Are 'gut' classes as easy as they seem?

| 11/25/02 6:00am

Every college student encounters "gut" classes -- easy classes taken to fulfill distribution requirements, or to get a good grade with minimal work.

Although these gut classes might at first seem to contradict the high standards of Dartmouth, they have a special place in the hearts of students.

When asking students to name gut classes, any number of rhyming nicknames surface.

"I've heard of some easy classes " 'rocks for jocks,' 'quakes for flakes,' and 'clapping for credit,'" said Gabby Sapia '03, referring to Earth Sciences 2, Earth Sciences 5 and Music 10, respectively, just some of the gut courses mentioned by students.

While these courses might garner a reputation for being easy, students enrolled in these courses do not always agree that they deserve to be guts. Heather Boldt '03 said the guts she has taken were hard due to the large number of students enrolled.

"These 'gut' classes are supposed to be easy," Sonia Tarantolo '04 said, "but they always end up being big intro courses where it's hard to get an A because the students in the front row with color-coded notes throw off the curve."

Courses considered guts often have high enrollment rates, with 164 for Classics 1, 116 for Classics 2, 68 for Earth Sciences 1 and 124 for Earth Sciences 2. The highest was in Russian 13, with 293 students this term.

According to Professor Lev Loseff, high enrollment causes "big problems in communication" in his Russian 13 course, which he teaches along with Professor Jennifer Tishler.

"This creates a challenge in terms of testing," Loseff said. "There is no way we can assign a brief essay. Imagine what it would mean to grade 300 essays."

Tishler attributed the gut reputation to the subject matter of the course, saying "people do not consider folklore and fairy tales to be worthy of serious study."

But Scott Stewart '03 attributes the popularity to the course's content. The syllabus includes not only folk and fairy tales, but theoretical works such as Vladimir Propp's "Morphology of the Folk Tale."

"I consider it the best class I have ever taken," Stewart said.

Students also found that gut classes were not always as easy as they heard.

"I took 'Rocks' 1 thinking it was a gut class," said Young Lee '03. "It ended up being impossible."

"The fact that class attendance is high shows that students are aware of the demands of the course," said Professor Mary Williamson, who teaches Classics 1. "If they don't understand, then perhaps it is a reflection of the student more than the course."

Whether a course is a gut not only depends on the perspective of the students, but also on the professors. "The problem is that the classes depend on the professors because they change each term," Lisa Glassman '04 said.

The workloads in guts may not be significantly easier, but there are still advantages to having these courses.

"When I'm taking two labs, or two courses for my major, it's kind of nice to have gut courses," Meg Miller '06 said. "It allows me to take a class in a different discipline without worrying about overloading my schedule."

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