“It’s just a silly course. How exactly can it hurt me?”
In the previous article, we discussed what exactly bird courses were, and I opened you up to the idea that calling a course a “bird course” is not as easy as one may believe. I hinted to the fact that there are many subtleties and assumptions that come with generalizing something as a bird course.
In this article, we’ll discuss what you’ve probably been wondering the moment you say my controversial title and probably thought it was ridiculous: HOW EXACTLY IS IT HARMFUL?
Labeling something as a bird course can be harmful in a number of ways:
It Devalues the Subject
Let’s say you’re a science student. You’re looking for a “bird course” so you can raise your GPA. What do you tackle first? Astronomy, Art, Philosophy? Something interesting that you’re passionate about? Or do you nose-dive for sociology, which you know is just readings you can handle the day before the test?
Satisfied, you enroll in the course and eagerly await your first week of classes. You meet up with a few students outside of the classroom; they seem nice, so you engage in some small talk with them.
“What program are you in?” you ask them, excited to learn more about your classmates.
“Oh, I’m planning to major in sociology,” one boy beams.”I’m really good at it, and I’m excited to see what this course is gonna be like.”
Another classmate nods. “And I’m doing criminology,” she says proudly. “I’ve always loved forensics. How about you?”
“Who, me?” you say, chuckling. “Oh, I’m in life sciences/chemical and physical sciences/computer science. The courses in that program are hard, so I’m just taking this to boost my GPA.” You shrug. “I mean, it’s gotta be an easy course, right? You don’t have to do anything and you can get an A.”
BAM. How do you think that made the sociology and criminology majors feel?
To be honest, your reaction (and my reaction) is most likely:
Like, who really cares what other people think? My courses are my business, and my choices don’t affect anyone.
Only the problem here isn’t that they hurt individuals, it’s that it spreads the stereotype of the social sciences and humanities being supposedly easy. Taking the course is NOT harmful; it’s when you look down on courses and treat them as less valuable than other courses that true harm occurs.
I’ve spoken to many sociology students (as I am taking sociology as well) who have told me:
“Wow, you’re taking physics? You must be so smart! I’m just doing criminology because I’m not that smart.”
And this makes my heart break. No! Sociology and criminology and forensics all require a certain set of skills, perspectives, and techniques that science students may not have! It’s just as valuable as any “hard course” can be. Everyone in every course is talented and intelligent in their own ways, and shouldn’t feel like what they’re learning is less valuable, interesting, or challenging than any other course.
This goes for the arts as well. Try to get an engineer to write awe-inspiring lyrics or paint a breath-taking landscape. You may find one, but it will be incredibly, incredibly difficult.
All courses are valuable, even if they’re labelled as “bird courses”. Remember that the people teaching it have spent almost their entire lives working up in the course, mastering the techniques, and learning the information so they can contribute to the field and teach you what you need to know. They’re masters of their field and have fought every challenge to get there. If it were that easy, there would be no need for such high qualifications. Remember that.
You Underestimate the Work Load
You’re an English student, and you desperately need a science credit to fulfill your distribution requirements. Astronomy looks cool, and you want to take it, but it also looks hard…so how about biology? I mean, biology is just a bunch of textbook memorization, right? And the tests are multiple choice, so the answers will be right there. It was your easiest course in high school, where you got a 92% without trying too hard. Sure, maybe you’ll get an 80% in university instead, but that’s still an A, so that’s okay. All you have to do is do the readings, make some notes, and you’re good to go. Right?
Assuming a course is easy from the beginning can make you slack off before it begins. The most harmful thing I’ve seen, especially in physics (who would’ve known?) is that students skip the lectures because they assume that doing the bare minimum at home using the textbook is enough to pass the course…to which I refer to the above meme.
You’re turned off of learning before you even enter the course. You’re coming in with this mindset that you’re not planning to learn anything, only to grab a high mark and get out of there. You read and you write and you study not for the purpose of gaining any benefits from the course, but to boost your grade, and so you don’t try to learn anything from the course because you don’t expect to learn anything.
I know this because I’ve been in the same position and suffered greatly. I piggy-backed off of my previous successes and assumed I could get by with the bare minimum. Leaving the first biology and calculus midterms, I felt confident despite having barely done any homework or studying. As a result, my marks were much, much lower than I expected, and this made me upset.
The question is, why was I upset?
Why was I upset, when I hadn’t done the work required to be upset about a bad mark, when i hadn’t tried my best? Why was I expecting anything higher than a 70%? What had I done to make me expect something like that?
…Was it because I had preconceived notions that the course would be an easy one?
And so I learned two lessons:
- Preconceived assumptions can heavily affect academic performance
- Regardless of what a course is labelled as, hard work and effort are the only things that guarantee a good mark
This goes for all courses. You should ALWAYS expect to put in hard work. There is no such thing as an easy A.
You Harm Your Friends
Ever dragged a friend into a course you thought was easy, only to have you get the A and them suffer with an F?
And ever convinced everyone on the group chat to take anthropology or biology or accounting because “they’re just so easy!”, only to have everyone complaining about how hard the course is?
What you’re doing by spreading the notion of ‘bird courses’ is assuming that everyone has the same strengths, weaknesses, perspectives, background, and interests as you. You’re failing to consider other student perspectives and you’re viewing the course as simply a collection of information that can be consumed in a certain way, when in reality it’s a delicate combination that requires a certain skill set.
Instead of convincing everyone to take a supposedly easy course that you’ve never taken before (remember: a sibling’s rumours and an upper year’s advice may not always apply to you), it’s best to let others make their own informed choices and do their own research.
Now that I’ve raved and ranted for a while, it’s time to give you all a break and let you contemplate these things for a bit.