SHS doesn’t need more humanities courses

March 14, 2019 — by Jeffrey Ma

In spite of its relatively small student population, the school has done a surprisingly good job in offering a diverse selection of electives, ranging from ceramics to marine biology and journalism to music.

A long-held criticism of this varied curriculum, however, has been its lack of humanities courses, specifically citing the imbalance between high-level humanities and STEM courses; outside of the core curriculum and its potential AP or Media Arts Program counterparts, the only substantial offerings that fit the bill have been AP European History, Creative Writing and Journalism.

In the light of registering for next year’s classes, this criticism of the school’s curriculum is at very least unspecific if not simply incorrect.

While the journalism program has always maintained a strong presence in the student population (hence you can read this publication), even it is on a downward trend in terms of student enrollment. Comparatively, other currently humanities geared elective courses have suffered from weak student interest and few to no signups.

AP European History fluctuates between one to two classes depending on the year, while its counterpart in the English department, Creative Writing, fares much worse probably due to its lack of honors or AP credit, being relegated to being offered every other year after failing to even draw a dozen students during last year’s registration process.

For AP European History’s one to two periods, just the core sciences alone sport nearly a dozen across chemistry, biology and physics. Computer Science and the engineering courses are likewise numerous and filled.

The question stands: Why should new humanities courses be added if even existent ones fail to attract substantial interest?

Calls for further introduction of humanities courses have cited the recent introduction of AP Art History, which drew substantial student interest in informational meetings; however, Art History as a course is less of a true humanities courses and has many more art elements — the College Board taxonomizes the course as under “Arts.”

Because of this, the course is able to circumvent the lack of student interest exhibited by existent humanities courses by drawing not only from humanity-oriented students but also art-oriented ones. Furthermore, it combines visual arts and AP credit into one clean bundle, a two-for-one deal of sort that would appeal to many AP-hungry students.  

Even if there was a real need for another humanities course, it is extremely difficult to say what class would attract enough interest to be a sustainable class for multiple years. Most subjects within humanities are covered by both introductory and advanced offered: languages by the foreign language department; literature by English 9-11 and AP English Literature; philosophy by AP English Language; history by World History to AP U.S. History.

The few viable options that have potential to fit this bill all have individual weaknesses. The most natural choice would be AP World History, which could be offered as an alternate choice to normal or MAP World History (the technicality here is that it would not be a true elective as it would be considered part of the core curriculum). But offering this course would entail teaching AP-style essay writing to sophomores, who, as underclassmen, are still mastering basic essay writing.

The reality at SHS is that the imbalance between humanities and STEM courses reflects what students are interested in. Current humanities course are more than enough to span the entire spectrum of possible interest, rendering student criticism misplaced.

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