Do Electives Matter?

What electives did you take in middle school? What about in high school? What impact did they make in your academic experience?

Back in middle school, one of my favorite classes was band. I was a mediocre flute player, but I really enjoyed the kind of environment band fostered and flourished in it. Although I didn’t continue band in high school, I know many kids who found band to be a place of relaxation and fun in the midst of challenging “core” courses. Even as a middle schooler, where my classes were considerably less difficult than the classes I took in high school, band was a great change of pace for me.

Last year, I volunteered at a Durham public high school and was amazed by the range of courses they offered that allowed students to challenge themselves in a way that a textbook can’t necessarily provide. The school had courses in culinary arts, theatre, and outdoor education (among many others).

For those of us who have taken one or more of these elective courses and thoroughly enjoyed them, it is especially difficult to accept that their presence in public schools appear to be shrinking.

As Public School Review explains in “Decreasing Public High School Elective Programs,” there are many factors that may play into this loss in electives, including school funding and increased testing demands. The article also outlines some statistics that help reinforce my point of the importance of electives:

“Based on statistics and information from World Music Central, while the programs are declining, a Gallup poll in 1993 reveals that over 95% of Americans think electives, specifically music, are essential and beneficial for a child’s development.

In fact, hundreds of conducted studies and statistics support this belief. For example, according to a profile of SAT data, “Students with coursework/experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the SAT: students in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math, and students in music appreciation scored 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on the math, than did students with no arts participation.” Adding to this, “A study of 237 second grade children used piano keyboard training and newly designed math software to demonstrate improvement in math skills. The group scored 27% higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children that used only the math software.”
Drama/media production teacher and Education Week contributor Ernie Rambo gives his take on this issue in the article “Why Electives Matter.” He argues that electives help students focus and achieve in that they can “reveal the skill sets of some students that might not be obvious in their other classes.”
Laurie Futterman from the Miami Herald equates elective courses to choosing a flavor of ice cream in the academic world. In the same article, she discusses the nationwide phenomenon that is the cutting of arts and P.E. programs in schools in the wake of standardized testing. She then offers a point that I find especially salient:

“Cutting electives does not motivate the students who are least likely to pass a state test. In fact, the classes like music, shop and art are the academic breaks in an otherwise bleak day — the very extras that keep them showing up. And if students don’t show up, how will they improve in reading or math?” 

To wrap this post up, I wanted to share a Youtube video in which college students were interviewed about their experiences with electives and why they felt electives were an important part of the academic experience:

 

So, what is your take on this issue? Do electives matter? What steps should be made to keep electives in our public schools?

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One Response to Do Electives Matter?

  1. Autumn Grace says:

    Wow..what a great post!

    I was actually having a long, in-depth discussion about this very same topic with my brother a couple of weeks ago, and your post summed my views up perfectly. With the predominately STEM education that we are moving to in our generation, there has been a great disappearance of elective courses, which are so important to students, especially those who do not excel in standard math or science.

    One part of your post that was particularly inspirational to me was the first part of the video where the narrator said, “We are all geniuses, but if you judge a fish by its ability to fly, it will grow up its entire life thinking that it is stupid” Even though this is a commonly used quote, it is so impactful, and sadly true.

    We all come with certain skills and intelligences, and in today’s school system, we are so focused on creating a perfect, cookie cutter student that the skills that do not pertain to core subjects are getting cut out in the traditional school setting. Therefore, these children who are not skilled in core areas grow up being told that they are “at risk” or not as skillful as other students, even though they may be a wonderful painter or musician.

    I completely agree with you that the disappearance of electives can be devastating to a child’s academic and personal success, and it is important that we show school officials just how important these classes are.

    Like

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