BY PATRICK KELLEY
When weighing where to go to graduate school, SAIS’s rigorous economics requirements were marginally more attractive than intimidating, but intimidating nonetheless. Armed with residual economic knowledge from my 2009 freshman microeconomics course, the quantitative skills that only a mother could love and selfdeprecating humor about both, I decided on SAIS knowing it would be a challenge. Frankly, I chose to attend preterm so I could have two shots at micro. While I struggled in the course, I passed thanks largely to SAIS’s resource-rich, student-centered program. While I, and students like me, will always struggle compared to the quant wizards that SAIS attracts, restructuring the weekly TA sessions based on skill level would optimize the preterm experience for all involved.
Let’s first start with the things that shouldn’t change about preterm, I’m talking of course about lecture. When I sat down in my first preterm microeconomics lecture in August, I knew I was academically outmatched, but it didn’t matter. Flanked by econ sorcerers from the world’s top universities didn’t make that much of a difference in how I retained information during the class, because it was a lecture, which by its very nature is not interactive. But the TA sessions were a different story.
Desperately needing help processing the daily flood of economic information that we were expected to retain, I attended each TA session during preterm. It was clear from the first session that the econ sorcerers with whom I bonded during lecture wouldn’t benefit from my involvement in the TA sessions, nor, really, would I benefit from hearing their questions. I mean, how can sticking a student like myself, who has never seen a derivative before preterm, be expected to be on the same page as the former econ majors who probably would’ve been better off taking the waiver exam — yeah, you know who you are.
This is to say nothing about the almost certain struggle the delightful TAs had to endure. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for SAIS’s three econ musketeers to cater to remedial algebra questions one second and then fast-forwarding to advanced Cobb-Douglas shortcuts the next. It’s a near certainty that by dividing up the econ students based on skill level or past experience that the TAs would have been able to have been more effective — and probably more relaxed — and the students would likely have benefited from being in a class that goes at their pace.
But this isn’t hand-holding. There is precedent for separating students based on skill at SAIS. Just look at the preterm survival Italian class. According to my sources (my roommate) the students in preterm survival Italian — even those with no background in the language — were required to take a placement test to see which level they should be in. This makes sense. There were a number of SAISers with backgrounds in romance languages that could at least recognize cognates, and who had a general grasp on romance grammar, who could begin at a more advanced level. Then, of course, there were also students with little or no background in romance languages that needed to start at a slower pace.
Considering SAIS admits students with the same variance of economic knowledge — those who must take principles of microeconomics in the summer and those with A averages in the subject in undergrad — separating the TA sessions based on previous economic attainment is reasonable.
I think nothing states the need for this change more than the organic migration of SAISers from their assigned TA session to another. About halfway through preterm, a handful of the quantitatively-challenged heard that certain TA sessions were more suited to their needs. I was among the many who cheated on their respective assigned TAs. I’m Catholic, so I would have preferred an annulment, but I had few other choices. I needed something that was more at my pace, and I made the switch.
Hopefully next preterm, when the new batch of Bolognesi settles into SAIS, there will be an improved economics schedule in place. Not only for the good of the students, but for the TAs as well.