By Duncan Richter
I don't think this has a name (until now!) but I imagine it's a familiar phenomenon. Here's an (extreme) example. When the school I teach at was preparing to admit women for the first time the question came up of what to do if a student got pregnant. One proposed solution was to have every student take a course in ethics, in which they would learn that pre-marital sex is wrong. Problem solved! There are various issues here, but I take it as obvious that the solution would not in fact solve the alleged problem in question. This does not stop similar mistakes being made. Just recently I saw a suggestion made that narrow-minded people should take a course on diversity. That would fix them. But--am I alone in thinking this?--surely it would not. I mean, it might, but it's not a sure thing.
One reason why having people take a course is not a fix for every problem is that a single course is not enough in every case. One course in a foreign language, for instance, is more or less useless except as a stepping stone to further study of that language. You don't know French or Physics after taking one course. (You don't know "how to write" after taking one composition course either, which makes me skeptical of the generally excellent John Warner's claim that "the course I teach is the most important one" his students will take.)
Another issue is that sometimes what we want is for people to develop certain habits, not just to gain information or acquire a particular set of skills. This is one problem with offering a solitary course on critical thinking, for instance. You can teach some skills in a single course. But you cannot instill lasting habits that way.
And then there's Aristotle's insight that there's not much point in trying to teach ethics to people who are not already fairly ethical. An unethical person won't care what is ethical and what is not. Nor will they be likely to appreciate the truth when led to see it. That is, they won't see it, even when it is pointed out to them. For all of these reasons, it is a fallacy to think that having people take a course is the way to fix every gap or weakness in their mind or character. It seems to be a common idea though.