Academic Requirements: PA Economics

One of the more important lessons we students learn in our years at Andover is how best to manage our time and choose our activities when faced with a cornucopia of excellent choices. At least, that’s a lesson we students should be learning. My three-and-counting years at Andover, however, have seen the reduction of choices for students to make in choosing their courses and activities. In the curriculum, required courses have piled up, mainly in the Lower program, like slush before the snowplow. Contemporaneously, many Senior History electives have melted away from the course catalog not for want of students who’d like to take them or motivated teachers to teach them, but for students’ inability to open up a slot for an elective. We as a school need to reevaluate the logic of a structured academic program for Lower year that limits students’ choices. Further, given that colleges’ desires for three years of science, four years of English, three or four years of a foreign language, and mathematics for four years or through calculus leave little room for reducing requirements in those areas, we should reconsider requiring five terms total of art and music, a term of theater, and a term of P.E. made redundant by afternoon athletics. In baseball, a generous official scorer can rule that a ball that glances off a fielder’s glove is a base hit rather than an error. The batter is thankful for having been awarded a hit, while the fielder is grateful for having been absolved of his error. Likewise, it’s easy to add a new course, Theater 200 for instance, to the Lower program. The department is happy, although most students with a serious interest in theater or dance will already have produced, directed, acted, or performed, having been given plentiful opportunities to do so. The rest of the faculty doesn’t object since the addition of one term-contained course is relatively painless. In baseball, only the pitcher loses from the scorer’s “generous” decision. When light required courses pile up and displace interesting higher-level courses that students would like to take, only the students lose. Before this year, a student would take a history elective Senior year in an area that interested him. A Lower now takes “History 200” to build skills for Upper year’s U.S. History course, then spends Senior year finishing his music, art, or theater requirements and taking courses he would have taken Lower year had P.E. and religion and philosophy for Lowers not taken up space in his schedule. This trimester, I am taking a philosophy class that I imagine is far more intellectually intense and interesting than the courses offered primarily to Lowers that many students take simply to complete their required trimester of philosophy or religious studies. I’m able to take this course, one not open to Lowers, as my first philosophy class because I received permission to bypass Lower year’s required one trimester each of Rel-Phil, P.E., and theater. I was allowed to bypass the Lower program because I took a yearlong elective course in Modern European history. It was one of the most interesting courses I’ve taken and possibly the subject most relevant to an understanding of our civilization today. While pre-Colombian America may have been fascinating, the study of pre-Colombian civilizations will likely be less rich than the study of modern Europe, as Europeans, upon arrival in America, burned the codices and destroyed the records of the civilizations. Further, European history is more relevant than most other histories simply because, by historical or geographical accident, Europe and its culture came to dominate the world. While I appreciated the course, however, I would not have had it as a requirement. In economic terms, every decision has an opportunity cost, the cost of not doing what you could have done had you decided otherwise. The opportunity cost of taking Modern European history is the benefit I could have gained from freeing up two terms for other electives. There, I feel the benefits of the yearlong course outweighed the costs. The opportunity cost of many required courses, however, is the chance to take something worthwhile. If we are to get the most out of our Andover education, then why should we not be given more choice within the framework of a deep and well-rounded education to take the classes that motivate and interest us?