Tuesday, June 11, 2013

20 Completely Ridiculous College Courses Being Offered At U.S. Universities

Would you like to know what America's young people are actually learning while they are away at college?  It isn't pretty.  Yes, there are some very highly technical fields where students are being taught some very important skills, but for the most part U.S. college students are learning very little that they will actually use out in the real world when they graduate.  Some of the college courses listed below are funny, others are truly bizarre, others are just plain outrageous, but all of them are a waste of money.  If we are going to continue to have a system where we insist that our young people invest several years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars getting a "college education", they might as well be learning some useful skills in the process.  This is especially true considering how much student loan debt many of our young people are piling up.  Sadly, the truth is that right now college education in the United States is a total joke.  I know - I spent eight years in the system.  Most college courses are so easy that they could be passed by the family dog, and many of these courses "study" some of the most absurd things imaginable.

Listed below are 20 completely ridiculous college courses being offered at U.S. universities.  The description following each course title either comes directly from the official course description or from a news story about the course...

1. "What If Harry Potter Is Real?" (Appalachian State University) - This course will engage students with questions about the very nature of history. Who decides what history is? Who decides how it is used or mis-used? How does this use or misuse affect us? How can the historical imagination inform literature and fantasy? How can fantasy reshape how we look at history? The Harry Potter novels and films are fertile ground for exploring all of these deeper questions. By looking at the actual geography of the novels, real and imagined historical events portrayed in the novels, the reactions of scholars in all the social sciences to the novels, and the world-wide frenzy inspired by them, students will examine issues of race, class, gender, time, place, the uses of space and movement, the role of multiculturalism in history as well as how to read a novel and how to read scholarly essays to get the most out of them.

2. "God, Sex, Chocolate: Desire and the Spiritual Path" (UC San Diego) - Who shapes our desire? Who suffers for it? Do we control our desire or does desire control us? When we yield to desire, do we become more fully ourselves or must we deny it to find an authentic identity beneath? How have religious & philosophical approaches dealt with the problem of desire?

3. "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity" (The University Of Virginia) - In Graduate Arts & Sciences student Christa Romanosky's ongoing ENWR 1510 class, "GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity," students analyze how the musician pushes social boundaries with her work. For this introductory course to argumentative essay writing, Romanosky chose the Lady Gaga theme to establish an engaging framework for critical analysis.

4. "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame" (The University Of South Carolina) - Lady Gaga may not have much class but now there is a class on her. The University of South Carolina is offering a class called Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.  Mathieu Deflem, the professor teaching the course describes it as aiming to “unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavours.”

5. "Philosophy And Star Trek" (Georgetown) - Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to learn philosophy, than to watch Star Trek, read philosophy, and hash it all out in class? That's the plan. This course is basically an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments.

6. "Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond" (The University Of Texas) - Why would anyone want to learn Klingon? Who really speaks Esperanto, anyway? Could there ever be a language based entirely on musical scales? Using constructed/invented languages as a vehicle, we will try to answer these questions as we discuss current ideas about linguistic theory, especially ideas surrounding the interaction of language and society. For example, what is it about the structure of Klingon that makes it look so "alien"? What was it about early 20th century Europe that spawned so many so-called "universal" languages? Can a language be inherently sexist? We will consider constructed/invented languages from a variety of viewpoints, such as languages created as fictional plot-devices, for philosophical debates, to serve an international function, and languages created for private fun. We won't be learning any one language specifically, but we will be learning about the art, ideas, and goals behind invented languages using diverse sources from literature, the internet, films, video games, and other aspects of popular culture.

7. "The Science Of Superheroes" (UC Irvine) - Have you ever wondered if Superman could really bend steel bars? Would a “gamma ray” accident turn you into the Hulk? What is a “spidey-sense”? And just who did think of all these superheroes and their powers? In this seminar, we discuss the science (or lack of science) behind many of the most famous superheroes. Even more amazing, we will discuss what kind of superheroes might be imagined using our current scientific understanding.

8. "Learning From YouTube" (Pitzer College) - About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.  Class lessons also are posted and students are encouraged to post videos. One class member, for instance, posted a 1:36-minute video of himself juggling.

9. "Arguing with Judge Judy" (UC Berkeley) - TV "Judge" shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years. A fascinating aspect of these shows from a rhetorical point of view is the number of arguments made by the litigants that are utterly illogical, or perversions of standard logic, and yet are used over and over again. For example, when asked "Did you hit the plaintiff?" respondents often say, "If I woulda hit him, he'd be dead!" This reply avoids answering "yes" or "no" by presenting a perverted form of the logical strategy called "a fortiori" argument ["from the stronger"] in Latin. The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies on "Judge Judy" and "The People's Court" and discussing why such strategies are so widespread. It is NOT a course about law or "legal reasoning." Students who are interested in logic, argument, TV, and American popular culture will probably be interested in this course. I emphasize that it is NOT about the application of law or the operations of the court system in general.

10. "Elvis As Anthology" (The University Of Iowa) - The class, “Elvis as Anthology,” focuses on Presley’s relationship to African American history, social change, and aesthetics. It focuses not just on Elvis, but on other artists who inspired him and whom he inspired.

11. "The Feminist Critique Of Christianity" (The University Of Pennsylvania) - An overview of the past decades of feminist scholarship about Christian and post-Christian historians and theologians who offer a feminist perspective on traditional Christian theology and practice. This course is a critical overview of this material, presented with a summary of Christian biblical studies, history and theology, and with a special interest in constructive attempts at creating a spiritual tradition with women's experience at the center.

12. "Zombies In Popular Media" (Columbia College) - This course explores the history, significance, and representation of the zombie as a figure in horror and fantasy texts. Instruction follows an intense schedule, using critical theory and source media (literature, comics, and films) to spur discussion and exploration of the figure's many incarnations. Daily assignments focus on reflection and commentary, while final projects foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie.

13. "Far Side Entomology" (Oregon State) - For the last 20 years, a scientist at Oregon State University has used Gary Larson's cartoons as a teaching tool. The result has been a generation of students learning — and laughing — about insects.

14. "Interrogating Gender: Centuries of Dramatic Cross-Dressing" (Swarthmore) - Do clothes make the man? Or the woman? Do men make better women? Or women better men? Is gender a costume we put on and take off? Are we really all always in drag? Does gender-bending lead to transcendence or chaos? These questions and their ramifications for liminalities of race, nationality and sexuality will be our focus in a course that examines dramatic works from The Bacchae to M. Butterfly.

15. "Oh, Look, a Chicken!" Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing (Belmont University) - Students must write papers using their personal research on the five senses. Entsminger reads aloud illustrated books The Simple People and Toby’s Toe to teach lessons about what to value by being alive. Students listen to music while doodling in class. Another project requires students to put themselves in situations where they will be distracted and write a reflection tracking how they got back to their original intent.

16. "The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur" (University of Washington) - The UW is not the first college with a class dedicated to Shakur -- classes on the rapper have been offered at the University of California Berkeley and Harvard -- but it is the first to relate Shakur's work to literature.

17. "Cyberporn And Society" (State University of New York at Buffalo) - With classwork like this, who needs to play? Undergraduates taking Cyberporn and Society at the State University of New York at Buffalo survey Internet porn sites.

18. "Sport For The Spectator" (The Ohio State University) - Develop an appreciation of sport as a spectacle, social event, recreational pursuit, business, and entertainment. Develop the ability to identify issues that affect the sport and spectator behavior.

19. "Getting Dressed" (Princeton) - Jenna Weissman Joselit looks over the roomful of freshmen in front of her and asks them to perform a warm-up exercise: Chart the major moments of your lives through clothes. "If you pop open your closet, can you recall your lives?" she posits on the first day of the freshman seminar "Getting Dressed."

20. "How To Watch Television" (Montclair) - This course, open to both broadcasting majors and non-majors, is about analyzing television in the ways and to the extent to which it needs to be understood by its audience. The aim is for students to critically evaluate the role and impact of television in their lives as well as in the life of the culture. The means to achieve this aim is an approach that combines media theory and criticism with media education.

Are you starting to understand why our college graduates can't function effectively when they graduate and go out into the real world?

All of this would be completely hilarious if not for the fact that we have millions of young people going into enormous amounts of debt to pay to go to these colleges.


The TOY Gun Buyback Program in California

Strobridge Elementary School in Hayward, California is hosting a gun buyback program for kids. What a great way to get unwanted guns off the street, not to mention a great way to get guns out of the hands of minors. Guns are not toys, and gun buyback programs can get unwanted guns out of homes and off the streets for a financial incentive. People participate in buyback programs because they would rather trade an unwanted gun for a one hundred dollar gift card or other incentive.

The real problem with gun buyback programs is that people really bring in unwanted guns, as in guns that are pieces of junk and do not work. Like other gun buyback programs, the Strobridge Elementary School is also collecting useless pieces of plastic and metal in their very own buyback program for kids. The difference in this buyback program is that it is targeting toy guns, and children who participate are entered into a raffle to win a new bicycle.

On the surface, this program seems to be a decent deal for the children and parents in a tough economic time in that they trade one toy gun for a chance to win a new bike. The children also learn about gun safety – not toy gun safety – and bicycle safety in case they win the raffle or move to New York and take advantage of Mayor Bloomberg's new bicycle rental program. In either event, the toy gun buyback program clearly reveals another example of public education going above and beyond its job description, while failing to educate children on how to read the labels on their toy guns or learning to count their pretend bullets, they are once again melding in childish affairs.The toy gun buyback program is not about gun education but control.

Charles Hill, the school’s principal, explained, "Playing with toys guns, saying 'I'm going to shoot you,' desensitizes them, so as they get older, it's easier for them to use a real gun." First, there is no way to prove or disprove this statement, so it is equal to propaganda. Propaganda is the process of influencing the attitudes of a community by only presenting one side of the argument, or in this case, using political theater to steal children's toys. Obviously, taking toy guns out the hands of children will not stop gun violence, and education by parents will have the most effect. Toy manufacturers are forced to paint toy guns bright colors, and this point was brought up to the social crusader teaching young children in California with no response to the actual question except that toy guns look real enough. So, putting the actual gun debate aside, and all good intentions of Principal Hull, this gun buyback program is about control because it is using propaganda to change the behavior of children in regards to future actions that may result from the use of toys.

This may sound extreme, but this is not an isolated case. Recently a 5-year-old child who brought a fake looking cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for ten days after showing the orange tipped toy gun to a friend. First, the child was questioned for over two hours before his mother was even called and actually wet himself because of the of long interrogation. Other children have also received unwarranted discipline for pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun that were in first and second grade. Another child was suspended for biting a pop tart pastry into the shape of a gun, while in Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for a Lego-shaped gun. This over reaction will do nothing to stop gun violence in schools and only shows an attitude of complete contempt for proper education of dangerous firearms. This reaction towards children also reveals a deeper agenda of reeducating children, not on gun safety, but on why guns are truly unnecessary even if they are toys.

When you combine these issues in light of the progressive transformation of public education, it is no wonder why charter and home schooling is thriving. Classical education is at an all time high, and the idea of social progress through public education versus the study of fixed human nature will only over time make public education more and more unattractive. What true education teaches us is that America was founded on the idea that the government was not smarter than the people. This is the present day assumption of not only the American government but also of public education. The reason America was not founded on this principle was that our constitution was set into place to protect us from the powers of government. Our founding fathers also understood that government not only represented the people within the restrictions set into place by the Constitution but also that our government was nothing more than a reflection of the people themselves.


Grammar schools: why they still trump all other  government schools in Britain

There are more grammar school places than there have been for decades – but competition for them remains maniacally fierce, says Graeme Paton

Most parents have a decent story to tell about the nightmare of the school admissions system. But the best anecdotes – the ones that tell of the extreme lengths to which some are willing go – are reserved for the small but exclusive bunch of state-funded grammar schools in England.

There’s the one about the police being called to stop chaos breaking out after hundreds of parents suddenly descended on a Surrey grammar school car park on the day of the entrance test. There’s the Slough grammar school that gets 14 applications for every available place. Then there’s the grammar school in Kent that’s in such high demand among local families that pupils are required to score at least 99.5 per cent in the eleven-plus to guarantee a place.

Susan Hamlyn knows as much as anyone about what she calls this annual “frenzy”. As a private tutor with 30 years of experience and the director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, she has had parents requesting help to prepare their children for grammar school entrance exams at the age of two – a full nine years before they would be expecting to take up places.

“It’s crazy,” she says. “I heard about a child going for one of the big Surrey grammars last year who lived in Birmingham. I get parents ringing up from Bangladesh, Singapore, South Africa and Canada all saying they’d like to get a place at a grammar school and would like to know how the admissions system works. The fact is, there is a finite number of school places and a seemingly infinite number of people who want to get in. The demand is grotesquely out of proportion to supply.”

Grammar schools – traditionally academically selective secondary schools – have existed for centuries but ballooned in England on the back of the 1944 Education Act, when they made up one-third of the “tripartite system”, alongside technical schools and secondary moderns. To their supporters, they were engines of social mobility, giving children – irrespective of background – the sort of free academic education usually reserved for the fee-paying elite. To critics, the system was a form of social selection that sorted children into successes and failures at 11.

By the mid-Sixties, government guidelines had been distributed to local authorities, reflecting the left-leaning educational philosophy of the day, that ordered them to start disbanding the tripartite structure in favour of the all-ability comprehensive school. The death of the grammar was brutal. From a post-war high of 1,207, numbers almost halved to 675 by the mid-Seventies and reached a low of 150 in the Eighties. However, a small number of local authorities – principally Conservative shire counties – resisted Whitehall pressure and retained, to some extent, a selective system.

Today, 164 grammar schools quirkily remain, with the highest concentrations in areas such as Kent, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Essex, Gloucestershire, Slough, Trafford and Lincolnshire. And, to the horror of opponents, they remain very popular among parents. Figures published in 2011 suggest that almost half the children who pass the eleven-plus – the traditional grammar school entrance exam – fail to get a place.

At some schools, the rejection rate is far higher, with figures compiled by the Telegraph showing Herschel Grammar, Slough, had 14 applications for every place; neighbouring Langley Grammar had 13. At least six more had more than 10 applications for every place.

The sheer popularity of grammars suggests that, for too many parents, the 40-year dream of a comprehensive utopia has not been realised. Nidhi Jaiswal, a mother of two from west London, is typical. Her daughter, Adya, has secured a place at one of the capital’s most sought-after grammars – Henrietta Barnett in Hampstead Garden Suburb – starting in September. The bright 11-year-old took exams for five state grammars, and won places at each before settling on the all-girls’ school.

“She went to a state primary that was rated outstanding by Ofsted, but they didn’t challenge her enough,” Jaiswal says. “The focus seemed to be on bringing those children who aren’t doing that well up to a certain level rather than really pushing those who were high achieving. We didn’t want to face the same issue in a comprehensive school. If we hadn’t have got a grammar, we would have gone private, but it would have cost a lot of money and meant many sacrifices.”

In recent years, despite the continuing popularity of state-funded grammars, calls for an all-out expansion of academically selective schools have been rejected. After the 1997 general election, Labour introduced legislation banning the opening of any new grammars and drafted rules allowing local communities to petition for the end of selection at existing schools (only one was ever held, in North Yorkshire, and local parents rejected the change by two to one).

Controversially, Labour’s policy was endorsed by the Conservatives in Opposition. David Cameron – striving to shift his party to the centre – refused to back the return of academic selection, focusing his education policy instead on new, non-selective “free schools”.

In power, the Tory-led Coalition has also allowed all popular state schools to expand to meet local demand for places. But, in a concession to the Conservative heartlands, this liberation of places has been vocally extended to existing grammar schools. In Kent, the freedom has been exercised in an innovative way by the local council, which intends to building an entirely new grammar school in the town of Sevenoaks – but branding it as an “annexe” of an existing school 20 miles away in Maidstone. It is hoped the new school will cater for 120 pupils a year by the time it opens in 2016.

This development alone could, by stealth, trigger the biggest resurgence in grammar schools since the Seventies, with similar plans being considered in areas such as Torbay and south London.

But Robert McCartney, the chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, says that councils have been – for the past 30 years – quietly allowing individual schools to grow, often adding a class at a time to meet extra demand, largely under the radar of Whitehall.

New figures published by the House of Commons library appear to bear this out. In 1983, just 117,147 pupils were in English grammar schools – 3.1 per cent of the total secondary-age population. By 2007, numbers had grown to 156,800 – 4.8 per cent of pupils – and by last year numbers increased to 161,000, or five per cent. “It is indicative of the strength of parental demand for selective education,” says Mr McCartney.

But places still fall dramatically short of demand, particularly in the midst of the deepest economic crisis in history, when more families are seeking a cheap alternative to fee-paying education.

The scramble has triggered what the head of selective Chelmsford County High recently dubbed an “endemic” culture of tutoring, with parents subjecting sons and daughters to anything up to six years of academic coaching to prepare them for the eleven-plus. It has reached such a point that some local authorities – namely Buckinghamshire, Kent and Bexley, London – are planning to scrap the eleven-plus in its current form in the hope of creating a new “tutor-proof” entrance test.

With the toxic issue of academic selection continuing to divide opinion, it is unlikely that the annual scramble for places will ease any time soon. “It’s such a political hot potato,” Susan Hamlyn says. “I would like some government or other to put me out of my job and make sure everyone can have a good school at the end of their road and put an end to this frenzy. I can’t see it happening.”


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