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Electives Are Not What They Were 'Back in the Day'

Unique and interesting classes can make a major difference in a student's high school experience.

When I was in high school, the only electives available for girls were sewing, typing, and cooking — all of which I still can’t do.

I did successfully complete a gingham apron which I am wearing at this very moment, as I am whipping up a delicious dinner of chili con carne, which was my final project for cooking. Boys could take woodshop and … was there anything besides woodshop for boys? Now that I think about it, I did take a psychology class and there must have been a photography class because the photography teacher taught the psychology class. He pretty much told us to read the textbook and showed us different lenses. 

I want to go back to high school now just to take the electives. Over dinner tonight I was discussing this with my son, who is a high school sophomore. He was deciding if he should stick with Graphic Design or try Sports and Entertainment Marketing. I suggested Web Design so he could redesign my website as his final project.   

If you flip through most high school course catalogues, the sheer number of choices is astounding. At my son’s high school there are at least 15 visual arts choices and an equal number of technology, business, and music classes. My older son took Personal Finance, which is supposed to “prepare students to manage their money on college campus.” Interesting, since he sill thinks his money can’t run out if he still has more checks.

Once students get the basic core classes, like biology and algebra, out of the way, there are some pretty cool choices there as well. Students can take anything from Media and the Critical Eye for an English credit, to the History of Modern Warfare for a social studies credit. 

Offering a wide range of classes and electives gives students a chance to develop life skills and explore topics as possible career choices. It also makes a student appear well-rounded on college applications and just makes school more interesting. A student who isn’t a fan of science may find forensics or global problem solving more motivating.

However, due to budget cuts and standardized testing, electives may be in trouble. When a school district’s budget is slashed, the first things to go are electives. Although these classes may seem unnecessary on the surface, high interest classes may be the only things keeping an unmotivated student in school. In schools where electives have been cut and more focus is placed on core courses, standardized test scores actually decrease and drop out rates tend to increase.

Personally, I believe the wide range of classes offered in high school are keeping students from becoming standardized-test-taking robots. If we focus solely on core courses and material covered in standardized tests, what does that say about our future workforce? We would be creating a society of apathetic drones lacking creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. 

Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com.

You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

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