Thursday, March 23, 2006

High School majors?!

I've seen this one around, and it seems fairly important (especially if you're living in Florida, which I am not): Florida high school students may pick majors.

Honestly, besides the fact that it's ludicrous to have 14 year olds deciding what they want to do with the rest of their lives, it's even more ludicrous to limit their time with a liberal, wide-encompassing education. We've already gone so far as to turn college into an almost-completely career-focused place of learning; it does NOT need to spread to high schools. Granted, some people know or think they know what they want to do with their lives at the age of 14, but these people especially need to have their chance at a broader education. They need to know what else is out there and learn these basic skills as members of society before they plunge into their career training.

Moreover--and somewhat more related to this blog--what is this going to do to less popular majors that are already struggling to survive? Classics is hardly the only example, but it's obviously the one with which I'm most familiar. It's already tough enough to keep Latin programs alive in high schools. If those go, you can be sure there's no way a person could major in Classics in high school. Unless people have the initiative to change their majors once they reach college, most are going to stick with their major from HS (because they'll figure they're ahead that way). So smaller majors that are unsupportable by high schools are just going to get swept away that much quicker.

And this offends me both as a Classics major and as an English major. We have enough problems with English majors not knowing anything about the literature on which much of English lit was based. We do not need to have the Classics departments wiped out, leaving English majors with even less opportunity to learn these basics. Believe me you, it is sorry enough how many English instructors I've come across who do know their Classical literature/mythology/history well enough to understand important allusions in English literature.

And what about that person who goes to a high school where no Latin is offered and who could not major in Classics in high school? If I'm already having trouble getting into grad school because I started my languages late, what does this do for the person who didn't "major" in Latin/Classics in high school because s/he couldn't and who has to compete with those who were given the opportunity? Not many freshmen are driven enough to play the catch-up game, and Classics would lose a lot of good people who settled for English (or something else) instead.

Anyway, I appreciate the sentiment behind this proposal, but if we want to help our high school students, we need to focus more on actually teaching them and teaching them a broad range of things, not just preparing them for a bunch of standardised tests.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it makes them think about their futures, I can see the benefits. I never thought about being an adult (and having to function like one) as a high school student -- and no one ever suggested I do so, much to the detriment of my early college career. I don't think there's anything suggesting that these kids have to keep focusing on what they're interested in in high school, though. The only thing that makes me suspicious is that Jeb Bush is behind it...

9:22 PM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

LOL Well, there's certainly nothing I can see that's going to force anyone to keep their focus, but if you look at the push to get ahead early that there already is, the very fact that you're already ahead in a certain focus from HS is not exactly going to encourage switching.

And I think universities are going to take this into account to a certain degree too, making it harder for people who might be motivated to switch.

I agree that they need to get HS students to buckle down and learn a little about responsibility; I just don't think this is the way to do it. There are too many downsides, such as losing a broader education. I mean, if we can't even manage to teach basic English grammar in grade school, what makes them think we have time to add in majors? I think the basics are just going to end up suffering more.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, but you forget, universities, for the most part, don't give a damn about people, it's business they want. If a person who would have the equivalent of two years of specialized work coming in, the university would probably be doubly thrilled if that student switched focus -- the univ. would get twice the money from that student.

But the students the article featured were already good students, just bored. I don't see how this wwould really be any different from AP credit. I doubt that people who are not doing well in regular classes will be able to choose a major.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Nope, it's a requirement:
"a proposal from Gov. Jeb Bush that education experts say would make Florida the first state to require incoming high school freshmen to declare a major."

And I don't so much know that universities make more money when a student sticks around longer. My university, at any rate, is starting to put in measures to make everyone graduate in 4 years so they can let new people in.

Besides, with so many people having a specific leg up in one field (if this were to spread to everyone), that's going to make it part of the standard to have those credits already. That means if you're switching, you're already below standard.

12:03 PM  
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