I saw a blurb on my Google Reader this morning from the Times book review about a book where one man argues that college is not for everyone and another that college should stick to the basis. Those arguments always get to me, and here’s why.
The basics are what you learn throughout school. Obviously they’re fundamental, which is why they’re required. It’s probably not a bad idea to have a core curriculum in college as well. However, by the time you get there, you know whether you like/are good at math, science, english, and social studies already. If you like them, go for them! But if you don’t, you should have other opportunities. I think college is for everyone, if you find the right environment, are able to get financial support, and find a subject you really love.
Even within the basics, there are branch offs I imagine the back to basics folks might cut. For example, art history, creative writing, poetry… I’m afraid I can’t speak with authority on math or science, but there are certainly some “off beat” things there, too. What about computer science? For me, I hated history right up until 12th grade, when I took AP European. Suddenly, there was history that was interesting! And if my school had offered Middle Eastern or African or some other histories besides Europe, America, and a wee bit of Asia, I would have been thrilled!
And then there are the subjects outside the basics that most high schoolers don’t even know about. I tutored a junior high student for a while, and she wasn’t interested in college. But when I started telling her about the kinds of things you can study, I could see an interest sparking. She was kind of going in an English direction, so I told her about creative writing, journalism, communications, etc. and she’d never even considered these options. For me, I wish that I’d discovered sociology and anthropology earlier but I didn’t even know what they were, really, until late in my final semester of college and never got to take a class. Languages – we should be offering more, not fewer! People get really interested when a school starts offering Arabic. For me, going from UMBC to law school at Iowa, I wish that I had gone here for undergrad whenever I look at the course catalogue. Whole classes dedicated to a single poet! Israeli literature! History of the Islamic religion in the context of human rights! Croatian! Don’t narrow the curriculum, folks. You’ll get more kids like me who as sophomores, are seriously tempted to drop out, no matter how smart they are, because there’s just nothing there. Do we really want that?