What-if Wednesday: What if electives are as important as the core curriculum?

Two of my most important classes could be considered by some as “fluff,” easy electives that nearly guaranteed an A.  My freshman year, I took public speaking and keyboarding.  I was shy in front of a crowd.  I would freeze up and stop talking.  I would hold a script and shake so bad that the rattling paper was louder than me.  I had no idea how to organize an outline, grab the listener’s attention, use space proximity or speak with emphasis.  However, in that class, I began to practice. After a few mediocre speeches, I hit a stride and gained confidence.  I learned how to outline my thoughts mentally and speak without a notecard.  I learned the cadence of speech, proper annunciation techniques and how to use emphasis.  That same year, I took keyboarding.  I am piss-poor at motor memory and kinesthetic learning, so I struggled to learn basic typing.  Our teacher made us use typewriters at first and she would cover our hands with a curtain.  I made some major mistakes and within the first two weeks I could only type ten words per minute. I’m not sure if it was a typing error or a Freudian slip that involved the sentences “The pen is mightier than the sword.” However, I realized the necessity to re-read what I had typed.  By the end of the semester, I could type about thirty words per minute.  On a daily basis, I use my public speaking skills and my typing skills.  In college, I wrote papers constantly. Now, I’m typing lesson plans, writing blogs, creating lesson materials and answering e-mails.  I can’t imagine being stuck in the “hunt and peck” mode.  I mention both classes, because there is a strong voice within the Core Curriculum movement that suggests students do not need elective classes.  Instead, all students should be learning more math, science, reading and writing.  This will prepare society with more engineers and doctors.  Often, these Core Curriculum advocates speak loudly about accountability and resort to fear-mongering about India developing more engineers. The problem with this thinking is that not all students will become doctors and engineers.  In the New Economy, we have no clear idea of what the job will be.  While I agree with learning math and science and reading and writing, I also know that many of the elective classes provide practical skills to help students live well.  PE might seem a joke, until one reads the research about excercise and the mental processes. Besides, with a nation facing an obesity epidemic, PE now seems vital.  Music might seem like an easy class to cut.  It’s expensive and it cuts out of Core Curriculum time.  However, students who succeed in music have an easier time learning concepts in both math and language arts.  In the Digital Age, where creativity has a high price tag, classes like art and woodworking might be more valuable than first imagined.  In most professions, communication is key (especially in the global economic shift toward collaborative careers).  Thus, classes like drama and public speaking become crucial.  I am forever grateful for my English teachers who helped me to read and write and conduct research.  I’m glad I learned some basic math.  I’m sure it has helped me think logically and solve problems.  However, many of the elective classes were just as important in shaping who I have become today. 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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