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Home Economics and Happiness

Philip Burrowes

Usually MIT’s course catalog covers such a wide range that it tends to overlap; nearly a third of the departments are just different ways of saying “engineering.” There is, however one field that is historically a staple of academia but totally neglected here. No, not creative writing, but home economics.

Sure, it’s so “high school.” It’s also very television-show-written-by-Lampoon-alums-who-have-long-been-unaware-of-the-actual-high-school-experience. Given the rigorous class schedules most MIT students put themselves through in high school in order to get into Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh? What were we thinking?), however, who among us had the time to stop and smell the roses that are home ec? We were too busy padding our transcript with useless AP Statistics or American History classes to look for immediately useful opportunities (not counting Cisco certification).

Our sacrifice should be repaid and in ironically rapid fashion. The food sciences mini-department must be resurrected. At the very least, give us one class. Wait, Kitchen Chemistry (5.S15) sort of counts.

Well, there are still lots of perpetually passed-over scholarly sectors. Let us not forget communications, a field often monopolized by elite Division I athletes. Such a merit-based oligarchy is unbecoming of any university in a country with historically far more irrational academic traditions, let alone one this close to Harvard. No doubt, given the opportunity legions of students would opt to follow in the steps of their professional athlete idols by acquiring a substantively useless degree of nominal value. Yet does MIT provide any communications classes?

Urban Spatial Structure, Transportation, and Telecommunications I (1.213J), Information and Probability (2.162), Principles of Digital Communications II (6.451), Argumentation and Communication (11.225), Competition in Telecommunications (14.28), Communication for Managers (15.280), Communication Systems Engineering (16.36), Workshop in Professional Correspondence and Electronic Communication: English as a Second Language (21F.231), Telecommunications Modeling and Policy Analysis (ESD.127), The Physics of Information Technology (MAS.862) ... Alright, there are a few. There’s still no degree in it, which means none of the invaluable and intimate faculty mentoring one finds in, say, Course VI.

Even more unnerving, there is no class in underwater basket weaving. Once merely an overused (and inexplicable; it sounds difficult to me) metaphor for fluff classes, the basketry department at MIT is being far surpassed by such innovative institutions as the University of Arizona simply because it does not exist. For those unsure of how such a class would be integrated into the Institute’s rigid course system, I present an arbitrary assortment of acronyms: IAP; STS; ESD; and BEH. That doesn’t even mention the fact that there is an entire division of, yes, Naval Science, which is just begging for random classes.

Speaking of military science, why is there an Aerospace division? Isn’t that Course XVI? All those AS.x classes are unnecessarily taking the place of valuable, previously unexplored studies. What about Apparition Scrutinizes with department head Ray Parker Jr., or Appropriate Solecism starring John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins as Mario and Luigi? While we’re at it, let’s shift NS.x classes under XIII and replace it with Non Sequitur.

Purple monkey dishwasher.

Don’t even try to learn about making maps here, either. Geography, topography, and geology -- not counting Course XII -- only get token mentions in the course catalog. Maps, however, are vital for getting around places with which you aren’t acquainted. The administration is obviously sending us a message: Get Lost. Hahaha. But seriously, folks.

A few Course XV majors are probably shaking their heads, thinking, “Of course we learn about the Modified American plan.” Or maybe they aren’t. Sloanies are a whole different breed, you know?

Back to the point at hand, MIT doesn’t even have that staple of numerical nomenclature, the 101 class. There are indeed X.101 classes, but they’re not 101 in the universally accepted introductory sense. 17.101, the sole nominally intro X.101 class -- not counting 6.101 as it has prerequisites -- is not even being offered. Instead, departments use a less obvious, more intuitive X.x01 system, where “x” may not exist (Cf. 1.001 and 8.01). That still may be eschewed for X.000 or X.01x. Course XVIII actually has the audacity to make 18.101 the second in a series.

Why all of this iconoclasm? True, any leading institution must have a degree of uniqueness. Nonconformity for its own sake, however, is paradoxically conformity. If that is the true purpose behind the course catalog’s eccentricity, it would not only fail to achieve that purpose, but do so to the detriment of underwater basket weavers everywhere.