The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"The more alternatives, the more difficult the choice."... ...Abbe' D'Allanival.

Commentary of the Day - February 12, 2005:  Time for Electives.  Guest commentary by Felice Prager.

I've always been jealous of those people who managed to work out interesting schedules with interesting courses.  I was never that lucky.  When it came to school, there was never enough time for me to take electives I wanted to take.  As a senior in high school, I took Sociology and Photography, but that was it.  Everything else I took was a requirement for a college-bound student.  To make a short story longer, my biggest complaint about high school was that one of the reasons I couldn't take electives was because I had to take four years of Physical Education.  It was a state law or something.  For the 724 days that I attended high school, I had to change into my blue uniform which had my name neatly stitched in white block letters over the pocket.  Sometimes we had to square dance with the boys' class while wearing these blue bloomers.  This was in the days when we weren't allowed to wear pants to school, so changing required taking off and putting on stretched out pantyhose in less than five minutes and then getting to our next class on time.  So when my children complained about their one required year of PE in high school, I've always managed to shut them up with a long, drawn out story about the old days when I had PE for four years, and I had to wear blue bloomers which had my name neatly stitched in white block letters over the pocket.  Forgive me for digressing, but this topic gets me very agitated and brings back memories I thought I had buried long ago.

When I was a college student, there were more courses available, but with all of the requirements, there was very little time left for electives.  My schedule was filled with two semesters of Shakespeare, two semesters of British Literature, two semesters of American Literature, two semesters of World Literature, two semesters of English Grammar and Composition, plus a bunch of education courses and general requirements.  I also had to take two semesters of Physical Education in college, but it wasn't the blue bloomer type of PE.  I opted to take Tennis and Bowling.  A girlfriend and I signed up for the coed sections, thinking it was a way of getting dates.  Unfortunately, none of the men in the classes ever wanted to bowl or play tennis with us even though we weren't wearing blue bloomers which had our names neatly stitched in white block letters over the pocket.  I don't think they thought we were very serious about the sports since we complained about breaking our nails in the bowling ball holes and sweating from chasing the ball on the tennis court.  As far as electives were concerned, I took two writing courses taught by relatively unknown published authors.

After college, I discovered adult education.  I took courses in stained glass, macramé, and calligraphy.  The stained glass and macramé projects are still decorating my home, and I was recently able to use the fancy calligraphy on my older son's wedding announcements.  I also took Spanish three times, and, to this date, I can still count to one hundred and conjugate a few verbs to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance.  In a country where it pays to be bilingual, despite my best efforts, I smile when someone talks to me in Spanish, and I reply, "¿Dónde está el cuarto de baño?"  I continued to fulfill my need for those elusive electives by taking courses in creative writing taught by semi-famous authors at various universities.

Last week, the juniors at my son's high school registered for their senior classes.  As a senior, my son will have completed most of his required courses and will be able to take some electives.  He has taken some electives in the past, but they were requirements for students who are college bound: a foreign language, an extra math course, and an extra lab science.  He also took a history block called History of World War II and Vietnam -- An American Crisis; and, he also spent two semesters on the yearbook staff because nothing else was available during his free periods.  To fulfill his fine arts requirement, my son elected to take Guitar I and Advanced Guitar.

This year, my son was given a 71-page brochure with a listing of course offerings in our district. In addition to the typical electives like art, band, chorus, and dance, the district also offers the following:

Advertising Art2, 3
Applied Video Internship2
Astrophysics2, 3
Automotive Technology1
Aviation Science2, 3
Biotechnology2, 3
Car Care2
Collision Repair Technology1
Commercial Baking1
Communications Technology2
Computer Repair2
Construction Trades1
Communications Technology2
Culinary Arts1, 2, 3
    . (The IP has omitted some 50 electives from Felice's list to save space.)
Video Productions2
Video Production -- Sports2
Vietnam -- An American Crisis2
Visual & 3-Dimensional Design3
Web Page Design3
Woods Construction2
Yearbook Production3

Upon looking through the brochure, I was excited that my son had so many elective choices available to him until he explained some of the finer points to me.  This will explain the notations on the list:

1These are courses offered only at a technical high school located in another town.  The regional facility is open to students in ten adjoining districts.  These courses are for students who are possibly not going on to college and are learning a trade.
2These courses are only taught at one or two of the five high schools in the district.  If a course is elected and only offered at another high school, the student would have to go to the other high school to take it, assuming it fit into his schedule and he could get there on time.
3These courses require prerequisites beyond the basic school requirements, are part of a specialized program, are not available to all students, or require teacher approval.

Given these facts, I deleted the electives my son had already taken and the ones he cannot take from the above list.  I only left the ones which are available at my son's high school for which he is qualified:

East Asian Studies
Environmental Biology
Finite Mathematics
Forensic Psychology
History on Film
History of Rock & Roll
Music Appreciation
Music Theory and Composition I and II
Oceanographic & Marine Studies
Resistance Training

Though the list is considerably shorter, he still has options.  In addition to English IV, Arizona Government, and Economics, required courses for Arizona twelfth graders, my son has opted to take Calculus, Forensic Psychology, and Criminology.  As an alternate, he listed History of Rock & Roll.

When he began to criticize the lack of choices, I began my dissertation about having to take four years of PE wearing blue bloomers which had my name neatly stitched in white block letters over the pocket.  It's funny how quickly that shut him up.

©2005 Felice Prager
Felice Prager is a former English teacher and freelance writer from Arizona.  She publishes the Write Funny pages.

The IP comments: Choice is good, but given the poor physical condition of so many high school and college students, IP thinks that perhaps four years of required PE might be a good idea, uniforms notwithstanding.

Printer friendly version

[ home | web rings | links | archives | about | freelance contributions | donate | mailing list ]

The Irascible Professor invites your  .

©2005 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.