Looking good…on paper

Staff Editorial
Originally published November 15, 2014

Simon Gibson Penrose

Simon Gibson Penrose

It has long been proclaimed that the key to being admitted to college or to being successful in life is to be well-rounded, to have a diversity of interests. Requirement-wise, that means that in order to graduate high school students must complete courses in a variety of different subjects, everything from foreign language to physical education and art.

Students also must complete 60 hours of community service over their four years in high school. This probably isn’t shocking news to anyone, since we’ve been planning our futures since before freshman year. Twenty-one credits and community service doesn’t seem like too much to ask. But it’s not enough.
The papers that define us after high school: job and college applications, resumes, require more than the “minimum.” Students should show their commitment and involvement in the community with extra community service. Students should be physically active, students should be musical, but also have an interest in art, civics and world issues.

Is this really fair?

Any current senior knows how many hoops there are to jump through just to get out of high school. From language credits to PE requirements to community service hours, the list of tasks that must be completed just to graduate goes on and on. This is without taking into consideration all of the other tasks that go into applying to colleges.

These requirements don’t just affect seniors either. From the minute they enter high school, students must plan their schedules around requirements that won’t come into play for another four years. At least two years of a language (three if you want to get into a top-tier school), three semesters of P.E. or the equivalent sports seasons to replace it, fine-arts credits and occupational education; fitting all these and more into a schedule leaves little time for anything else.

How are students supposed to take electives that they want when these mandatory classes fill up all their slots? Do you want to follow the Project Lead the Way engineering pathway and be consistently involved in the film program? Unfortunately, that’s not possible. You’ll end up short on language credits, have to waive P.E., and be required to take a health class over the summer. It feels almost cruel to call these courses electives when in reality students have little voice in the matter.
Knowledge of foreign languages, physical education and fine arts are certainly things that can be beneficial in later careers. But it is unreasonable to assume that these arbitrarily chosen courses will have an equal benefit for all students.

Required curricula shouldn’t impede students from pursuing electives they are truly interested and care about. Structure is important to a certain extent; it makes sense to provide everyone with a basic understanding of math, writing, science and social studies. But let electives really be electives. Let students follow their interests instead of restraining them with classes they don’t care about.