Editor’s note: Brendan Craine is a junior at Denver School of the Arts, where his focus is creative writing.
It recently occurred to me that I’ve spent an unsettlingly large amount of time wondering what I am going to do with my life.
We all know what it is at some point in our lives, whether you had a clear-cut plan from day one, or if you started at second grade with “Dinosaur-Robot-Time-Traveler.” The problem is that while a student may know exactly what it is he or she wants to do, knowing how to accomplish that goal is not something taught in schools. We are all given essentially the same fundamental academic base, with very little individual tailoring until mid-high school.
I’m not suggesting that this is somehow wrong – I think that a community with a common set of knowledge is important for maintaining that community. After all, if everyone had only their set of skills, with no overlap, it would be much harder for us to relate to each other.
However, if your sights are set on becoming a pilot for the Air Force, then it would be hard for you to understand why you must endure something like Applied Chemistry to be able to achieve your dream. And honestly, there isn’t much of a reason, aside from the fact that you will need to complete high school to become a pilot, and Applied Chem. is one of the required courses. Given that, it’s understandable why some students might not feel especially motivated to excel in courses that have no correlation to what they want.
This FAQ section from the University of Oregon suggests that encouraging a student and drawing connections between what they are learning and their own life is a good way to interest them in the source material. But what if there isn’t actually any kind of connection, or the student lacks interest in the part of his or her life that the course relates to? Even if someone explains that it is important to study literature to gain a better appreciation for various cultures and viewpoints on life how does that motivate a student who is really only interested in engineering?
In college, a certain amount of freedom is available. You can take classes that relate to what you are interested in learning, and if the class turns out to be focused on something that you don’t want to focus on, you can drop it. Although not exactly encouraged, dropping classes in college is by no means a frowned upon activity.
This same amount of choice does not exist on the high school level. Dropping classes is possible, but graduation requirements (and I am specifically referring to those of DPS) make it very difficult to do while still retaining enough credits to graduate. This comes as a frustration for me, since there have been a number of classes during my academic career that I would have loved to drop and replace with courses that I am actually interested in.
So why don’t we allow students to personalize their educations in this way?
Well for one, we like to keep a standardized system. In the same way that we have CSAPs and the SAT and ACTs, we like to be able to look at a large pool of student grade data while maintaining a constant frame of reference. If a class of 300 freshmen take political science, and they all get grades, then we immediately know which freshman did best in that course.
Compare that to a class of 300 freshman, 50 of whom take political science, while the other 250 drop it for painting, Algebra 2, Music Theory, Chemistry 2, Psych 1, or Intro to European Literature. Who’s to say who the best student was, from that group? The courses just aren’t comparable, and that makes analyzing them very difficult.
So, some might argue,why not just put all the freshman in the same classes? After all, isn’t political science relevant in this day and age? An understanding of government and politics is a basic building block for someone living in the U.S., and anyone should be able to find interest in it. …Unless that person plans to move to a different country, or remain uninvolved in the democratic system, or just doesn’t like to watch the news, or just simply isn’t interested.
I can appreciate how necessary it is to maintain a public knowledge base. We have to be able to relate to each other somehow, after all. Would it not be better, though, if that common ground came from a shared living experience, rather than knowledge of certain subjects?
And wouldn’t students who are given more freedom to choose their own life paths focus better on subjects that they want to be learning about? My best grades have always been in the classes that interest me, and I don’t know anyone with whom that is not the case.
I am not suggesting a dramatic revamping of the educational system, or even any kind of change at all. I am merely commenting on the effectiveness of student motivation. Any person can motivate himself or herself, and with a system that makes it easier to create one’s preferred educational menu, students could be actively engaged in their own education, rather than have someone else manage it for them, and then act disappointed when the students are less than enthusiastic.
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