The Class Balance: Endangered Humanities

By: Kevin Zhai

Courses such as multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and AP Physics C may be offered in the 2011-12 school year. However, these possible additions further demonstrate the lack of humanities-based classes at MSJ.

There is a conspicuous trend among these new classes and recent course additions before it: they focus solely on math and science. Last year, both AP Environmental Science (APES) and History of China were potential electives on the course catalog. APES Teacher Lisa Ishimine said about the possible science class, “Being the first year, I expected maybe two sections.” This year, there are six sections of APES while History of China was cancelled due to lack of interest. Although there is some merit, at least from a cynical point of view, that History of China was not an AP class and therefore did not garner as much attention as APES, it is not the only reason MSJ students seem hesitant to add humanities-based courses.

Government and Economics Teacher Roxanne Ponsi offered several reasons for the paucity of such AP courses. Historically, the Government teachers have been opposed to offering AP classes because it pressures students into taking the class that is perceived to look better on transcripts. “AP classes would become obligations more than opportunities,” said Ponsi. There has also been uncertainty on how to proportion the courses throughout the school year.

If, for example, AP Macroeconomics was offered, the class would focus on macroeconomics up until the AP test, and only after the exam would the school requisite of government be taught, for only a few weeks at best.

However, US History Teacher Bill Jeffers says, “There is currently genuine interest from the social sciences teachers to have more AP courses, but student disinterest makes it hard to justify adding more classes.” There are, after all, only three sections of AP US History and a lone section of AP World History this year. That’s about half of the number of AP science courses and essentially nothing compared to AP Statistics and AP Calculus classes.

Why then, does a majority of the student body shrink away from these humanities courses? It seems that many choose to boost their transcripts and shy away from classes they have an active interest in. When APES was introduced into the course catalog, other viable electives were sacrificed by many students in order to make room for APES.

“Some students chose APES on the assumption that it would be an easy course,” said Ishimine. By now, it is safe to say that this assumption was not very realistic. If a student takes classes he or she is not passionate about in high school, how long will the pattern continue? The person will apply to colleges that look good, obtain majors in hopefully high-paying fields, and acquire a job he or she really has no interest in. It would be a life not lived to its full potential, full of regret and pondering on what could have been.

If more humanities classes were offered, an entire new path would be open to students. Not everyone at MSJ will become a doctor or scientist, and offering humanities will give students a chance to discover classes in a field they have an active interest in. For example, a college-level course in economics would help to build a solid foundation for anyone interested in pursuing a business career.

Some doubt that new classes could even be added during these times of slashed budgets, but the cost of adding a new class is really not all that high. According to Ishimine, most of the money goes to buying textbooks and getting training. Additionally, most of a class’s funds come from beginning-of-year donations, with very little money needed from the district. Cost is not an obstacle. Teachers are willing to offer new classes.

Once students break away from superficial motives and choose to see what the humanities can truly offer, MSJ can finally begin to offer a broader range of stimulating courses in subject areas other than math and science. ▪

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