its going just fine. Thats

myreality.I believe Ive said all I care to on the subject . So Take care!

3,438Senior MemberI think I'm done too. So ... you take care as well.

13New MemberMost intro level science classes have 9 hours of class time per week, and meet 4 times per week. This contrasts with the roughly 3 hours of class time for humanities and social science classes.

If Amherst really wants more math/science majors, they need to do something to reward people for putting in the extra time in class in science classes. 1 credit for both Chem 15 and an interpretive dance class that meets twice a week just doesn't seem fair.

757MemberThe open curriculum works for everyone.

5,595Senior MemberSo, here's another example of the open curriculum's use that doesn't reduce math or science exposure.

906MemberPercent of Graduates in Math & Science

29.8 % Swarthmore (includes engineering)

28.9 % Grinnell (open curriculum)

24.5 % Williams

16.9 % Amherst (open curriculum)

12.3 % Wellesley (only last 3 years available)

Corbett should sample a bit more broadly before generating a set of hypotheses.;)