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Should high school students declare a major?

Here’s an interesting development: Florida is drafting legislation that would require all high-school freshmen in the state to declare a major. The hope is that this will help them to focus their class schedule better in support of their career plans.

There are many criticisms of this: that it would deprive students of a broad liberal arts education, and it would put more emphasis on the role of school career counselors in giving students guidance.

Here’s a better critique: how many 13-year-olds do you know that have a clear idea of what they want to do when they grow up? And of those who do, how many are basing it on good information? And of those, how many are going to change their minds?

Last week my twin daughters, who coincidentally are freshmen in high school, had to take one of those “career preference” tests – I’m sure you remember them from your own high school days. I certainly do. They were a joke back then, and they’re still a joke today; to wit, several of my classmates were recommended the profession of “sanitation engineer.” But humor aside, most kids don’t have enough world experience to know what they want to do, and it’s dangerous to track them into a career as such an early age. We should be exposing kids to a wide range of careers so that they see they have choices, and we should make sure that they aren’t self-selecting out of career options (like computer science) too early. But more important: we should make sure that they receive an education that gives them options, not foregone conclusions.

This proposal just seems silly to me. This has nothing to do with the problems at the root of the educational crisis in this country. Shouldn’t they be focusing on improving the quality of teaching and learning in the classes themselves, rather than focusing on which classes people take? Isn’t this legislation just a weapon of mass distraction?

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  • Alfred ThompsonAlfred Thompson

    I had a major in high school -  aeronautics - at a school that required all students to have a major. I understand that the school is now thinking about dropping the major requirement and I'm not sure that is a good idea. But I don't think it is for everyone or for every school. I went to an engineering magnet school and I think majors made sense there. I did change my mind and didn't go into aeronautics because I discovered computers in college. A lot of people change t heir minds after college too. But I enjoyed that all of the courses I took were tied together. The math applied to the physics which tied to the drafting which tied to the shop classes. It all revolved around the major and helped me to learn that everything was related. If you don't have special courses for each major then there is no real point to the major though.

  • BrianInBoulderBrianIn​Boulder

    I believe declaring a major is not for high schools. Rather more career paths need to be presented and offered. Drawing on my own experiences, I remember the only career offered at high schools, for those that wanted a job right after high school was the military option. It might be better to have more career paths offered for high school graduates not going into traditional college. What I mean by that is there are corporations that have entry level job openings for high school graduates (think mail room). Given time, they will have benefits where the company will pay for them to go to traditional schools to further their careers or learn a new career.

    It's impossible for "students" to ever choose a career path by declaring a major, especially in high school. Everyone needs a taste of a career after high school to help them make good choices for college instead of getting a Liberal Arts Degree where you can't get a good paying job anywhere.

  • Pat PhillipsPat Phillips

    A solution to the problem would be to include career education into every curriculum area giving students a sense of the kinds of careers that are possible in science, CS, English, math, etc. This is what a comprehensive secondary education should be all about.
    Here's an opportunity for members of the community to step to the plate by offering to make short visits to classes to talk about their career and job shadowing experiences.
    I remember that the hardest unit I ever taught was on "Career in CS." I concluded that students are really afraid to think seriously about the responsibilities of adulthood. It is easier to blow it off as a joke than do the work required of self-analysis and researching possibilities.

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