Treating Our Ills


"HOW WE GIVE STRUCTURE to the learning experience is important, and there is real work to be done," said President Neil L. Rudenstine during his installation almost a month ago. "We can involve more regular faculty in small group teaching, and we can develop better structures that will allow us to review and strengthen the substance of our curriculum on a continuing basis."

Rudenstine is right. That's why students sitting on Widener steps cheered his comments. They know that academic advising is rarely helpful, that most Expos classes do not improve students' writing, that science classes are graded on a tougher curve than those in the humanities and social sciences, and that large lecture courses alienate students--especially those in their first semester at Harvard.

In the past, administrators could argue that the experiences of an unfortunate few unfairly colored the perceptions of the many. But last week, Professor of Education Richard J. Light issued a report confirming that most students share these long-standing complaints.

THE LIGHT REPORT not only diagnoses the problem with undergraduate education but also recommends methods for treating it. Light encourages students to keep time logs so that they can learn how to structure their time better. He suggests that teachers give specific, revision-oriented comments when they critique student writing. He urges students to form study groups to discuss readings and problems sets outside of class, noting that these informal gatherings are especially crucial for the success of women in science courses. And he recommends that first-year students take at least one course a semester that has a small enrollment, aside from Expos.

Light's suggestions are worthwhile and eminently practical. Some professors, especially those teaching foreign language courses, already incorporate the methods that Light suggests. Others need to restructure their courses so that they engage undergraduates more. Advisers may need to rethink their tried-and-true counsel of the past. And students need to challenge themselves to become better writers and more active participants in their courses.

Rudenstine should endorse the reasonable recommendations of Light's report and keep them firmly in mind as he sets out to restructure Harvard's undergraduate curriculum.