Thursday, March 4, 2010

Higher Education


Inevitably, once I get to know someone in a work or school setting, they ask me where I went to college. Sometimes my answer of "Yale" elicits a nonchalant nod or "Oh." But more often than not, I get something more along the lines of "Whoa" or "Wow," which makes me feel a little proud but also nervous because people tend to associate going to Yale with not just being smart, but also being a rich snob. I'm definitely not rich and I do my best not to be a snob (though I have
pondered the question).

But let me assure you, you should not be intimidated by my alma mater. There were plenty of absolutely ABSURD classes offered at Yale, classes with arguably little to no scholarly merit. Here is a sampling:

Science Fiction, Science Fact? (Physics)
This class examined the actual "science" behind stuff from Star Trek and other sci-fi pop culture gems. Like, how would a Holodeck actually work and is beaming even theoretically possible? Most of my friends took this class pass/fail and, I kid you not, came very close to failing. Turns out, there was actual math and science involved.

Mass Media and Mass Culture (Sociology)
All I know about this class was that those who took it got to go on a field trip to Chicago to attend a taping of The Ricki Lake Show. The topic that day: "I Can't Live Without My Weave."

Computers and the Modern Intellectual Agenda (Computer Science)
I was dumb enough to attempt this one, only after I was assured that no actual computer programming would be happening and that my shaky understanding of how the internet works would not be a problem (tubes underground? magic?) Joke was on me, though -- the professor, who was missing one hand because the Unibomber sent him a bomb in the mail, hated me. Maybe because I never did the reading or went to class. And that, boys and girls, is how Katie got her one and only C in college.

Local Flora (Biology)
Some schools have "Rocks for Jocks"; we had Local Flora, a.k.a. nature walks for stoners. The class consisted of long walks through New Haven's less urban areas and then...discussions about those walks.

Heterosexuality (Women's and Gender Studies)

When I told my mother about the existence of this course, she began to seriously question the monetary investment in my Ivy League education. My freshman year boyfriend signed up because he saw in the syllabus that he'd get to read a lot of Maxim. You know, to understand how his heterosexuality was socially constructed.

Camp as a Genre (???)
As opposed to an childhood summertime institution. Can't remember which department offered this, but every gay man on campus tried to take it. The coursework included screenings of John Waters films and Oscar Wilde's Salome. My roommate Laura wrote a research paper on Showgirls. I truly regret not signing up for this class.

Doomed Love in the Western World (English)
This was a legit seminar, with an awesome reading list (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, House of Mirth etc). What made it funny/tragic, however, was the fact that it was taught/created by a member of the faculty going through a messy divorce with another faculty member. Whom she did her best not to trash talk, even though the entire campus knew he'd been caught cheating on her with a grad student. Despite her middle age, the professor started to coming to class in leather pants and occasionally let personal details about her new single life slip (like the fact that she was sleeping with the young Italian guy she hired to paint her new apartment).

So you see, my undergraduate education had its questionable moments. I'd love to hear what ridiculous courses you readers may have encountered in your pursuits of higher education. Oh, and speaking of higher education, my junior year I took a class called The High Modern Novel. And on 4/20, as you can guess, it became the Really High Modern Novel.

Finally, let me settle this once and for all -- Yale is nothing like this:


6 comments:

Ramona Burke said...

Katie! I totally disagree! Yale was full of incredibly enthusiastic, passionate, talented people, just like in the video. granted, not all of us sang, but the energy and enthusiasm about a wide range of topics was certainly prevalent! That video is EXACTLY why I chose Yale....
(best class I ever took, though, was an INCREDIBLY difficult science class about the 4th dimension.... We did a group essay on Harold and the Purple Crayon...)

j said...

Yes! But I think maybe you missed your own point and proved it at the same time. See, people say "wow" because they actually expect you to make a thorough and logical 'but we're still kinda the same' argument in response. The whole world is mostly inane and some wonderful, but maybe some of us want to believe some places here are more wonderful and less inane. Meeting people who come from those places is like, wow.

Tom said...

The Ricki Lake class was definitely not called Popularity, I think it was something like Mass Media and Mass Culture. And that field trip was truly astounding, the subject of the episode was "I Can't Live Without My Weave" featuring two young ladies named Precious and Poo (they got weave "make-unders" and were so, so sad). I have a tape of it somewhere.

Also, you left "The Spaces of Literature" off this list, which was my most ridiculous class (that's the one where I wrote the paper that argued - using French theory, naturally - about fear of childbirth and the "monstrous mother" in the movie Aliens).

J.A.G. said...

My last semester, I needed one more Spanish class and signed up for what sounded like an easy class: Latino Pop Culture. Turned out on the first day, the professor (who didn't speak a word of Spanish the whole hour) was teaching Latina pop culture, which basically meant watching lots of Univision and playing Gloria Estefan. I dropped it the moment I expressed interest in Peronism, and she told me we were only going to talk about Eva Peron's hair.

Katie Vagnino said...

Corrections made, Tom. Didn't you also take a class where you had to watch Lil' Kim videos and analyze them?

Also, I vaguely remember seeing in the Blue Book a course offered by the Japanese department about tea ceremony etiquette. Does that ring any bells?

Magpie said...

I wrote a paper (at Wellesley) entitled something like "Grunt Production in the music of James Brown". Ooh, ah, ah, HUNH.