What happened to Social Sciences?

Everyone knows what is said about General Social Sciences students, they don’t actually work, they have no future, and they’re all unmotivated  slackers, are just a few of the whispers heard around Dawson. Plant writer Jonathan Feist uncovers the truth behind the program and why it is the way it is.

With my Dawson career coming to an end, and after five long semesters of classes and assignments, I have to stop and think to myself:  what did I learn? Did Dawson truly bring me two years worth of higher education?

My high school career was great. I went to Royal West Academy, which, despite a few of my own rebellious phases, offered me many opportunities to travel, make friends and especially learn a lot in the classroom. It was difficult at times, and the workload was significant, but at the end of five years of high school, you begin to understand the reasoning behind all the hard work: you are ready to pursue higher-level education.

When choosing what program to enter after high school back in 2008, I had a truly tough decision at hand.  There were interesting programs in science-related fields, but since I chose to focus the end of my high school in the social science areas- instead of physics and chemistry, – it made sense for me to follow this path in CEGEP. Besides, social sciences are interesting to me, and I was excited at the chance to deepen my knowledge of them.

So here I was, just having spent five years busting my behind to stay on the Honour Roll and ready to start two years at Dawson, my mind ready for a challenge! But the challenge never came.

In fact, only after my third semester at Dawson did I realize, “wait a minute, not only am I not learning much relevant material, but some of my classes are a complete joke.”

I took a class called “Ethical Issues in Third World Development” in my fourth semester. It didn’t fit perfectly in my schedule (a 4:00 slot, something I have since learned to avoid), but third world development is something that interests me.  In addition, I checked Rate my Teachers, and many people said the teacher was decent, funny, we would watch some movies in class and it was an okay course.

Well, the reality was, this teacher could not, truthfully, and I say this with utmost disbelief to this day, speak the English language. I could barely understand anything he said. On an even more crucial level, he was instigating such basic level discussions that offered little or no insight.

“In the teacher’s defense, international development is a very multi-faceted and difficult subject to teach, but we truly learnt diddly-squat. There was no solid base that he taught from; no organization, order or agenda; or anything for that matter,” said former Dawson student Jason Chan who was also in the same class.
I felt embarrassed to be there, and it was a serious step down from my high school classes.  What truly bothered me was that I was at that point in my second year of CEGEP where I was mature enough to take my studies seriously and put in effort.

I was puzzled in trying to understand why students put such posi
tive ratings on Rate My Teachers.  The class was literally a complete waste of time, but students were fine with it because it meant that they would not have to work hard, or put in much effort to pass.
I realized that this touches on an important sentiment: Social Sciences are known to offer un-motivated students an easy way to get a CEGEP degree.  I feel that more often than not, the material to be covered is interesting and has potential, but students simply want nothing to do with it, and Social Sciences is perfect for their lack of motivation.

When given the option to work hard, or slack off, a large portion of students in Social Sciences would choose the later. After asking literally the first person sitting in the atrium, I got the response:  “yeah I knew I wasn’t going to do anything in my psych class, but I also knew I would get super good grades without doing much work, so it was an easy decision.  I need to boost my R-score, man.”

Out of the 28 classes that I took at Dawson, six of them fall into a “regurgitation” category.That’s nearly a quarter of my classes. These classes consisted of regurgitating textbook material that we knew would be on tests. All we had to do was read the textbook a few times to remember the parts we knew would be tested.

What do I have to show for those 250 hours? A few facts here and there, maybe a few more developed concepts, but apart from that… a waste.  Once the tests are over, we almost instantly forget the material, and the few nights “studying” become wasted nights in the long run.

“I’m taking a course right now where the main point of it is irrelevant to life. It’s about advertisements, justice and change, but we don’t really discuss much, and I haven’t really learned anything. It’s kind of all stuff that we already know. At the end of the semester, maybe I’ll remember some facts here and there, but nothing substantial, nothing I can use outside of a cocktail party,” George Dawson, a third semester social science student said.

“I distinctly recall my Intro to Economics teacher who must have been at least 80 years old. Each lecture was like listening to a recording, as he clearly had been giving the same ones word for word for many years. He was frail and difficult to understand and he, quite literally, fell asleep during our midterm exam. Virtually the entire class began to exchange answers, and a few tables even opened their laptops and began casually searching Google for the answers. It was a complete joke,” fifth semester Law, Society and Justice student Chris Hardy said.

My main observation with the Social Sciences is that if a student wants to be seriously challenged, he or she cannot do so in an intlectual environment at Dawson.

It seems that the classrooms are saturated with students coming from high schools in which their academic skills are underdeveloped.

“A lot of people that go into social sciences are neglecting their true interests in the first place and perhaps lack the level of intelligence and determination necessary to actually benefit from a social sciences program,” International Business graduate Jonathan Wade said.

“Unfortunately, more often than not, the teacher would be forced to leave large portions of the textbook uncovered, sometimes up to half, since many of the students simply refused to read the assigned material,” said Hardy. “I got the impression that in one instance, the teacher, who was extremely passionate about the subject, understood that due to the apathetic attitude of many social science students towards their education, this was the most he could cover. It’s a shame that the students with a genuine interest in the Social Sciences have their education suffer because of the disinterest and laziness of other students.”

With all that said, the importance lies with the solution: can something be changed to allow for a more in-depth college experience for those who seek it in the Social Sciences?

Within the Health and Pure and Applied profiles, there is a program called “first choice.” According to the Dawson website, first choice offers “a focus on the intellectual development of individual students, an emphasis on teacher-student interaction for academic guidance, and an enriched curriculum, higher standards, and an intellectually challenging milieu.”

These benefits seem to truly give students a higher level education. I think that this program should be offered to students in Social Science profiles.

“We’re thinking about it right now. We’re looking into the possibility in doing something like this and seeing if students are interested,” said Diane Gauvin, the Dean of Social Sciences. “In a way, the profiles themselves attract students with specific interests, because we have a lot of different categories. We are considering it, but we have to speak to teachers, my colleagues, and students first. We’re trying to respond to the student’s feedback,” she said.

“The focus is to try to improve student success rates and the interests of the profiles, to make it more relevant to students,” said Gauvin. “There are a lot of considerations; I’m always trying to find new ways of doing things.”

In short, it seems that a lot of the ideas to make significant change to social science programs are still on the drawing board. Gauvin made it fairly clear that students must bring their feedback as incentive for serious changes in their programs.

Social Science students: if you are not happy with the way your CEGEP education is going, speak up! Speak to your teachers, speak to the staff, and let the College know how you feel about it. After all, it is your education and you do have the right to make it beneficial to you. Dawson might not be able to offer you an elite social science education, and it’s also up to you to look elsewhere for educational materials.


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