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There’s no such thing as a ‘fluff’ course

As you may have heard, Thursday was Thanksgiving Day – traditionally the day Americans overeat, watch football and get ready to spend insane amounts of money on things they probably don’t need. But there’s another, oft-forgotten tradition associated with Thanksgiving – giving thanks for the good things in your life.

Undoubtedly, there are many things for which most USF students should have given thanks, but there is one thing that every last one of us should have been thankful for – our attendance here.

No, I don’t mean this in a rah-rah, ‘Go Bulls,’ school-sprit sort of way. I mean something much more profound. All of us here have the opportunity to attend a university. And not just any university – one that gives its students the chance to receive a good education without racking up debt that will take countless years to repay.

Simply stating you’re thankful for this gift while reaching for a turkey leg, however, is meaningless. Anyone can claim to be thankful. Everyone needs to demonstrate thanks in the only way that matters: by applying themselves to their studies and learning as much as they can about a wide range of subjects.

Note: This is different than simply graduating. In a large, public university such as USF, it is not difficult to graduate without having learned much more than the most basic needs of your major. In fact, I am sure most of you know someone who takes full advantage of this “opportunity.” If he’s in your major, he does the least needed to pass each class. He doesn’t do much studying, and can often be overheard espousing nuggets of wisdom like, “Cs get degrees.” Or maybe she’s in a class outside of her major saying something snappy like, “I don’t care about this class. I’m majoring in underwater basket weaving, and I don’t need to know about literature. I just want a C.”

The need to do well in classes within your major should be self-evident. For most majors, these classes – at least in theory – should have a direct and clear application to what you think you’re going to do after graduating. If you’re too lazy or disinterested in your major to do well in these classes, maybe you should consider another track, no matter how insistent your parents are that you get a business degree.

More frustrating is when students have the attitude that required classes which aren’t explicitly part of their major are unnecessary fluff. These classes are at least as important as the ones that appear on your major’s list of required classes. The literature, language, math and humanities requirements are what separate universities from trade schools. Without these liberal arts requirements, a person with an engineering or chemistry degree would be no better educated than a person with a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) certificate from the XYZ Trade School. In either case, the person learns only what is needed to perform a task.

Of course, my fellow liberal arts majors, you are not exempt from this. Studies of hard sciences and mathematics that do not fall directly in line with your major are just as important to you as those humanities courses are to the engineering major. Classes that are not directly related to a student’s major force the student to think in different ways and, hopefully, about things they may not be comfortable with.

According to Dan Bagley, a professor in USF’s School of Mass Communications, liberal arts classes focus “less on what to think and more on how to think.” Students who receive a liberal arts education are less likely to take statements at face value.

This very trait is what is most important about the liberal arts. They foster freedom and further knowledge. When one doesn’t question what is being taught, that knowledge is not challenged. When knowledge goes unchallenged, it becomes dogma and learning comes to a halt.

So, when it’s your turn to register this fall, remember just what you have to be thankful for. And this spring, as you are taking these classes, don’t just say you are thankful: display that gratitude by learning.

Josh Corban is a senior majoring in anthropology.