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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Tutorial, curriculum re-examined

Choosing a tutorial is an integral part of the first-year experience. It’s the only class we have a part in choosing before arriving on campus and also the first we attend once here. But while the tutorial system looks impregnably established to many students, this year actually marks its 40th anniversary. That comes out to just over a quarter of the school’s lifetime.

To mark the occasion, The Grinnell College Debating Union reenacted the discussions that resulted in the tutorial system’s formation in Burling Library. The event could not have occurred at a more appropriate time, as the College is now re-evaluating the impact of both tutorials and the open curriculum.

Julianne Toia ’15 spoke first, laying out the merits of an open curriculum and the introductory tutorials. A lack of hard requirements would let students maximize their own potential and choose their own paths, while the tutorial system would give first years a unique opportunity to interact with each other and get used to college lifestyle.

The opposition’s first speech raised questions about how we learn here, such as: what if you would really have liked to take a required course in retrospect, but didn’t know about it before you took a class in which it would have been helpful? Could professors work without the students having some established prerequisites?  And was segregating the classes by age depriving everyone involved of valuable perspectives?

At the end of the night, the proposition side won the motion, but lost the technical debate by a slim margin. And as Erica Hauswald ’12 explained, this divide is readily apparent in the student body at large. Hauswald is part of a student-led initiative to assess the tutorial system and open curriculum at the college and as a writing mentor, Hauswald had the opportunity to look over student papers arguing for and against the tutorial system which found the same split opinion there. As for herself, Hauswald sees the program as providing crucial information about the opportunities that are available at Grinnell.

“I’m a huge advocate of the tutorial. One of the most important roles of the tutorial is to … prepare you to seek out other resources,” Hauswald said. “If your tutorial teaches you how to use the writing lab … if it teaches you to seek out help … then I think it’s done its job.”

However, Hauswald admits that the tutorial system may be overly ambitious in its scope.

“I think a lot of the debate about it is whether or not one course can fulfill everything that it’s supposed to do,” Hauswald said. “It’s been on the College’s mind for a long time—whether or not the tutorial is doing its job effectively.”

Over the course of the year, the group hopes to gather student and faculty opinions through surveys and focus groups of second year students looking back on their tutorial experience. And at the end of all of this, they hope to synthesize their research into a comprehensive report on this unique Grinnellian tradition.

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