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While Thought-Provoking, Altschul's Idea Misguided

Guest Column by George X. Torres

While I did find Brett Altschul's column ["Freshman Year Policies Need Revision," May 14] thought-provoking, I feel that some of the alternative viewpoints on this issue should be addressed.

Altschul claims there are two groups of students that are adversely affected by the Pass/No Record policy for MIT freshmen: hard working freshmen and slackers. I do not see this as the case; I see Pass/No Record as an opportunity. As with any opportunity, you can utilize it to the fullest, or you can abuse it to your detriment.

The case for the first group, the hard workers, lacks support. Altschul states that official recognition for hard work through grades is lacking. I think that these are not the only rewards to be had from freshman year, and that the desire for skill and knowledge should outweigh the desire to be praised and have something to show to others. I am not Pavlov's dog. Rewards come in many forms; one merely has to be aware of them.

If there were no grades entirely during freshman year I would be equally displeased. Grades as I see it are an assessment of one's comprehension of a subject and should be used as such. If people feel their comprehension of a subject does not match their personal standards, they can change the way they get the grades they do. They can study more, or whatever it takes. Students should use grades as a tool, not as a reward.

As for the second group, Altschul's argument is well-founded but misguided. The reason that many freshman choose not to work stems from the opportunity that Pass/No Record presents and a lack of forethought about their futures at MIT.

With college comes a wealth of opportunities. With this comes the opportunity to slack off. If an A equals a C equals a P, why do all the work? The case is simple for doing the work. Pass/No Record doesn't last forever and most will need the knowledge later.

When sophomore year finally gets here, how will slackers study? The way they learned. If they did not take the opportunity to change their study habits while they where freshmen, the bad habits will remain.

There is a point of having prerequisites. It is to ensure that one has sufficient knowledge to comprehend and acquire the subject matter of a given course. I would find it extremely difficult to do differential equations without all of my prior mathematics background. It includes arithmetic through multivariable calculus. If freshmen cannot see this, it is their own fault that they are not prepared to take a class.

Altschul also states that the opinion of most students of why some students do better than others is that they have a better background and not that they are more intelligent. This is clearly a case of lack of observation. Preparation can carry you to a point, but after that the A's go to the students who work the hardest for the most part.

Altschul does bring up a very good point on the subject of Interphase. I agree with him that this does beg the question as to why Interphase cannot be for all students who have poor educational backgrounds. I can personally vouch for the fact that not all underrepresented minorities have poor educational backgrounds. I would say that my background is good, and I am an American of Mexican descent. Yet those who are not underrepresented minorities have no such opportunity to improve there background as underrepresented minorities do.