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The practical arts: what classes should Beloit offer to teach life skills?

This article was originally printed in the Feb. 4, 2019 issue of The Round Table. 

With all of the changes in staffing at Beloit College that have occurred as a result of professors either taking the buy-out or visiting professor’s contracts not being renewed, numerous departments were and are left trying to alter the curriculum in order to ensure that current and future students obtain the classes necessary for success in the workforce and graduate programs post-Beloit. Whether curriculums are forced to combine or eliminate previously required classes, the thought is that students will still be provided with the same course material and cover the same important topics that they will need to be competitive once they are gone. However, what about the classes that are more practical to everyday life and will help be competitive in that thing called “adulting”?

The inspiration for the rest of this story stems from a visit back to my high school over the winter break where I went and explored some new buildings and classrooms that had been built in order to accommodate the increase in the size of the student body in the growing San Francisco Bay Area. While I had expected new STEM labs and administrative offices, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the school had also built new spaces for the visual arts. Especially the home economics classes, which received a beautiful new kitchen outfitted with brand new Viking Cooking Appliances and plenty of space to move around compared to the old cramped layout and appliances. I was also pleased to see that the woodshop was still alive and kicking. While these programs are probably always popular and well attended elsewhere in the nation, in an area just north of Silicon Valley where the STEM fields are pushed so aggressively, it was nice to see that these practical arts were still thriving and receiving funding.

How does this all relate back to curriculum and course changes here at Beloit? When signing up for classes last semester, I noticed a course that promoted these so called practical arts and gave students a chance to prepare for the important task of managing finances. The course is titled “Life & Financial Planning” and is taught by Beloit’s Brian Morello who is the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education at Beloit (CELEB). The goal of the course is “to help students learn how to identify the key financial decisions they will face following graduation, to help them learn the analytical tools to make wealth- and life-enhancing decisions, and to help them recognize the potential entrepreneurial opportunities in choosing their life and career paths [that] …. they will face in the years immediately after graduation.” Of the courses I regret not taking while attending Beloit, this is definitely in the top three as it provides students with extremely practical skills in an area that is often overlooked while we are actually a student here. While some students are privileged enough to come from a background of understanding finances and basic economics, such as balancing a budget, building credit, and proper use of a credit card, there are probably many students to which these important concepts are foreign.

Another practical skill which I wished was taught here falls more in line with home economics: culinary arts. Cooking is a skill which many of us take for granted, myself included, although there may be some students who want to know how to cook as they may have never been taught or never had the opportunity to learn for a multitude of reasons. However, a college cooking class that investigates balancing a grocery budget, shopping for inexpensive and nutritious foods, weekly meal planning, meal preparation, as well as the actual cooking of the food could be well worth the time and effort for the college. Once students are no longer at a college, once they no longer have a meal plan to rely on or food options within a five minute walk from their residence, it makes sense for students to know how to whip up cheap, fast and nutritious meals that they can cook rather than the alternative of dining out all of the time which could be costly in both financial and nutritious terms.

As Beloit College and its faculty continue to change the structure and curriculum in an attempt to address the deficit constantly hovering over the college, it is my hope that courses in practical and important aspects of life continue to be taught. While you may need to know the difference between the the bacteria present at different stages of a fermenting substance for your job, knowing how to pay the bills, invest wisely, and cook yourself a nutritious meal is also pretty important.

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