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The big easy 

Need to boost your GPA? University calendars are full of classes that might just be the ticket to an A.

There sometimes comes a point on the road of higher learning when, because your brain needs a break—or you’re just a slack ass—you may want to throw all pretense of actually furthering your education to the wind for a while, and sign up for something, shall we say, easy. In my case, I carefully weighed my optional courses, and decided in year three of university to take a skating class. The fact that I could already skate quite well meant that I was guaranteed an “A” or “A-” at worst; about two letter grades above my average at the time. Certainly something to celebrate.

The class was comprised of some fourth-stringer on the university hockey team, about eight ankle benders and myself. The instructor was the assistant hockey coach, and whether he ever had anything like a lesson plan, we never knew. By class number two, he simply appeared at the side of the rink, pointed to hockey boy and me and said: “You two guys take the class through some figure-eights. Forward and backward. After that it’s 50 minutes free skate. I’ve got game film to watch.”

The point of taking a course that offers little in the way of practical application to what you’re planning to do in life is to have a little fun with your education. Post-secondary study will offer plenty in the way of challenges as is, so, like me, you can always consider supplementing courses in advanced calculus or the study of international monetary policy with something you already know a lot about.

If, for example, you’re already fluent in another language as well as English, it might be fun to sign up for an introductory ESL course. The key would be speaking only your foreign language from the minute you walk in, pretending to stumble through weeks of instruction, and then go in at the end and ace the exam. Your classmates will be amazed.

Another idea is to look to your hobbies for inspiration. You may be a business student at Nova Scotia Community College who likes to putter in the garden on the weekends. A quick perusal through the NSCC course calendar’s Trades and Technology section reveals two courses that offer some possibility. The first is called Landscape Plant Materials, where you will learn all the botanical Latin names of the various plants, trees and grasses in your garden—something that is sure to impress the folks down at the local garden centre next spring. The other is Grower Principles, where students actually take part in growing a whole greenhouse full of flora and fauna. It sounds like a great opportunity to figure out what kind of plants require more work than you want to bother with in your own backyard.

The old saying may be that it’s never a good idea to discuss religion or politics in mixed company. But if you’re getting bored trudging dutifully toward that degree in kinesiology and spoiling for some good old knock-down-drag-out debate for a change, religious studies courses seem to offer endless possibilities. Particularly if you insist on taking the “my religion rocks and yours sucks” attitude throughout. In the course description for a class titled Jesus of Nazareth at Saint Mary’s University, one of the questions to be tackled is: “Did Jesus really exist?” The question appears to be answered later in the description, when JC himself is quoted: “Who do men say that I am?” Insisting, however, that he was just an idea someone came up with in the marketing department of the Nazareth Tourism and Convention Bureau could provide the material for weeks of heated discussion.

As could be expected, the most likely possibilities for educational fun seem to lie in places like the film studies, art and music departments, especially for the non-film studies, art or music major.

Dalhousie, for example, offers a course called Listening to Music (one of Dal’s 3,600 courses, which undoubtedly include The Art of Breathing and Putting on Your Pants One Leg at a Time: An Introduction). Even acknowledging that the class must entail something beyond simply listening to music, really, how hard could it be? And as far as earning a letter grade, the humiliation you would face from your friends for failing a course called Listening to Music would be reason enough to take a few notes in class.

Of course, we all know education is expensive, and so your desire for goofing off should be weighed against the financial cost of taking a course for no real reason at all. Don’t get hooked on it. Maybe limit yourself to one per school year. And if your parents are paying for school, it might be best not to tell them you’ve signed up for The History of Textiles just because you’re a guy on a losing streak in the love department and heard the ratio of women to men in the class is, like, eight to one.

On the other hand, one never knows where taking a chance on signing up for a class just for the hell of it might lead. I got my A in skating, but, better yet, the assistant hockey coach ended up giving me a job, working at the rink on Sunday afternoons as an Ice Patrol for public skating.

It was a job I desperately needed—but working while going to school is a whole other topic. Enjoy the year.

Originally published September 1, 2005.

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