Colleges are Going Gaga Over Crazy Courses

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Lady Gaga

Your college kid's schedule: linguistics, Latin and Lady Gaga. Credit: Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images


Remember when swing dancing and Soap Operas 101 seemed like wild and crazy college classes? Well, today's eclectic mix of higher education course offerings ensure that your college student won't spend her lecture time glued to her iPod or nodding off in the back of the classroom.

Since classes are the reason your kids have to roll out of bed before noon after staying up half the night "studying," you may be surprised to learn that aside from the regular history lessons and math-you'll-never-use-again courses, Junior has some cool picks filling up his syllabi this semester -- classes that may make you want to double check how your tuition dollars are being spent.

Experts say these college classes -- inspired by everything from Homer Simpson to heavy metal -- are the courses of the future.

"The thing to remember is, even though these courses have crazy names, they're no less academically rigorous than anything else in the curriculum," Jordan Goldman, founder the online college resource Unigo, tells ParentDish. "These courses are taught by the same professors as more boring-sounding classes like Psych 101, and they use the same basic skills and they have the same workloads."

Goldman says the unusual courses simply give students an opportunity to apply their academic skills in more fun, "now" contexts.

"For example, a course on 'The Simpsons' might push students to use the same close reading and analytical skills they'd use when writing a paper on 'Jane Eyre' ... but this time, they're applying those modes of analysis to Bart and Lisa and Milhouse," he says.

Here's a look at some of the non-traditional classes now being offered.

Not a Piece of Cake (or Meat). Leading the roster of crazy-cool courses is Lady Gaga. University of Virginia students enrolled in GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity, analyze how the musician pushes social boundaries with her work in an introductory course to argumentative essay writing.

"We're exploring how identity is challenged by gender and sexuality and how Lady Gaga confronts this challenge," writing instructor and grad student Christa Romanosky tells The Cavalier Daily. A role model for your daughter? Remember, her carnivore couture is to inspire she's not a piece of meat. And, as Lady Gaga recently tells People: "My philosophy is: 'Don't place limits on yourself.' "

We'll Drink to That. For a $150 lab fee, more than 300 students each year (92 students in three sections) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, sip Chianti, Barolo and Valpolicella at the end of two-and-a-half-hour lectures to get a visceral feel of the various wine-growing regions around the world, instructor John Keegan tells ParentDish.

The class, Viticulture and Enology, is meant to turn your student into a budding sommelier.

"We're trying to show aromas and the balance and flaws in wines from each region," Keegan says. "We talk about what is tasted, the grape varieties and how wines are made, etc."

There's so much to learn that students can't possibly sip it all up in one semester, so summer excursions to Tuscany and other European vineyards are a must.

Take a Hike. The Art of Walking at Centre College in Danville, Ky., keeps students strolling -- literally. Students spend mornings at their desks -- the traditional academic setting -- studying Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Judgment" and afternoons hiking nearby Civil War battlefields.

"Our discussions in the morning sessions are as hard as marble. Sometimes we need something like a chisel and hammer to get through to the ideas," philosophy instructor Ken Keffer says in a release. "The afternoon walks flow like water in comparison, loosen tongues in the free play of unsupervised conversation. More interestingly, the adventurous, wild and curious nature of the students comes out, something you see less easily, if at all, in class. You don't have to go far to walk."

Trash Talk. The Joy of Garbage at Santa Clara University is not a YouTube video class where your offspring films his dorm room. But it does carry a similar yuck factor. Apparently, the mold, methane and lots of decomposing, dead and rotting things don't scare students away. Environmental studies instructor Virginia Matzek says in a school release that the syllabus goes far beyond "why recycling is good," and covers the science and consequences of what humans consume and discard.

Daring Divas. Students climb trees for P.E. credit at Cornell University. According to Cornell's Courses of Study catalogue, a class called High Adventure: Tree Climbing teaches students how to "get up into the canopy of any tree, to move around, even to climb from one tree to another without touching the ground."

Carpe Deliciousness. Harvard University's Science of Cooking attracts almost 700 students who sign up for a lottery to be one of the 350 who make it into the kitchen. Student Lingbo Li, a senior and student in the class, has become the campus foodie with her own blog about what goes on when baking molten chocolate cakes and other culinary adventures. She also heads the Culinary Society of Campus. "We've got renowned chefs from around the world coming into our class," she tells ParentDish.

Mergers and Acquisitions. Exploring the connections between their playlists and tunes, students at Miami University are enrolling in Technology and History of Heavy Metal Music. The idea is that technology has extensively influenced the musical genre of heavy metal, enabling some of its most defining characteristics. In turn, heavy metal has had a substantial influence on global society, philosophy, politics and nearly every other aspect of our lives. The course description touts that students will be able to hear about this connection directly from band members.

Related: Colleges Tell Parents to Shove Off - Politely

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