It is a curious phenomenon that at one of the most intellectually rigorous universities in the country, reading doesn’t count for much.
Understandably, in the flurry of midterms, papers and extracurricular activities, assigned readings often get pushed to the bottom of many students’ to-do lists. But considering that much of our education is based on texts, a culture of skipped reading has a deleterious effect on both the classroom experience and general academic life.
The fault does not belong to any one party. On the assigning end, excessive page counts can make it nearly impossible to fully absorb readings. In the drive to maximize the semester, professors tend to overload syllabi to the point where skimming becomes inevitable. And for humanities students taking four or five history, English or philosophy courses, the burden can be especially intense. While Georgetown students should certainly be held to high expectations, reducing the amount of reading and making it more focused would give professors more leverage to demand accountability.
There is no easy solution to this trend, which undoubtedly plagues many college campuses. However, installing more measures of accountability would be helpful. Pop quizzes are one means toward such evaluation, but professors should also consider adopting the informal but effective approach of cold-calling on students. When a participation grade is linked to the students’ abilities to answer questions about the text or how to apply it, there is more of an incentive to put in the work, as students and professors likely have experienced in courses that already use these tactics. If implemented more widely, however, this model should remain flexible — perhaps allowing students one or two “get out of jail free” excuses per semester for days when unforeseeable challenges make finishing all reading truly impossible.
A packed syllabus whose contents are neglected does everyone involved a disservice. By narrowing assignments and expanding expectations, Georgetown professors could make academic life even more vibrant.