Why you take General Chemistry, even though you’ll never need it



General Chemistry I and General Chemistry II were the most difficult classes I took in college. They’re both 100-level, geared toward incoming freshmen. I’ve since taken 300, 400, 500, and 600-level classes. None were as difficult as I remember General Chemistry being.

That’s not a mistake, that’s by design.

The students sitting in introductory chemistry classes want to be doctors. They want to be nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, optometrists, or engineers. They’ve all chosen to pursue a demanding career with demanding academic requirements.

And it turns out that chemistry is an ideal science to learn how to learn. It’s systematic, every lesson building on the next. You start with atoms and molecules, then ions and bonding.  It builds, and eventually it becomes so complicated that you need to spend significant time studying on your own, or you’ll fail the class.

In short, you can’t do well unless you’ve learned how to learn. A student’s mid-term grade in Gen Chem is often her first wake-up call that she doesn’t know how to. The wake-up call is the point of the class.

Who would want a doctor who can’t learn on her own?

Photo by Jeff Goldberg

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