Philosophy and Star Trek – Georgetown University
Introduction to Wines – Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration
Street Fighting Mathematics – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jay-Z and Kanye West – University of Missouri
How to Win a Beauty Pageant: Race, Gender, Culture, and U.S. National Identity – Oberlin College
This summer, Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will offer a course titled "The Sociology of Miley Cyrus."
“I created it as a creative and rigorous way of looking at what’s relevant about sociology and sociology theory,” she told the Schenectady Daily Gazette. “Miley Cyrus is a surprisingly complicated cultural moment.”
This isn't the first time a university course has used a celebrity to tackle a social issue -- Rutgers had a class on Beyoncé and feminism, the University of Missouri offered one on Jay-Z and Kanye West as a way to talk about other famous creative relationships and the University of South Carolina used Lady Gaga to talk about the "sociology of fame."
The main complaint thrown at courses like these is that they're frivolous and a waste of money. But are classes like "The Material Culture in the Victorian Novel" or "The Power of Ornament: Roman Imperial Imagery and Its Reception" really more practical than studying gender politics through our cultural reaction to the VMAs?
Despite sky-rocketing tuitions, going to college still pays; however, as a recent study by PayScale illustrates, not all degrees are created equal. Major in science, engineering or math at a top-tier school, and your predicted return on investment sky-rockets.
Still, there's a solid argument to be made that it's not what you learn, but how you learn. And in that vein, it's not what you learn about Miley Cyrus but how you do it.
Here are five other classes that take an untraditional approach to learning. While most of them have eyebrow raising titles, on closer inspection, they're all far less ridiculous than advertised.
From the course description: "Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to learn philosophy, than to watch Star Trek, read philosophy, and hash it all out in class? That's the plan. This course is basically an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments."
From the course description: "Students will be introduced to the major wine-producing regions of the world. The course focuses on understanding the terms on a wine label, evaluation techniques, identifying aromas and flavors and connecting flavors to the growing and productions factors that influence them. Food and wine pairing, wine etiquette and responsible consumption are also topics. This forms the basis for what a consumer needs to know to confidently navigate a wine list and to make sound purchase decisions in retail wine shops or online."
While this course could be seriously useful for those going into the wine or restaurant business, there's an added bonus for those who take it: All students are exempt from 21-year-old age requirement under Section 65 of New York State law.
From the course description: "This course teaches the art of guessing results and solving problems without doing a proof or an exact calculation. Techniques include extreme-cases reasoning, dimensional analysis, successive approximation, discretization, generalization, and pictorial analysis."
From the course description: "This course looks at the career and work of Jay-Z and Kanye West from three perspectives: (1) Where do they fit within, and how do they change, the history of hip-hop music? (2) How is what they do similar to and different from what poets do?, and (3) How does their rise to both celebrity and corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream? In addition to listening to music and watching videos, we will also read Jay-Z's Decoded."