The best courses are the ones that apply beyond the classroom

Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Regardless of your major, everyone has encountered a course that you need in order to graduate.

Most students are required to take courses that are irrelevant to their major and often a course that they don’t have any interest in.

So why aren’t universities implementing required courses that can apply to everyone — ones that can apply in a real world context?

In the fall term, I took an English course based on illness and medicine combined with literature. As with most courses students register in, we often don’t know what to expect from a simple course title until we go to a lecture.

With this course, I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t expect it to be one of the most influential courses of my undergraduate career.

Just like any English course, there were a lot of books on the syllabus that I expected to be all about doctors, illness and medicine. There were, but what came from this course was so much more than that.

Through class discussions and in-depth reading, I learned about death, grieving, prevalent illnesses like dementia and cancer, coping and, ultimately, empathy.

This learning experience surprised me because I was used to learning program-applicable ideas that would never seem relevant to talk to my family or friends about. I was finally in a course that made sense outside of the classroom and this made me realize every other student should have this experience too.

When we lose people in our life due to illness, a required credit in an irrelevant subject won’t be helpful if we were to think back on our university experience.

A course in understanding illness and death through literature may come back to us in our time of grief and even guide us in the slightest.

This isn’t to say that every student should take a course on illness and death pertaining to literature because that can be a difficult topic.

Every student can make use of courses ranging from understanding and coping with illness, both mental and physical, to having empathy towards others and even learning how to talk about death.

When we lose people in our life due to illness, a required credit in an irrelevant subject won’t be helpful if we were to think back on our university experience.

Ultimately, this will prepare students for the workplace. Learning how to be more empathetic will affect how we treat our coworkers, employees, bosses or clients.

In five years, you probably aren’t going to remember anything from that introduction to chemistry course, but I’m sure you’ll remember a book or two that resonated with you on an emotional level.

It isn’t that the chemistry course wasn’t useful to you; in fact, it was probably part of the foundation of your university career. But students need more than a foundation that will simply help them get a job in the future. Students need a foundation that will help them get through blunt reality.

In this medical literature class, our final task was writing a letter to our future self. The idea was to apply the experience of the course to what we would tell ourselves several years from now. I could have gone on for hours about empathy and understanding — characteristics the course helped me to develop further.

With courses that broaden our perspectives on everyday life and not simply academics, we can grow our mindset and even create spaces within a classroom setting that allow empathy and understanding across campuses.

Required courses do not have to be limited to academia; combining academic learning with everyday lessons may just be the perfect course requirement.

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