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Thursday, August 16, 2007

High school students being forced to pick majors

I have to quite seriously wonder how long will it be before this is becomes proposed for schools here in Rockingham County, North Carolina. I mean, we've already got at least one school board member who has said that students are there to learn how to "find a job" and not how to be individuals.

This same school board member re-affirmed that to me rather strongly at the meeting the following night, by the way. I honestly can't see it as being too far of a stretch for him to be in favor of something like this, either...

Students at many high schools across the country are being forced to pick academic "majors" as early as 9th grade, according to a story in today's The New York Times...

Ninth graders often have trouble selecting what clothes to wear to school each morning or what to have for lunch. But starting this fall, freshmen at Dwight Morrow High School here in Bergen County must declare a major that will determine what electives they take for four years and be noted on their diplomas.

For Dwight Morrow, a school that has struggled with low test scores and racial tensions for years, establishing majors is a way to make their students stay interested until graduation and stand out in the hypercompetitive college admissions process.

Some parents have welcomed the requirement, noting that a magnet school in the district already allowed some students to specialize. But other parents and some educators have criticized it as preprofessionalism run amok or a marketing gimmick.

"I thought high school was about finding what you liked to do," said Kendall Eatman, an Englewood mother of six who was president of the Dwight Morrow student body before graduating in 1978. "I think it's too early to be so rigid."

Debra Humphreys, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, called high-school majors "a colossally bad idea," saying youngsters should instead concentrate on developing a broad range of critical thinking and communication skills.

"Today's economy requires people to be constantly learning and changing," Ms. Humphreys said. "A lot of jobs that high school students are likely to have 10 years from now don't yet exist, so preparing too narrowly will not serve them well."

Here's why this approach is so horrible: it's trying to mold and craft people into being gears in a machine that can be installed and swapped-out. It specializes people too much. Instead of giving individuals a wide, rich foundation of knowledge and critical thinking skills from which they can draw upon throughout life as they themselves see fit, it defines them downward according to Utilitarian purpose.

In other words, it restricts the students from being the individuals of ability and free will that they are supposed to be.

But I guess that tearing down their potential isn't of much concern to some people, apparently.


qemuel said...

This is one of those that I have always seen as a wicked double-edged sword. I agree 100% with what you are saying, but often find myself wishing that the system was set up to recognize those that are interested in and spectacularly talented at some fields of study, and then support that instead of grinding them to paste. I was TERMINALLY bored in high school, and feel I would've benefited from something more than I was offered.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Many European countries have been doing this for years - Austria requires all children to have an 8 or 10 year career plan by the time they turn 15.