Editorials and Opinions

Seif Says: Credible classes

By Denebola
Published: March 2008

By Ben Seifer

It’s a routine Wednesday. You’re sitting in math class and the teacher begins drawing abstract and mystifying figures on the board, explaining as she goes along. After some time, the teacher stands aside and begins the lesson as students furiously take notes.
Before moving on to the next objective, the teacher asks, “Are there any questions? Students instinctively nod their heads; a couple may even say “no, but one student responds with a question: “Why do we need to know this?
I’ve heard this line since middle school and could never quite understand why those particular students continued to ask that same question, knowing that the teacher would never have an answer for them and that they would have to learn the material anyway. Almost three long years after graduating middle school, I have come to understand why they ask this question.
The first and simplest is that the subject is too difficult for them. The more respectable reason is that the student knows what he or she is interested in, and whatever is on the white-board in front of them is not it.
High school broadens our knowledge horizon. We take six classes a day with the only common aspect among them being that you must be literate in order to progress in the class. By the time students enter high school, they may not know what they’re good at, but they do know what they enjoy.
What will the English buff do with oxidation or the science fanatic do with Hamlet? Nothing at all. The subjects do not relate to one another, and one subject does not teach underlying skills that the other subject cannot offer.
Taking a class just to earn enough credits to graduate is a waste of time and can be unpleasant. When some students acquire the minimum number of credits in a certain subject, they stop taking it before the end of their senior year.
So why not let the science fanatic triple up on his sciences and take anatomy, physics, and astronomy in the same year, even if he misses out on a further exploration of Shakespeare? And perhaps South should allow that English buff who dreams of a career in journalism to forego chemistry.
Newton South has started to provide options for students outside the classroom by partnering with Newton North’s Career and Technical Education Program, which allows kids to explore and develop technical and occupational skills in a variety of fields. The opportunities to build skills are only in certain professions, and many of these professions are ones that do not call for additional years of higher education.
South should offer parallel opportunities in the classroom for those who want to further explore certain academic subjects that are relevant to the professional fields in which they are interested. One possibility would be to rearrange the credits system.
While students should have basic knowledge of all core subjects, when they develop a predilection for one subject area, they should have the chance to pursue that passion instead of continuing to take classes that they do not find interesting.
After all, when we do launch our careers someday, our divergent interests and the different paths we’ve chosen will foster our interdependence on one another.  And then we’ll all have the credits we need.

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