Friday, October 26, 2007

One High School Student to Another: "What's Your Major?" (Don't Laugh--It's Happening)

I couldn't help but click over when I saw the headline to this article:The Newest Mini-Fad: Majoring in High School. Let's read a bit, shall we?
Except for the college-crazed achievers, most students drift through high school without seeing the connection between Lord of the Flies, the X axis, the Homestead Act and any sort of future they might want. It’s stuff adults make you do.
To persuade teens that school matters, some states and districts are requiring them to choose a high school “major” that will lead toward a college major or a career.

The trend is big in the South: Florida requires majors and Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia and Arkansas are piloting programs that require students to choose a career path or concentration. Elsewhere, some comprehensive high schools now require students to major.

In Florida, ninth graders must choose one of 443 state-approved majors. The collegebound can specialize in Advanced Placement or an academic subject. Others are encouraged to earn a vocational certificate. The majors list includes fashion design, forestry, culinary arts, fire sprinkler system technology, animating and gaming, welding, child care assistant, commercial fishing and hundreds more. But students who pick a major not offered at a nearby school are out of luck. And how many high schools can train fire sprinkler system technologists?
That's a good point. I'm OK with the idea of offering such a thing in high school, but I think requiring it is going quite overboard. But some school systems are doing just that:
What’s different about mandatory majors is that all students have to choose, whether they have a clue what they want to do or not. All schools have to offer career paths, whether they know how to do that or not.

It takes a lot of work by teachers to design meaningful majors that engage and focus students and actually prepare them for the future. It’s impossible for every school to do it — much less do it well — for more than a few specialties.

At Dwight Morrow High School in New Jersey, students must choose between sports management, fine and performing arts, health sciences, international studies and global commerce, communications and new media and/or liberal arts.
Sports management is the most popular choice — and the least likely to lead to a paying job. In fact, health sciences is the only major with strong job prospects; no major appeals to students interested in technical fields from mechanics to engineering and computer science.
So it sounds like some places are off to a good start, but it doesn't appear that anyone's arrived at the point where this ought to be mandatory. After all, high school has long been considered the place where students get a general education, and most of them pick their future majors when their interest has been sparked by some sort of class, elective or extracurricular activity:
tudents typically take a standard high school curriculum with electives to match their major. “International studies” majors take English in addition to a foreign language. Even Florida students going for a specific vocational certificate will have to pass academic classes.
The problem with the mandatory major idea--besides the fact that many students won't pick their ultimate career choice until after a few years of college, never mind high school--is that their future jobs may not even be the same as they are now by the time the students finish school:
“This is a colossally bad idea,” says Debra Humphreys with The Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Businesses are telling us that the jobs that today’s ninth-graders will eventually have don’t even exist yet and that the specific training needed for technical professions is changing rapidly.”
Read the whole thing. The people behind this idea are certainly coming from a good place--they realize that many students pass through high school aimlessly, without learning good study habits or analytical or communication skills. But pushing someone who has no clue what he or she wants to do into a specific program at too early an age could easily do more harm than good.

I was one of the lucky ones; I pretty much knew that I was going to go into music by the end of eighth grade, when I won the state level of the Reflections Contest with a musical composition and got to direct my school band in that piece at the end of the year. Since I had already grown to love music, and it was the only thing at which I had truly excelled thus far--you should have seen how bad I was at football!--my path was pretty well chosen before I entered high school. But I know many people who didn't figure it out till much later, and I'd hate to see such a choice foisted upon them too soon.

Think back to when you were in high school. Did you know what you were going to do yet? What would your "major" have been if you had been required to choose, and how does it differ from what you're doing now?

This kid might choose music as a major right now: After all, his violin case saved his life when he got hit by a car in a crosswalk.


Eric Grubbs said...

When I was in high school, my main focus was attending college. I decided to go with Radio-TV-Film as a major in my sophomore year.

A friend of mine (who's also from Houston) said his high school major was "Getting the hell out of Strake Jesuit." Too funny.

Kev said...

I think most people's major in high school is "getting out"--except for the guy I was in band with who (thanks to an unfortunate combination of moving and a class that wasn't offered in summer school) had two senior years. Needless to say, that year was pretty fluffy (band, orchestra, band aide, music theory, senior release, and that one class he needed).

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