The fifteen strangest college courses in America

by on March 12, 2009 at 11:16 am in Education | Permalink

Via Jason Kottke, here is the list.  Call me warped, but I was impressed at how sensible the offerings were.  "Learning from YouTube" strikes me as more valuable than 80 percent of what is currently on tap.  I also think it is often useful to teach science through the medium of a TV show or to teach philosophy through The Simpsons.  It fosters personal involvement and if you don't, most of the students aren't learning anything anyway.

But I have to say (call me a philistine if you wish), I was dismayed at "Underwater Basket Weaving," as it is taught at the University of California, San Diego.  Might they have Mark Machina give a guest lecture on the relevance of non-expected utility models for underwater basket weaving?

Maybe not.

1 Yancey Ward March 12, 2009 at 11:31 am

There should be a class on taking money from silly college students and their parents.

2 Russ March 12, 2009 at 11:45 am

Higher education has a long tradition of making people thirst for knowledge. These classes are important because they apply that outside areas that would usually be considered academic. By the way, I think zombies are a really fantastic culture study.

3 Sam March 12, 2009 at 11:57 am

Never mind. I should have looked at the link. How weird.

4 songar March 12, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Bet you can see this coming from a kilometer away:You’re a warped philistine. Call me boring and judgmental.

5 hern March 12, 2009 at 12:05 pm

give it up for the university of california! why the west coast is the best coast.

6 bend March 12, 2009 at 12:16 pm

i seem to recall that ucsd began that class after the idea of an Underwater Basket Weaving class became the source of widespread hilarity.

7 no comment March 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Most of these seem to be fluff courses aimed at non-majors who need a class in X subject to meet graduation requirements. All of these “[Subject] of [Popular culture subject-matter]” fit that description, along with “Joy of Garbage” and “Far Side Entomology.” Essentially some “accessible” subject matter is used as a vehicle for talking about a “real” subject matter at a relatively shallow level.

The other popular-culture courses though are taking popular culture as the object of study, and seem more like they have more potential as “real” classes.

8 tylerh March 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm

My wife proudly took Underwater Basket Weaving while getting her Math degree from UCSD. A few points:

1. agent00yak is correct: the UCSD basket weaving class is a rec class. It was a three day rec class when my wife took it.

2. Certain types of basket weaving do require that the fiber be woven while wet, so working “under water” is part of the craft.

3. The offering is tongue-in-chic. My wife’s section held class in a hot tub.

9 Phil March 12, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Tyler, if you think these courses are “sensible”, I’d hate to think what you’ve been exposed to, because
your theshold for sensibility is laughably. This is why people are walking away from the legacy academy
and going to franchised tech colleges and online schools. It might be fun to sit through a porn class;
sure as hell isn’t worth 1/4-1/6 of a semester’s tuition-and colleges have been getting GOVERNMENT
bailout money for years. (Oh its called student aid, but its really a subsidy for a broken business model)

10 rfriel March 12, 2009 at 1:40 pm

For the record, Underwater Basket Weaving at Reed isn’t even a “class” in any official sense. It’s a traditional part of Paideia, which is a week or unusual or tongue-in-cheek informal classes taught by faculty or (more often) students. The whole week is considered more entertainment than education by the students and administration.

11 ron March 12, 2009 at 3:06 pm

oh come on, no space tourism at RIT? that class was an entertaining way to fill a 2 credit hour gap in my schedule.

12 Andy March 12, 2009 at 4:06 pm

UC Davis has real courses in Tractor Driving, Mushroom Cultivation, Beer Brewing, Winemaking, and Water in Popular Culture (??).

13 EnlightenedDuck March 12, 2009 at 7:04 pm

As an alumn of all three mentioned UC campuses!, I figured I needed to chime in.

The DeCal classes (Democratic class at Cal) that were the biggest sources of protest while I was there were the courses on sexuality. There was a women’s sexuality class for several years, and, in response, somebody organized a men’s class. One feature of that class was taking polaroids of everybody’s genitalia and trying to match photograph to student. That didn’t go over so well when it hit the papers….

My resident advisor my first year at UCSD had a certificate of completion for having taken the Underwater Basket Weaving class – sort of a certificate of dubious merit. I took several ballroom dance classes through the rec program (they used to be offered as PE classes, the UCSD disbanded the PE department), and I know several people to have taken massage classes. This is also a school with an archery club (that shoots on-campus), and, at least at the time, a marksmanship club that shot off-campus, both well supported by the associated students.

UC Davis has a large ag. school. Hence tractor driving is a very sensible course. There are also quite a few cows on campus, and some pigs. Then there is the large population of monkeys most people don’t know about:). It also boasts the best Viticulture and Enology department in the world, so wine and beer making classes aren’t out of place. There is a decent-sized contingent of South American studying there, going home, and improving their wine industries. Oh, and if you are nice, you can do them a favor and volunteer for their wine tasting panels – their own grad. students are a little overloaded working for each other’s panels….

UC Davis also has an experimental college, which is the analogue of rec. classes at UCSD and DeCals at Cal….

14 Cory Chomic March 19, 2009 at 10:12 am

After reading this article i have come to conclusion that these courses are just fillers for lazy college students who just want the easy road out of college by taking one of these classes to get those last couple hours. Some of the courses sound interesting but what real significant education could you get out of these courses. I mean anybody can find significance in any most subjects and imply it to a subject. It may just be me but I wold rather take a course that would prepare me for when I get out of college cause after graduation the real world begins and play time is over. After college when future employees look at your transcript what do you think they are going to say when they see that you took Science of superheroes for a class? To me these classes are a waste of time for students to take but I do applaud the administration for trying foster innovation that combines education with excitement.

15 Richard Wills October 31, 2009 at 5:12 pm

After many decades away from school, I am taking advantage of Orange Coast College fantastic film/video
department to learn a new career.

But, I still miss the cows they used to have here when this was an aggie school!

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