Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 5.24.07

One More Hoop
In the circus act called education

Recently the Oregon Legislature passed a bill dramatically increasing the requirements in math and science for a high school diploma. Many people around the state applauded this decision. I did not. Before I begin my discussion of the topic at hand, I must issue a warning: Requirements and I have had an uneasy alliance throughout my life. Homework is a good case in point.

I first became acquainted with the idea of homework in grade one at Edison School. I had been in preschool for a total of four years before I reached Edison, so I fully understood the concept of school (“Boring stuff now; cool stuff later.”) But the idea of home combined with work did not compute in my tiny first-grade brain. Work was what you did during the six hours that they held you captive at school. Home was the place that you went to escape from work. Home was snacks, playing with toys on the floor, swinging on the swing and watching The Brave Little Toaster. Over the course of the next 12 years I was to learn that school work frequently did follow me home, and I came, reluctantly, to accept that fact.

But the idea that what used to be the maximum for many college-bound students is now the minimum for receiving a high school diploma says, to me, that the Legislature believes that the purpose of high school is solely preparing students for college. I see these new requirements as a source of discouragement for those students who already feel overwhelmed by courses that do not feed their passions, decreasing diversity for students and increasing the chance that many students will feel that high school is simply not a place that values them.

These newly imposed requirements do not directly affect me. I am a graduating senior this year and already accepted into the college of my choice. So why do I feel so strongly about them? I think that it is because of my experience this year with the senior project, a 25-hour, community-based requirement documenting a potential career path. The intention was that seniors get some “real world” experience before they leave high school. All of these ideas sounded good on paper. But the way they came down to me as a real-world student was very different.

I had spent my freshman, sophomore and junior years swimming along in the stream of my adolescent peers, doing everything that I was told to do so that I could reach that hallowed place, The Senior Year. I tackled every homework assignment, test and project they dished out to me. For three years I mentally counted down the days until I would be a senior and be able to enjoy a year of classes that reflected my strengths and interests.

So, when I heard that, starting this school year, all seniors were required to take part in a senior project, I felt like one more hoop had been added to the circus act that was my formal education. If one of the goals of high school is to help students build a bridge from the world of childhood to that of adulthood, then let us do just that. Tell us the rules. Explain the terms of the contract. And if we live up to our end of the bargain, then you live up to yours. Think about the fact that maybe some very important learning comes when not absolutely everything is spelled out in requirements.

Maybe the opportunity to make choices is just as important as some of the choices we might ultimately make.

Miko Bauer attends South Eugene High School.