Once upon a time, schools offered a great variety of elective classes. Cooking, sewing, shop classes, band and choral groups, agriculture, horticulture, etc. When I was in middle school in the late 1980s, I remember a list of electives so long that it was alphabetized. 20+ years later, I now teach middle school. We have an enrollment of over 1,400 students. We have 80 teachers. 77 of them are not electives teachers. We have an art teacher, a video production teacher, and a drama teacher. That’s our electives “program.”
What has happened to electives? With standardized test score results such a priority, secondary school students whose scores could use a boost (to boost the school’s API- Academic Performance Index) are enrolled in an extra math or language arts classes–at the expense of electives.
Our school’s woodshop room is now a parent/community center. The industrial technology room is a science classroom. The drafting room is now a history classroom. The list goes on. With the “every child mist be prepared for college” mentality (along with test scores) driving instructional programs, we have seen the demise of electives, especially in communities where vocational skills classes are more likely to be put to use for a careers.
Our school has seen students go on to Harvard, Yale, MIT and more, but a majority of our students will not attend college and could benefit greatly from trade skills classes. The Los Angeles Unified School District has a high school droup-out rate close to 50%.
Some schools are modifying bell schedules (adding another period to the day) so that students can have the remedial core classes and electives as well, but it is school enrollment that dictates the number of teachers a school can have on its faculty. That being the case, many schools are doing away with electives, and again, this happens with higher frequency in more socio-economically challenged neighborhoods.
In 2002, when I was afforded the opportunity to teach our school’s leadership class, I couldn’t have taken 75% of of our students. They had no room in their schedule for an elective. An empowering principal and some outside the box thinking led to my teaching the class as an additional class, after school. Funding came from our afterschool programs branch. Today, in 2011, I am able to get kids interested in civics, community service, and self-betterment in addition to their core classes. I encourage other teachers and schools to find creative ways to make electives classes available. At a meeting for my leadership students’ parents a few years back, a parent thanked me for changing her child’s life. She said that when her daughter comes home from school, she turns on CNN. She used to turn on the Simpsons or watch video games. Not to knock the latter two, but that interest in the news came from enrollment in an electives class.
Somebody must think electives are important. Most magnet programs and smaller learning communities or academies are based around an elective of some sort. We all know the importance of a well-rounded education. In today’s educational climate, we often need to get creative to make it happen. I still have the ceramic bowl I
made when I was in junior high school. I wish my students could have the same opportunity to get creative like that. Our school has two kilns that haven’t worked since the 1980s. They are symbolic of what needs to be fixed in the bigger picture.
Mr. Franklin has been teaching for the
Los Angeles Unified School District for eleven years. He has won District and County Teacher of the Year awards, as well as the prestigious Bank of America Community Hero award. Before teaching, he spent five years at Learning Forum, which runs summer camps world-wide that increase student academic potential.
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