Georgia wrong to value STEM courses more than civics, politics

Is the zeal to get more college students into STEM classes shortchanging critical lessons in civics, government and political history? (Official White House photo)

One education bill that sailed through this General Assembly session is House bill 801, which boosts the GPA of college students taking demanding math and science courses.

Sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, HB 801 gives college students the same half-point boost to their grade point averages for STEM that they earned for taking advanced classes in high school. The bill adds an additional 0.5 point to a B, C or D in STEM courses at any of the state’s public campuses. The bill empowers the Board of Regents to decide which STEM courses earn the boost.

Jones says the bill will encourage students to enroll in challenging math, science, technology and engineering classes that could otherwise jeopardize their HOPE Scholarships. To retain HOPE, college students need to maintain a 3.0 GPA. A study released in the fall found the fear of losing the generous merit-based scholarship has reduced the number of Georgia students willing to pursue science and math degrees.

Not everyone agrees with the rationale behind the legislation, including retired college lecturer Steve Anthony. From 1977 to 1995, Anthony worked for the Georgia House, most of the time as chief aide to legendary Speaker Thomas Murphy. In 1999, Anthony started teaching at Georgia State University where he developed the Georgia Politics course. He also authored a book on Murphy, “Witness To History,” and the primer “Georgia Government.”

By Steve Anthony

The recent attempt to prioritize which college subjects are more important than others, House Bill 801, once again raises the old debate about the purpose of higher education.

Is it to educate or is it a contest?

There are so many things wrong with saying certain course are more important than others. First, it really does not matter who “chooses” the critical courses, as HB 801 allows. Everyone has biases and agendas and who on high is to say what is most deserving. The Board of Regents is no panacea. Second, I am sick of the emphasis on STEM.

I admittedly have ranted — I think with great justification — about this American obsession with staying even or ahead of the Asians on STEM courses to the exclusion of courses that are uniquely important in our country.

The biggest education problem in this country is the lack of emphasis on civics, government and political history. Those areas need to be equally emphasized. Sure, do STEM but not to the exclusion of citizenship.

Third, and, most importantly, if you think this is just a personal bias, I taught American Government, the basic course required by law of all public university students to graduate in Georgia. I cannot tell you how many foreign students, mostly Asian and Indian, would come to me and cry about how hard this course was. The tests were not fair; they could not wrap their heads around concepts and terms. They said many questions had similar possible answers, and they could not decide.

Among the comments I heard: “I make all As and here I am getting a B or C…I spend more time on this course than all others combined…I am smart and have a 4.0 GPA  and struggle with this…I am a junior and this is the hardest course I have ever taken.”

When I asked these unhappy students their major, it was always STEM. I asked them a series of questions to get them to see American Government was a different animal than those STEM courses, requiring discretion and thinking on their own.

It is the old “right brain, left brain” argument, which is very real. I tried to get them to understand how to approach that type of learning. Does that make social science majors smarter than STEM majors? The narrow evidence I give would say “yes,” but even I would not say that. But neither would I say STEM majors are smarter and therefore deserve more HOPE credit than other majors.

And lastly there is this.

The reasoning behind this bill is students aren’t taking STEM subjects because the material is too challenging. And the generally accepted explanation is they lack adequate training in high school. That may well be true, but we ought to attack the problem where it lies — in high school, not college.

As I mentioned earlier, the majority of students who will benefit from a GPA STEM advantage are not Georgia students. They are foreign and will leave our colleges and go back home when they graduate. Is that what we want? Our Georgia students are just as competent and deserving of a Georgia taxpayer-funded education, if not more so.

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36 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

What?  Wait.  We're important too!  [stomping feet in a hissy fit]


Yeah, who didn't see that article coming?  The main argument against giving STEM majors a boost in the GPA is soon, EVERYONE will be clamoring for their exception and the end result will be a process manual that no one can understand.

Today, it is the Civics professor.  Tomorrow, Language Arts.  Next day will be someone else.  All will present valid arguments why their course of study is deserving of their own exception.

Since this whole episode revolves around STEM majors losing HOPE, the best solution would have been to make HOPE Scholarship a reimbursement program.  But alas, why do something simple and effective when you can take the government approach and really f**k it up.

gapeach101
gapeach101

I disagree that the purpose of  house bill 801 is to  "prioritize which college subjects are more important than others"

 What  it does is recognize the GPA differential between humanities and stem classes. Even at GT, humanities classes have an average GPA of one point higher than basic math and science classes. 

redweather
redweather

@gapeach101 Maybe that's how members of the humanities faculty are already helping those would-be engineers.  

gapeach101
gapeach101

The reason Asians and Indians have more trouble with American Government is simply because they have not studied it their entire school career.  It's no different than going into Chinese 101 and finding a number of heritage speakers.  It makes the "curve" much higher for the newbies.

My daughter was in Chili and took a South American history course. She worked her butt off.  She also enjoyed hearing history told from another perspective.

Mr_B
Mr_B

Mathematicians, physicists, and engineers gave us nuclear weapons.


Historians, philosophers and theologians gave us the wisdom not to use them on ourselves.

Mr_B
Mr_B

The incentives are not just there for students, we have decided to reward teachers of STEM subjects with higher salaries and student loan forgiveness not available to teachers in the humanities. Meanwhile we graduate students who have no idea who William Jennings Bryan was, of where Japan is located, or that Frankenstein was a fictional doctor, and not a monster.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Mr_B “Meanwhile we graduate students who have no idea who William Jennings Bryan was, of where Japan is located, or that Frankenstein was a fictional doctor, and not a monster.” –Mr_B

Moreover, Mr_B, being disinclined to have an idea when one is aware one has no idea seems the essence of failed education.  Of course, to have an idea involves asking questions and seeking answers.  But, alas, what aspects of education these days really are about preserving and enhancing, from an early age, children’s innate drive to have an idea and what aspects of it really are about suppressing that innate drive, if only out of ignorance?

Recall, for example, the recent uproar over the teacher’s response to the student’s earnest, simply question, “Who?”  When the student asked the question, from wanting to have an idea, that is where she was.  Nonetheless, the teacher, acting out of ignorance, opted to suppress the student’s wanting to have an idea, so suppressed the student’s advancement.  So next time, will the student be inclined to have an idea when she is aware she has none?  Let’s pray she will be so inclined.

Angie Strickland Simpson
Angie Strickland Simpson

I don't think the bill is intended to value STEM more than other majors, but to help keep students who want to study STEM from abandoning those majors in order to keep their scholarship.

redweather
redweather

All students could use a little help. Why single out STEM majors?

Laraine Simpson
Laraine Simpson

I don't know how Anthony thinks mostly foreign students will benefit when this is mostly about the HOPE scholarship, which they don't receive. I know several students at the University of Georgia who changed their major after taking one Chemistry class (and some even before taking the first class after hearing how hard it is and how most students earn a "C") We have fewer doctors and pharmacists because those classes are notoriously difficult. HOPE has actually decreased the number of students taking STEM classes, so perhaps this bill will level things out again. 

kaelyn
kaelyn

I have a graduate degree in social work and my husband is a physician. I cannot begin to count the number of physicians I know who were told from an early age that they were "smart" and had to "grow up to be a doctor." This is especially common among children of immigrants. So many of these people left the profession early. A good number of those who continue to practice are miserable because they were taught that the only acceptable career path for "smart" people was medicine. A friend of mine calls it the "Doctor, lawyer, engineer curse."

I have never had any interest in the sciences and I consider myself to be as intelligent as the next person. My kids have a variety of interests, and I don't care what they study in college. They have cousins with four year degrees who can't find jobs, so they're aware that just graduating isn't the goal.

STEM fields are great if you're suited for them, but pushing kids who would rather be writers down that path is silly. Yes, it's very important to earn a decent paycheck. It's important, too, to at least like your job most days and to work in a field that brings you happiness.

colorthesky
colorthesky

@kaelyn Who bankrolls your lifestyle? Your husband who majored in a STEM field. What would your life be like if you married someone of your own level (another social worker)? Not as wealthy. STFU trophy wife. 

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Over emphasis on STEM will lead to an overabundance of employees in STEM careers which will serve to depress wages. Suddenly, those jobs won't be the high paying ones we seek in our economy. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

"The GSU student and the Honda’s driver had guns "  Good thing that guns are currently illegal on campuses, so no students have guns.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

As usual, totally misses the point that at most colleges the courses he "recommends" are easy grades.  And the STEM courses are hard grades, often causing those students who take them to lose the Hope.   Which incents students not to take them.


But for someone who promotes "critical thinking", I guess actually thinking is really hard.  Or maybe he is just like most of the eduacracy, and simply wants to do his best to obfuscate the actual issue, so as to promote his pet project.


Of course, in that darned "real world", the folks who took the "soft" courses can have amazingly interesting conversations w/ the clients that they are serving coffee to at Starbucks.  Those who took the STEM courses (and other incredibly hard but applicable courses like biology, chem that lead to medical degrees) are too busy with jobs that pay an actual income.


Good luck paying off those student loans on your Starbucks salary.

Astropig
Astropig

@dcdcdc


"Of course, in that darned "real world", the folks who took the "soft" courses can have amazingly interesting conversations w/ the clients that they are serving coffee to at Starbucks. "


Hilarious...And so true.


Astropig (jr.) cracks me up when he says "I don't often speak to arts majors,but when I do, I ask for an extra shot of steamed milk"


But seriously, these "soft majors" whiners should get down on their knees and thank whatever they worship that they live in a country with enough wealth to support STEM grads AND the people that wash their cars and dishes.

Q1225
Q1225

@Astropig @dcdcdc  "...he says 'I don't often speak to arts majors,but when I do, I ask for an extra shot of steamed milk.'"

Oh, I'll bet he does! 





redweather
redweather

Many students will read Leo Tolstoy's short novel, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," at some point in their college careers. I assign it in my sophomore World Literature survey, which is one of those meaningless humanities courses STEM majors often complain about.


During his final days, Ivan Ilyich is tormented by one nagging question:  "Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done. But how could that be, when I did everything properly?" Ivan's doctors and wife are no help mainly because they seem to want to deceive him into believing that he is "not dying but simply ill." The only person in his household rendering aid and comfort is Ivan's servant Gerasim, who "saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position." Gerasim treats Ivan with the compassion and respect no one else will.


Gerasim's role as caregiver has been written about extensively in publications devoted to terminal care and dying. Articles have appeared in Nurse Education Today, Death Studies, Critical Care Medicine, International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury Science among others. 


I mention this to suggest that the ultimate value of a college class shouldn't be dictated by a student's course of study. 

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Maureen, is Steve Anthony's essay an April Fool's joke that was accidentally published early?


Steve Anthony's anecdotes about "foreign students, mostly Asian and Indian" are not data.

grumpster
grumpster

I just don't recall anyone taking advanced Calculus or Chemistry with a calculus prerequisite because it's an easy course.

This can not be just said of many liberal arts courses.

This semester is Calc III,and World Lit I. I enjoy both and I'm learning a lot from both classes. But, rated on a 1-10 scale of difficulty, Lit is a 4 to a 6. Calc is an 8 to a 10.

It's a good thing I'm old and not subject to Hope. So I really don't have a dog in this fight. I can speak up for Calc III classmates to whom the hope scholarship means a great deal. They deserve the half point just as much as someone who takes honors art appreciation.

RHSch
RHSch

I don't believe American students won't compete in any advanced course I'm public schools. If stem is the carrot to draw bright kids into those subjects , so be it Young adults with dreams of politics or communication will not be detoured.

Travelfish
Travelfish

Yes, STEM graduates should be favored.

When it comes to the liberal arts, colleges have long since turned into boot camps for liberals. In a world grown tired of them.

And we're saddled with a legion of liberal arts graduates unsuited to productive labor.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Mack68 @Travelfish

Regarding your final paragraph:

And, by doing so, probably helping to create physicians with more insight into human nature, as well as more insight into mind/body integrity.

Mack68
Mack68

@Travelfish Oh, please. So "liberal arts" to you equals liberal political views? Could you be any more uninformed? Some of the most prominent liberal arts colleges are among the most conservative.

The word "liberal" in liberal arts refers to "broad", or "multidisciplinary". Students use knowledge gained in multiple disciplines (history, philosophy, psychology, statistics, etc.) to explore, synthesize and analyze. Something sorely lacking these days.

Contrary to your assertion, even medical schools are beginning to eschew the traditional science only pre-med undergraduate path in favor of a more liberal arts undergraduate preparation as being preferable for cultivating the best post graduate doctors.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"There are so many things wrong with saying certain course(s) are more important than others."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


I will go further and state that there is a kind of unaware ignorance operative in believing that some courses are more important than others.  It is the same kind of unaware ignorance which believes that some people are more important than others.


 We need the arts and the humanities to help us see that ignorance.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @MaryElizabethSings @grumpster It doesn't "solely" relate to a job, but when you spend $30,000 - 60,000, you hope that a better job (and better job security) is one of the benefits.  Most of us are not independently wealthy and just put out large sums of money to "enhance our life experience".

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaryElizabethSings @grumpster My youngest daughter, reasonably bright, found math and science classes much more understandable (and interesting) than English lit or art or social science, and ended up with a dual BS in math and astrophysics.  Yet she devoted one summer to only taking English composition, so she could really concentrate on it.  She would be an example.


I really don't understand people who think an "education" equates solely to a job.  A deeper education equates to a more widely enjoyed and understood life--a more complete person and a better citizen of our country and our world.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@grumpster


How difficult a course might be depends upon a student's specific aptitudes and unique gifts.  People have different types of intelligence and different types of gifts.


Not understanding this basic truth is what creates the "unknowing ignorance" to which I had referred, earlier.

grumpster
grumpster

It's not that certain courses are more important; it's that certain courses are more difficult. For people without means, this additional difficulty may make college unaffordable if the HOPE scholarship is lost.