What to Do

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Ever feel like everyone else seems to know your future expect for yourself? I’m kind of at that point right.

Today we had one of my least favorite conversations that has to happen once a year about now: “What courses are you going to take next year and what is your plan for the rest of high school?”

The reason I hate this conversation is because I get told so many conflicting things, and I’m already pretty bad at making decisions, so this doesn’t help.

The set up of school is meant to get you into college, correct? You are told that this a good thing because you want to go to college. It didn’t always use to be assumed that you were going to college. The question use to be “Are you going to college?” Now the question is, “Which college are you thinking about going to?”

Any student born in these past few generations has already been born with some part of their future planned out for them by someone else: they are going to college.

Now that it is clear that we want to go to college, I would like to describe how school helps us get there.

We are told that to be competitive in getting into a good college, we need to take as many AP courses as possible. (And do well in them obviously.) When signing up for these courses they tell you that the course will be a college level class, meaning it will be difficult, and typically involve lots of reading and dedicated time outside of school in order to keep up with the fast pace. We are also asked in the application we have to fill out, “why do you want to take this course?”

Here is where things get a little paradoxical. They just told us that in order to be competitive we need to take as many APs as possible, but then they also don’t want us taking APs just because they are AP classes; which do you prioritize more?

The worst part is that because my school is so small, there isn’t an honors course offered for several of the AP courses. You either take on level or AP, and there is no in between.

This brings me to my first debate: AP US History vs. On Level US History.

I’ve discussed many times how I have a love-hate relationship with history classes. I like history debates and discussions around issues, but overall history is probably my least favorite subject. I just don’t have that same love for it as some people do and I haven’t quite nailed out why yet. I also would consider myself a relatively slow reader, yet I keep being told that APUSH involves a lot of intensive reading. Based off of this, I feel like it would be wise of me to not take this AP and then not have to stress about the AP level work for a topic I’m not particularly thrilled with.

However, I don’t really want to be in an on level class. My primary reason is because I like challenging myself, and I like the level of depth of conversation that happens at the higher level of thinking with people I’m friends with that typically take honors and AP classes. I don’t think an on level class will challenge me that way or give me that deep level of conversation I enjoy. Plus, once again I’m told I want to go to college; therefore, from a “getting into college” perspective, the on level class will drop my GPA, and would also likely take me out of the running for valedictorian knowing other people’s course selections and typical grades. Plus if I can take an AP and score well in it (which I’m decently sure I could based on past performance), then it looks better on an application.

(Quick tangent on valedictorian, I hate to sound over confident, but many students in the grade have said that they think  I will be the valedictorian. On the one hand I feel pride in this, because it is competitive and like everyone else, I like winning because it means your hard work paid off. However, I hate the fact that this is considered like the “highest award possible” in high school, yet it is purely based on grades and what classes you decided to take because you want to get into college. The award has nothing to do with any impact you made, or how much you helped others, or how you did as a student and teacher and mentor, or how much you learned, or anything about enjoying learning, or really even saying you learned at all for that matter. It is just the numbers, and that seems like a pretty awful award to strive for in my opinion, yet that is what is considered the “best” and what to strive for at school.)

I don’t want to it to feel like I’m taking the easy way out by not taking the AP, and I’m worried that an on level course will make me board and not test me as far as thinking goes. However, I also know that I would get frustrated devoting so much time for an AP course that I’m not passionate about. I also don’t know how much I should value GPA into all of this, because since I want to go to college, shouldn’t that play some role?

What I would really love is to not take this history course at all to be honest. If I have to take school courses, what I want is to take is math and science courses because I do love those and I have confidence in my advanced skill level in these areas.

For math and science I have a different problem: deciding which to take.

I’m already ahead in math for my standard grade course, so I have 3 options left available to me for the rest of high school: AB Calculus, BC Calculus, and AP Statistics. Last year at this time I was told that I could potentially skip straight to BC Calc. without AB Calc., now apparently this has changed and I need to take AB first, so I guess I’m doing that next year.

For science I have also been told previously that a “rule” that we have I could potentially be exempted from. This would mean that I could take AP Physics without taking Honors Physics. The reason I would like to do this would be so that I can take AP Chemistry next year right after having taken Honors Chemistry this year and then I would still be able to take AP Physics like I want as a senior.

Things really get complicated when it comes to how many class periods in the day I actually have. There are 7 periods as of this year. One period is your elective, which for me is ID, and that is a nonnegotiable for me; I’m doing that. Then one period is GTD (Get Things Done) which everyone takes; because I’m in ID, I could potentially not take this, but I think I need this time for getting ahead on school work and being able to have time in cases I need to make up work I missed while at a different opportunity, and college counciling meetings will likely happen in this time which is important as a junior (next year remember).

This leaves me with 5 other period spaces to fill. I have to take at least 1 science, 1 math, 1 English, and 1 history. However this next year I do have an option for my 5th spot because I no longer have to take a language since I’ve gotten to level 3 of Latin.

If I don’t take Latin next year, this would mean I could double up on a course (probably a science, but maybe math then science as a senior either way) which could help me take all of those course I want to be taking. The problem is that I really enjoy Latin class. It has been my favorite class this year because it always makes me laugh and have a good time while learning; there has never been an exception to this so far. While over all I don’t like standard classes, Latin has always been the one I can look forward to, and I’m worried to not have it especially after 4 years of taking it. (I think it could be like band where I later realize how much I really did enjoy it.)

Then once again I’m brought back to GPA, because we want to get into college, so your GPA is important. Latin is not an honors course, and if I didn’t take Latin I would probably take another AP. This is a whole point difference in regard to GPA. Plus, like I said, I really want to take AP Stats as well as BC Calc. At this point, the only way to do this would involve eventually dropping Latin. If I dropped it next year I would probably apply for AP Environmental Science, and unlike some of my friends who may take it because it is known to be the easiest AP, I would take it because after taking Sustainable Green Architecture as my course for Nerd Camp (Duke Tip) it sounds like it has the potential to be interesting. So the Latin or no Latin is kind of a big decision as far as what to do.

Next there is English. I’m actually pretty sure I want to take AP Lang next year. However, it would be much more amazing if our idea about getting an English credit while working in ID could happen. I wouldn’t even care if it is an AP course or not, because this sounds personally, like more fun work involved, plus it would open up a space for me to then still take Latin and the extra math or science potentially (at least in my world where everything would work out nicely).

There are a few hitches in this plan though.

One, we don’t know if this can happen; it would take a lot of work, planning and pitching to show that we could hit all of the course objectives. Two, I wouldn’t want to nor could I do this alone. I feed off of working with others and need those good group discussions because that is what makes me really excited about learning. However, what if no one else wants to embark on this unknown track of getting credit without taking a typical “class”? In a nice little world it would work out where I could go to some of the classes and participate in discussions, or we would have at least a few of us so we could really fully design our own course. Again though, we don’t even know if this will work out next year, so I can’t really plan for this. (Don’t think I won’t continue this conversation of trying though.)

It is all a big game. It is a competition for who can get the best grades and get into the best college. Why do we play this game though? Shouldn’t the course selections we pick be based off of actual passion for a course? It feels so wrong to have to be choosing between multiple classes I want to take because I want to learn about the topics and don’t have time.

People will tell me “oh you will be fine with whatever course you take”, but just because I could handle the work load doesn’t mean that is the best place for me to be or where I would want to be. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. There are a lot of choices and the truth is that I don’t feel like I’ve been well enough exposed to the myriad of choices in order to actually pick something. Other people have talked about me coaching and taking over the gymnastics business, or moving to New York and becoming a struggling actor or musician, or getting a job at a school somewhere. Ya these things intrigue me, but I don’t know a ton about what it would mean to do any one of those. I don’t know what college I want to go to in order to learn about one of these options.

School can say as many times as they want “don’t pick courses just because they are an AP”, but that doesn’t refute the fact that it is the environment that having APs and the push for college creates. I do not go to school alone, and the people in my class will highly influence my learning which is also something to keep in consideration, but at the same time we are told to not pick based off of anyone but yourself. We’ve also talked in ID as well about how you don’t want to completely ostracize yourself from the rest of the grade because that could be hard socially, and school is very much a social place.

I finished The Falconer finally and I can’t stop wishing I took the Falconer Seminar and only that for a year, this one paragraph really spoke to me:

  • “Many of the Children’s heroes would reflect these same traits. Crossover sciences like biochemistry and artificial intelligence that will be the hallmark of the twenty-first century require individuals who are both rigorous in their management of knowledge and innovative in its creation. Unfortunately, our educational and training systems are still rooted in single discipline mode. The best education today teachers multidisciplinary knowledge, and that is a huge step in the right direction. The real leap will be when we overtly teach our students and employees how to be creative, how to bridge the gap between the left and right brains, how to synthesize data, how to use risk as a strength and not a weakness, where to look for the gaps that will lead to the new discoveries and innovations and designs that have always been the high water marks of human development. these are the intellectual tools that are demanded by the world ahead.” -Grant Lichtman (page 152)

What bothers me a lot about course picking, despite the problems I’ve already mentioned with the assumption of living in the system, is that I know next year when we start I still won’t be doing what I really want to be doing at school. What I really want is for school to get rid of these traditional courses all together. I want to be learning all of the subjects at once. I want to learn about the cross overs in between subjects, and I want to learn them while really learning bigger skills, skills for life out of college.

What I want more than anything from school is to be in an environment where I can learn, do, and create while working in the “real world”. I don’t feel like we are there yet, so having to work in the system frustrates me and confuses me as I try to make decisions that are best for me not just because it looks good for college.

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3 thoughts on “What to Do

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