Back in eighth grade, the East counselors came to middle school help us plan our illustrious high school careers. They handed us a thick, Lancer Blue program and gave the classic East spiel:
The Drama program? You’ll be hooked!
The Computer Science path? It’s the best in the state, hands down.
The art wing? They’ll make you into a little Andy Warhol.
All these new options made my classmates and I excited to find out what we wanted to do for four years—but, as we later found out, the schedule is almost always bogged down with mandatory semester classes: two Gym classes, Health, and a computer credit, usually Computer Applications. If you want to graduate East and meet most out-of-state college requirements, finding time to pursue new interests might be impossible.
However, this isn’t East’s fault. East has to enforce the state’s requirements; otherwise, our diplomas just become really nice, but worthless, pieces of paper. Of the three, Health is the easiest to obtain credit elsewhere; Shawnee Mission has its own handy program to take the class online. To pass the Computer Applications test (only about 20 percent do), I was told by Director of Curriculum Betsy Regan that I would probably have to hire a tutor because there was a lot on the test about using a database. According to counselor Terry Archer, there is no way you can test out of P.E.
Interesting logic—you can test out of math classes, but you can’t test out of gym class? Physical education is obviously becoming more important; the childhood obesity rates tell you that. But, from playing two sports at East and taking Fundamental P.E., I see so many people wasting their time learning “physical education” when they already have had it or play a sport after school. When I asked 44 juniors or sophomores which of the three mandatory classes (Health, Fundamental P.E. and a computer credit) they had “mastered most of the concepts” of before taking the class, 75 percent said that it was P.E.
Sure, a fair share of students really benefit from having structured exercise every other day; if you have to force them to do it, however, fewer gain real benefits. Students will still sign up for gym classes even if they don’t have to (my two brothers proudly took Team Games a combined 13 times), but if they can demonstrate a mastery of the curriculum, the state should allow them to pursue more interests in elective classes. Seventy-eight percent of the students said they would have considered taking another yearlong elective freshman year if they had the choice not to take P.E. Even if it’s just a semester, these classes can clog up opportunities to take classes that require a full year.
And, while I think Computer classes can be very beneficial, students should be able to pass a test that is equivalent to passing the class—I don’t know how to use a database, but it’s debatable that every person who passes Computer Applications does, either. Computer Applications teacher John Stonner thinks that some of the most important lessons are in learning advanced Microsoft Excel formulas, and I completely agree. However, learning Excel and mastering databases shouldn’t be expected of every person; the class shouldn’t be mandatory if it’s best lessons are ones that don’t apply to every single student.
In trying to solve this problem, I’ve heard the alternatives from counselors, administrators and the Director of Curriculum in my two-and-a-half years here. Here they are:
1.Take Gym during the summer. Now that summer practice is allowed for fall sports, an athlete would be at a huge disadvantage if they had to miss practice every day to take a summer P.E. class. There’s no reason I should be taking a relatively easier class when it would, without a doubt, make me less skilled than those practicing their sports with their specialized coaches. At East, a varsity letter used to exempt you from your second gym class, but this is no longer the case. I’m not going to ride the bench because I spent my summer learning the intricacies of capture the flag.
2. Quit your electives. My counselor actually suggested that I should quit band. Why would I drop a class that is one of my passions if I already know how to flick a Frisbee? I’d frankly rather not graduate. I also was told that I don’t have to take a fourth science class or a third foreign language. A lot of schools I’m looking at require those, so I think it’s understandable to treat those as mandatory. It just seems like getting me out the door is priority #1 (and, after the columns I write, that’s a pretty good strategy).
3. There’s nothing we can do. I hear this one the most. Just because something has traditionally been done one way doesn’t mean it’s correct—America is based on such ideals. I found my Senate Representative and sent him a guiding little rhetoric, but we all know my claims hold much less power than say, all of the counselors or administrators who agreed that it wasn’t a good situation.
But, while all the people that have agreed with me that it may not be fair, none have suggested that this was an issue worth fighting for. The stats beg to differ. Of the the 35 students tested who took Computer Applications, 88.5 percent say that they spent 45 minutes or less daily on an average in-class assignment. Forty percent spent 15 minutes or less. Wasting thousands of hours of the 88.5 percent doesn’t seem to be worth the time to fight with the state curriculum, apparently.
I just wish there were options so that kids could make the best of their education. Without finding passions in other things, it will just make it tougher for every student to find that subject that they will love and pursue as a career. In the end, that’s what’s important; there’s no point in learning how to make a pretty Powerpoint if you don’t have a satisfying job to make one for.