In college, I studied government and political science. Years later when
my son was about to enter college, I counseled him to follow his own
interests and not to worry about the alleged economic return of specific
courses. Despite my strong interest in government, most of the courses I
could then remember 25 years after my graduation were in English and
American literature and in Fine Arts.
To me this suggested that one major contribution of a university is in
providing freedom for the student to discover new interests and to pursue
them. Equally important is the opportunity to learn whether a future
vocation or profession is appropriate. A student's decision to abandon
future studies in law or medicine, for example, may reflect greater
understanding and awareness rather than the lack of ability.
Anyone who has ever graded an exam in a course he has taught is unlikely
to enjoy repeating the experience. It is difficult to craft an exam that
will cover the course material and that can also be marked promptly.
Interest in the subject, rather than the need to prepare for exams, seems
far more likely to promote learning that will outlast the exam period.
Term papers or open-book, take-home exams with limits on the length of
student responses may even provide a better incentive for study and
application of course materials than would a closed-book exam. That was
my experience in teaching third year law students the law of trusts and
estates. Presenting the far more enjoyable writings of Mark Twain in this
manner could have even more positive results.