15 Strangest College Courses

The gang at Online Colleges Blog have compiled a list of “The 15 Strangest College Courses In America.”  They concede that these courses “sound like lots of fun” but wonder “with tuition costs skyrocketing is it really worth it to spend thousands of dollars on fun diversions?”  Among the offerings:

Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows (University of California, Berkeley)

Not quite what one would expect, the professor of this course emphasizes repeatedly in the course listing that this class is “NOT a course about law or “legal reasoning.” It is instead an exploration of logical fallacies that are often presented by defendants and plaintiffs on court television shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court. Seems right up the alley of most college students, as they are squarely in the demographic of afternoon television programming (which also targets the elderly and unemployed).

Learning From YouTube (Pitzer College)

This college course literally involves watching YouTube videos to study the impact on culture that the video sharing site has had. Students also upload their own videos to the class YouTube channel. The teacher started the course after being “underwhelmed by the quality of the video content on the site”.

Philosophy and Star Trek (Georgetown University)

Philosophy classes often use pop culture to start discussion, there are even plenty of books out there with similar themes as this college class (here’s Seinfeld and Philosophy for instance), but still, when it comes down to it, this course and the philosophical under trappings are just being used as an excuse to talk a little Star Trek. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Science of Superheroes (University of California at Irvine)

Students at UC Irvine can learn about physics by using familiar superhero icons such as Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. The professor teaches the physics of flying and fluid dynamics using Superman as his example, and the students also learn about super strong spider silk as used by Spider-Man. The professor explains it saying “It gives me a chance to talk about real science but in a context that is very familiar to the students”.

And so on.  Tyler Cowen takes the counterintuive position of being “impressed at how sensible the offerings were.  ‘Learning from YouTube’ strikes me as more valuable than 80 percent of what is currently on tap.  I also think it is often useful to teach science through the medium of a TV show or to teach philosophy through The Simpsons.  It fosters personal involvement and if you don’t, most of the students aren’t learning anything anyway.”

I tend to agree.

Reading the comments on Cowen’s post, it turns out that a goodly number of the 15 listings aren’t even “college courses” in any meaningful sense in that they don’t earn credits toward a degree.  Still, there’s no reason they couldn’t.

Figuring out how to utilize subjects already interesting to students and turn them into teachable moments is a classic teaching technique.  I often used discussions about current events, clips from Monty Python films or George Carlin routines for that purpose.   Why not build whole classes around the idea?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    Whoever came up with “The Wrath of Kant” needs to be shot.

  2. John425 says:

    What’s next: A seminar on Factual news data from Comedy Central and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show”?

  3. Eneils Bailey says:

    My son went to UNC at Chapel Hill, graduated in two years and eight months, two months before he was twenty-one.

    He lived on campus, in a dorm, devoting his time to getting in, get a decent education and get out. He graduated with honors with a degree in Information Technology.

    During my visits with him, on campus, I met two of his roommates in his dorm room.
    Both were very bright young men, plotting a course through college studies that would take them four years and eight months to complete. Essentially, spending five years in securing a degree.
    My son told me that they were taking enough courses to get a degree, eventually taking the same courses he did to complete the course of study but filling five years of college with “fluff and stuff” to stretch it out to five years.

    Parents have to be careful; their students are closer to being babies than adults. Parents should be more conscientious as to what they allow their kids to sign up for, how they spend their time, and what the short term goals of their are..

  4. Drew says:

    Fascinating, the state of liberal arts education. And instructive.

    Over in the real world, I shudder to think about the welfare of workers in a chemical plant whose engineers skipped physical chemistry for a You Tube version of how the Simpson’s think about operating fluidized bed boilers……………….

    “So how do you ‘feel’ about Homer’s musings about that rising temperature? Can we draw parallels with rising racial tensions in the South? What does this say about changing values in America? ……. KABOOM!!!!!!!!!!

  5. James Joyner says:

    Over in the real world, I shudder to think about the welfare of workers in a chemical plant whose engineers skipped physical chemistry for a You Tube version of how the Simpson’s think about operating fluidized bed boilers

    Presumably, these are elective courses. Engineers are still going to have to take engineering courses, historians history courses, and so forth. The likely result of these sorts of classes is that lit majors learn something about science and scientists learn something about philosophy. Not so bad, really.

  6. Fascinating, the state of liberal arts education. And instructive.

    I think it would be a serious mistake to assume that this list tells us anything about “the state of liberal arts education.” We are talking here about a list of courses, some of which are extension, non-credit courses, out of sea of hundreds of thousands of courses at thousands of universities and colleges.

    And I am with James: in limited quantities such courses could actually be quite useful in getting students to think–which is supposed to be one of the main purposes of going to school in the first place.

  7. steve s says:

    That anti-intellectual ‘over in the real world’ sneer reminds me of a question two NASCAR fans asked me onetime in the cafe of the Barnes and Noble in Crabtree Valley Mall. They had an argument. One guy said when the car goes around a turn both wheels turn the same amount ’cause otherwise each side of the car’d be going a different speed and that was like impossible. The other guy said no they do go different speeds. I don’t know why they asked me to referee, but I told them, The outside wheel turns faster. It has to, because the outside radius of a turn is larger. So the outside wheel goes a greater distance in the same amount of time, and must turn faster to do that. The guy on the losing end of the argument sneered up his nose and complained, “You’re talking about physics. I’m just talking about cars.”

    It would be nice of some of our modern-day anti-intellectual conservatives knew that several of our founding fathers thought a liberal-arts education was just about the highest thing one could do.

    I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine. -John Adams