Must-Take Courses

Monday, March 3, 2008

What courses should be required for every U.S. college student? Everyone has a different idea of what students need to know to be competitive in the 21st century.

Margaret Spellings

U.S. secretary of education

American History, so that students have an appreciation for the events that made our great democracy what it is today, and a rigorous writing class to ensure they can effectively convey ideas, thoughts and concepts.

Steven Knapp

President, George Washington University

All students should take at least one course that requires them to grapple with at least one very challenging text from a time and place very different from their own. And all students should take at least one course that exposes them not just to numbers but to quantitative reasoning about things in the real world.

Jack D. Dale

Fairfax County public schools chief

I majored in math and minored in physics, but it was an astronomy course I took that has stayed with me. In that course, the theory of math and physics came together in an applied science where I learned about black holes, event horizons, expanding vs. contracting universes and parallel universes, to name a few. In short, I learned about the creative side of science and still today enjoy the creative side of my career. As many current futurists will tell us our future is in creativity, whether that be in business, science, education or the arts.

David J. Skorton

President, Cornell University

I believe a college student should take substantial course work in the disciplines that will develop critical thinking, expression, communication (including critical reading skills) and learning how to learn over a lifetime. Specifically, I would encourage them to include in their curriculum humanities courses in philosophy (ethics, logic, history of philosophy), foreign language, history, literature, music or the visual arts. A second consideration would include courses in the social sciences, where broad critical thinking and the use of data can be learned and perfected.

Donna E. Shalala

President, University of Miami

English composition -- after I turned in my first paper, my superb teacher told me I would never get through college if I didn't know how to write. She taught me, and that course had a huge impact on my life.

My history courses -- because they gave me a context that allowed me to understand the world, and the tools with which to understand the impact of events on human societies.

Technology is critical to teaching in the 21st century, as well as to learning. There will have to be a revolution in teaching methods to best help students acquire knowledge. In addition to a focus on global competencies, there should be renewed emphasis on learning languages -- any languages, but critical languages in particular. Scientific literacy also will be a crucial skill.

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