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.”
“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?