Three presentations, one hundred pages of obscure academic readings, approaching exams, and extracurricular duties: an average Sciencepiste’s Tuesday. While these responsibilities represent the common college experience, Sciences Po prides itself on being an academically rigorous institution, placing sky-scraping expectations on its students. 

We are required to absorb numerous dense texts a week, follow intense lectures, and prepare presentations during discussion seminars while ideally engaging with extra research about our topics. Presumably, the readings accompanying our lectures help us to delve deeper into the content, enriching our knowledge and fuelling discussion during the seminars. The reality is that most of the time dedicated to seminars revolves around weekly presentations, with more than half of the class time going to listening to our peers present on topics around the lectures. Debate time is limited, discussions are cut off, and presentations are simply paraded as a demonstration of knowledge to the teacher. 

The hundreds of pages of assigned academic readings represent an attempt at imposing an academically challenging experience on students, though in practice skimming through the information for a general idea suffices to guarantee a good grade. This approach fiercely exhibits bulimic learning — where information is quickly absorbed in large quantities, digested for one day, and then thrown up the next day in a class only to be never considered again. No real interaction between peers occurs and hence no real exchange of ideas and knowledge: the opposite of Science’s Po supposed academic vision. 

Is this the way to learn and grow as academics? The system in place is not intellectually challenging, as for something to be truly academically rigorous we would have to reflect on complex concepts, expose ourselves to conflicting opinions, and propose unique ideas and visions that could move political discourse forward.  Instead, we get through tons of material, all of which is deserving of time and engagement. However, due to the quantity of work demanded to output, the system punishes the students who are actually willing to engross themselves in the content and instead rewards simple memorization. 

The result, bulimic learning, arguably conflicts with the fundamental nature of the social sciences. Social sciences should be asking intricate questions about society. This means we should  prioritize discussions and the exchange of knowledge over hard facts from a document that is 200 years old, which is not to say that knowledge and theory are to be disregarded. On the contrary, they play a crucial role in building a foundation for understanding the dynamic societal forces shaping our world. However hard knowledge alone simply serves as an indication of knowledge to be recited to the teacher with no real development of skills or application to modern issues. 

We are not in medical school, we do not need to memorize all of the parts of the human anatomy. We need thought-provoking discussions that could push political discourse forward alongside seminar professors who fuel debate and share their expertise, rather than passively listening to the person presenting while the rest of the class is quietly asleep.   

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