Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Florida Students Get "Majors"

As part of a push to make high school more meaningful for kids, Florida legislators passed a law last week that requires students to declare majors. Students take a variety of core courses, then four electives in their major, and four other electives.

In theory, this is a good idea. Too much of high school focuses nothing on the world beyond it. So I'm inclined to wait and see how it goes. Perhaps schools will start expanding their offerings to include advanced science classes for science majors, specific literature genres (say, 20th century, or women writers, or Latin America) for literary types.

But I worry that, instead, this well-intentioned program will lead to bad results for gifted kids. Many high schools are a bit narrow-minded on what constitutes a career. South Carolina instituted "career clusters" recently to boost student interest. This link leads to some literature about each of the clusters. I'm not sure I could have chosen journalism, for instance -- or that a budding Egyptologist would find much to interest her (unless she could somehow link it to the hospitality industry). Kids who want academic majors would also, under the Florida majors plan, have far less time to take arts electives like orchestra or choir. This will force kids with "multipotentiality" to commit to one interest, or else fund their study on their own after school.

Ideally, schools would have adopted the "majors" approach on their own, and kids would be free to move between schools in a given area. That way, if students were interested in a focused, in-depth study in a career or academic area, they could attend that school. But it's easier to enact policies on a state level, so that's what Florida has chosen to do. We'll see how it turns out.


Quiltsrwarm said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this how it works in Europe? Kids around the age of 16 start to focus their studies in a direction that will take them either to university or directly to work. And they take classes that will benefit a particular area of study in college or a particular focus of work (i.e., specific computer skills).

If Florida schools are trying to emulate a European-style of education because administrators recognize the American system is flawed, then I think the change is a step in the right direction. Though, I guess I'm with Laura on this one -- let's wait and see. American culture and European culture are two different animals...

Carmen said...

That is how it works in Europe, and the downside (at least in some European countries, like Sweden and Switzerland) is that it's nearly impossible to change your mind--what you study in "high school" is what you study at "university," and there's no going back.

This idea scares me because I'm in college and I've changed my major at least seven times. That's an extreme example, but for sure I'm not doing now what I thought I would be doing in high school. I would not be happy right now were I never allowed to change my mind.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Hi Carmen: I think that is a fundamental difference between the American mindset and the one that prevails some other places. We like the idea of changing our minds and starting over. I'm not sure how one would change a high school major. On the other hand, I doubt the high school majors will have any meaning for college majors -- you don't have to do the same one. It's more just to give kids a focus during high school. But we shall see how it turns out.

Paul said...

Gov. Bush's idea is a bad idea.

Majors are not decided at age 15.
Universities require you to decide
your major by your junior year.

A very general education is what
is required to best understand
where you are going.

Besides there are no "major"
classes offered in high school.
You can not take Abstract Algebra
or Differential Equations and
AP courses are already offered.

So why decide early and then want
to change later.