March 4, 2008

The fifth element

[img id="80408" align="alignleft"] I love the U of C. I really do. But the University of Chicago, like so many institutions of its caliber, possesses students from across the spectrum of education. Each is, of course, a gem in his own right, but many are severely lacking on one or more fronts, however brightly they may shine on others. We exist in a body of high-functioning individuals, but they are selectively so—many of us seem to have missed key lessons from fifth grade.

It is because of these few but often extreme shortcomings that I propose a new series of classes for members of the College: the 500s level. We could give it a snazzy name like the Fifth-Year Initiative or, in common parlance, FYI—no one needs to know that it refers to primary school in lieu of college. It may seem insulting at first, but the importance of these lessons cannot be underestimated; that numerically they should rank above even graduate courses is no coincidence. I’ve taken the liberty of coming up with some of the more crucial electives that could be offered to those in need.

First on the list would be, Writing 501. No longer will there be any need for writing seminars organized through the Hum curriculum. Instead of assuming that the entirety of the first-year class has no idea what a sentence even is, this course could be administered only to those who need it. Confused by commas, quizzical about quotes, and puzzled by prepositions? It’s OK—really, it’s OK. The FYI is here to help. In the meantime, the rest of us won’t have to contemplate suicide while overly enthusiastic T.A.s lecture us about the five-paragraph structure in Harper.

And what about Math 501? Multivariable calculus, differential equations, the complex plane, Riemann zeta functions, no problem. But long division? Good gracious, no—you carry over the what?

Computer Science 501: less science and more computer. Important classes will include lessons on how to use printers and, well, how to use printers. With a couple of solid classes, dorm printers could cease to be the malevolent cesspools of paper jams and failed connections that they are now. Another topic could be typing for the hunting-and-pecking–inclined, whose one-handed tendencies seemingly produce the majority of the scholarly work here.

Another option: English 501. Fully 12 percent of the Class of 2011 are foreign students, but I am less worried about them than I am about those poor souls who were wrongly indoctrinated on the home front. “Y’all” is not acceptable terminology, the vowels in “roof” and “root” are pronounced the same way as they are in “bloom,” and a “crick” refers only to that thing that you get in your neck. “Hella”—sorry, fellow Californians—is not a word, and bubblers, if there are such a things, can refer only to particularly bubbly sea creatures. These oddities come from left, right, and center, but we’re a smart bunch of people—there’s nothing that a few lectures can’t clear up.

Perhaps one of our kindly professors could instruct Common Sense 501, with areas of study encompassing when to get out your I.D. in the line at Bartlett (before you get to the front), where to cause freak explosions (Hinds—it implodes!), and how to run with a backpack.

One of the wider-reaching electives with which FYI could ameliorate the community could be classified under the name That Kids 501. That Kids from far and wide could congregate in some amphitheater of a seminar room and debate to the point of larynx rupture the merits of Hegel, Durkheim, or dog food—the true That Kid needs little to inspire hours of self-captivating (and, hopefully, fellow That Kid–captivating) dissertation.

The possibilities are extensive and hard to overlook. Placement tests could be administered during O-Week along with the foreign-language and math exams. A thesis should tell a funny joke? Writing 501. When faced with another person, one should stare fixedly at the floor and mumble? Conversation 501. Showers are optional monthly activities? Cleanliness 501!

Classes could even extend over to the faculty and staff: Who could refuse a rousing round of Cash Registers 501 for the C-Shop employees or Handwriting 501 for the wayward Nobel winner?

Think it over, U of C. Fifth grade was a great time.

Claire McNear is a first-year in the College majoring in international studies and economics. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.