The Purpose of a College Course

By Marquise Griffin

I enjoy discussion classes. As an English major those are the type of classes I prefer to be in. I like the process of reading literature and then attending classes where I’m able to take notes as well as discuss with the professor and other students the concepts presented. It’s fun, interactive, and collaborative.  When I first read the course description of Dr. Bruno Anili’s Race, Law, and U.S. Politics class, I had no expectations beyond what was stated by the college’s registrar. The description read as follows: “The aim of this course is threefold: to introduce students to the verbal and written analysis of complex texts and concepts in law, to familiarize students with basic authors and concepts in political science, and to help students think more critically and systematically about their own political ideas.”

Nowhere in that description did I see the word, “discussion”. If one goes on the registrar and reads the course description of any of the Reading The World (RTW) English courses, one will see that the last sentence says, “All Reading the World courses stress the development of critical writing ability, critical thinking, and active discussion.” Active discussion is one of the main aims of RTW courses but should it be one of the main aims of political science courses?

This question is one of the issues that came to the forefront in Dr. Anili’s class last trimester. Some students in the class felt that Dr. Anili’s instructional method was too lecture-based and did not include enough class discussions about how the subject matter related to the personal experiences of the students. As an African-American male I sympathize with this grievance. I understand all too well what it feels like to be unable to voice my experience relating to racial injustice. I know how empowering it feels to share these experiences with others in an intellectual atmosphere where discussion can be focused on how to dismantle racism and move forward as one people with many voices.

But should that be the focus of every college course on race?  I ask this question sincerely because I felt torn about the events of last trimester. While I understand how frustrating it can be to sit in a class and take notes from a PowerPoint presentation on things you experience every single day of your life, I also understand that the course wasn’t designed to include active discussion. I didn’t see this as Dr. Anili not wanting to hear my experiences since whenever I visited with him during his office hours he was more than happy to hear my personal experiences of the course’s subject matter. And all students were encouraged to visit Dr. Anili during his office hours as part of participation credit.

I deeply respect what Tenth Week Ten intended when they protested on the morning of our final exam in the class: they took initiative and boldly stood up for what they believed in.  But I still must ask, were the threefold aims of the course not achieved?