Students Trend Away From History Electives
by Madeline Barnes on Friday, April 25th, 2014
With Milton’s many athletic and extracurricular activities, students must constantly decide how to spend their time; however, the most important of these decisions is academic course selection. Milton offers a wide array of academic courses ranging from Psychology to AP Latin to Marine Biology. Every March, students face the challenge of deciding which classes to take and which ones to forego. Although courses offered by the history and social science departments tend to be overlooked, these classes offer just as many benefits as those offered by other departments.
Milton’s history courses are both challenging and fascinating. Exploring topics such as ancient civilizations, conflicts within and between countries, and major political decisions not only is interesting, but also can often help us shape a better future. Similarly, examination of how capital markets function, how human nature works, or how religions differ can help lay a strong foundation for future aspirations. Students can fulfill the two-year history requirement with one base course of Modern World History or U.S. in the Modern World I and a second course, U.S. History or U.S. in the Modern World II, leaving two years for elective courses from any department of their choosing.
Yet, there appears to be a general lack of interest in non-required history courses. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1990 and 2009, the percentage of high school students taking Chemistry increased from 49% to 70% and those taking Physics increased from 21% to 36%. Here at Milton, a preference for science electives is evident. A majority of Milton students choose to take chemistry, an optional elective, in their sophomore year; however, when planning their upperclassmen courses, students are not as likely to take courses from the history department. As a result, these students tend to take more science electives, viewing the two-year history track as only a requirement to complete quickly. Thus, many high achieving students at Milton will take just two history/social science courses in their entire career and thus lose the opportunity to gain a passion for or a broad view of the political structures that shape the world as we know it.
In my opinion, students may be less inclined to sign up for history and social science courses, because, as high school students imminently bound for college, they become preoccupied with the thought of future careers and job prospects. The anxiety of choosing a course of study in college or thinking about a possible career often dictates course selection. While there is little doubt that career opportunities for those with backgrounds in the sciences are abundant, history and social science classes can be just as rewarding, and I believe they provide an equivalent level of preparation for the future. In the courses offered by the history department, students learn to read and write effectively, how to analyze and reflect, and, most importantly, to have an awareness of international affairs. These skills can be applied to any future profession, and while I am not insisting that Milton students all become future history majors, we should all embrace the opportunity to pick up these vital skills.
Milton students typically take science classes for three—sometimes four—years, and, influenced by this exposure, will often choose a scientific course of study in college. Already as a high school sophomore, I sometimes feel that all we think about is the future; we all want to position ourselves to succeed. While I agree that a solid scientific foundation is a necessity for future success, retrospective insight and social science knowledge are equally important when preparing for a fast moving and unpredictable future.
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