Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Oh, the humanities

It's the rare district that has decided to create a gifted program in the past few years if it doesn't have one already. Generally it goes the other direction: a gifted program is changed to "serve more children," which is a euphemism for replacing self-contained classes with in-class differentiation.

Because of this tendency, though, I'm always interested to see in what format gifted programs become palatable. One approach? Take the message that STEM is the wave of the future, and use it to create some more advanced and accelerated classes than children would have access to otherwise.

For instance, I came across this article in the Hudson Reporter about North Bergen, New Jersey, where a group of 8th grade students was just inducted into the new STEM Academy. "Designed to provide a rigorous curriculum to select students in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM Academy will take on a new class each year," the article notes.

The chair of the program noted that “The goal of the STEM Academy is to provide our most talented students with a true challenge in our high school in a specialized program that will help them gain admittance to top colleges and acquire the skills necessary for the careers of the future.”

The caveat? “STEM Academy students will still take humanities classes, electives and extracurriculars with the rest of the school, but they will receive a more advanced level of instruction in science, technology, engineering, and math with a goal of guiding them into a high-paying and successful career.”

I'm happy that these students are getting an opportunity to study more advanced science and math. But it always seems harder for people to get their heads around the idea that gifted kids might need and want accelerated instruction in the humanities, too. Perhaps because there are less objective standards, or recognizable levels (as there is with pre-calculus, calculus, etc.) people assume that it will all work out. But there are massive differences in what people are ready for in these subjects too.

That said, many young people who do have profound gifts in the humanities are pretty good at science and math too. So if districts are willing to offer programs for STEM, then it might behoove such children to sign up for these, and then trust that because of the way school schedules tend to work, they'll wind up in classes with more advanced students for the humanities, too. But wouldn't it be nice if advanced instruction didn't have to only rest on the assumption that STEM careers are the careers of the future?


nicoleandmaggie said...

Public high school humanities has always seemed pretty worthless. It's not like they actually teach rhetoric or anything other than plot/character development/foreshadowing/symbolism. It's all about the feels, not the technique. (If you're lucky you learn iambic pentameter during one of your Shakespeare units.)

If you want better quality humanities and can afford it you can go to a Parochial school (but then you get less STEM). There's a lot of humanities PhDs working at private schools.

Laura Vanderkam said...

@NicoleandMaggie - I agree that they generally aren't very rigorous. But they could be! People just seem comfortable with the idea that math and science are the "hard" subjects that require differentiation. It's a shame not to try to challenge kids in the humanities too.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Like I said, private schools tend to excel in the humanities.

Because there's a glut of humanities phds willing to teach at them.

Crankymom said...

Look at the "Integrated Courses" in the school district next to your district.