BY RACHEL SHARPE
On August 18th, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have A Dream” speech. He delivered this heartfelt speech to the American people with a passion that moved the nation and changed our history. Our society is propelled by passion; it is the driving force of all great things. Without passion, our world would be silent and dull and our sense of individuality would be shattered. Students across the nation are in danger of losing their drive and individuality as the competitive nature of college admissions is swaying them to omit elective courses in areas where their true passion lies. Colleges are increasingly looking for students who have a strong academic curriculum and that often leaves little or no room in students’ schedules for elective classes. This is a dangerous direction for us to be taking, as it could mean the voices and unique talents of our most passionate young people may never be heard or seen.
The trend toward taking more academic coursework began in 2005 when the Michigan Merit Curriculum was established. Governors from 45 states across the country agreed to develop a common measure to combat the declining number of high school graduates. The Curriculum puts a greater emphasis on rigorous academic coursework, in order to better prepare students for a competitive global economy. According to the U.S. Secretary of Education, the percentage of college students who actually graduate is directly correlated to the amount of academic classes a student takes in high school.
This certainly does not mean that students should completely dismiss the idea of taking any classes besides their core classes; because they will eventually burn themselves out. Too much rigor in a student’s schedule is ultimately detrimental to a student’s well -being, therefore they should be encouraged to take elective classes as an enjoyable break from their heavy workload.
Elective courses are crucially important in a student’s high school curriculum because they help maintain students’ interests and diversify their learning. The fact that students are substituting elective classes for more academic classes has lead to decreased chances of students discovering their own individual talents outside of the core academic subjects. Elective classes provide students with the opportunity to explore possible career paths and pursue subjects in which they are most intrigued by. Taking career applicable courses in high school gives students a leg-up in college, as well as when applying for internships or jobs. Experience and references can often be a one-way-ticket towards landing the perfect job, especially under tight economic conditions, where even the slightest experience can have a huge impact on an employer’s decisions. Familiarity with the industry enables the employee to immediately hit the ground running and follow through with their true path in life.
Lack of interest in core subjects can often have a direct impact on students’ waning interest in school because they aren’t emotionally involved with the subject material. According to Do Something, a national prevention program for high school dropouts, every 29 seconds another student gives up on school, resulting in more than one million American high school student dropouts every year. These dropouts will earn more than $1 million less in income throughout their lifetime than college graduates. These numbers are exceedingly frightening and can have a negative impact on the future of our society. Although it is required to take core subjects in high school such as math, English, science and social studies, elective classes are an incentive for students to become more dedicated to their schoolwork.
According to former President of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, MaryBeth Kravets, colleges first and foremost look at a student’s core curriculum and difficulty of classes they are enrolled in. However, it is almost equally as important that a student displays breadth and depth in their high school experience. Classes such as art, fine arts, music, journalism, computer programming and business, often overlap with core academic classes, providing even more in-depth exposure and a much richer learning experience.
In New Jersey, Ridgewood High School is bringing back woodworking and adding global economics, 3-D animation and seven other electives over the next two years to encourage students to cultivate interests beyond traditional subjects. Ridgewood students are extremely excited that they will get the opportunity to pursue their passions once again.
Our education system needs to step up and express the importance of elective classes in support of our education. More emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of students following their true passions and interests, for if we don’t, our nation is in jeopardy of losing its unique diversity and culture, which we have worked so hard to develop and take great pride.