Every year, when March rolls around, students are given a registration packet with a one-week deadline to choose the classes they wish to take in the following school year. Recently, however, the amount of students enrolling in science courses has been increasing. Since we are at the center of innovation and technology, the current generation of students is being pressured to take more science courses, rather than experimenting in other fields.
As freshmen, students have a limited choice: they are permitted to take non-honors or honors in math, Biology, and English, with one elective (which is normally used to complete the language requirement for graduation).
Sophomores are given the extra opportunity of taking an AP history course, in addition to the required classes and one elective. Only in junior and senior year is when students get the most control over which classes they want to take.
This freedom should allow students to pursue their interests, but an online poll revealed that 65% of American High School students are pressured to take science courses.
James Maxwell, the director of high school instructional services at the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) and former science teacher, sees this push to take science courses as something that the whole world is calling for, not just American.
“I believe that this trend has been going on for years,” Maxwell said. “There is a national push for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses. Most college prep students have always taken four years of science, but they are pushing to get other non-traditional students interested in taking more science courses [as well].”
This “national push” into STEM related fields is partially one of reasons science classes fill up faster compared to other courses.
“[The number of people enrolled in non-science courses] did decline in the 80s,” Maxwell said. “But then UCs and CSUs added them back into the ‘a-g’ requirements and AP classes were added, so the numbers went up.”
Essentially, the reason students are taking these courses is to fulfill a requirement and/or boost their GPA. Even if students are interested in an arts-related field, the environment surrounding them encourages them to pursue science.
In an anonymous online survey, one student commented, “We are pressured by people around us, as well as college, to take honors or AP classes. The fact that the majority of AP courses offered at school are science-related courses means that students gravitate towards them.”
At American, out of the 19 total science courses available, 9 are honors or AP classes. For visual and performing arts courses, only 11 classes are available—including the different levels of art, architecture, and sculpture. Out of those courses, only one AP is offered (AP Studio Art).
College-bound students are more prone to take higher level classes, so the lack of AP/Honors classes in the liberal arts field dissuades them from continuing on longer than the requirement.
“[American] offers a wider variety of science courses, which tends to influence [a student’s] decision,” AP English teacher Mrs. Smith said. “I feel it’s important for students to have a balance in their schedules that is often lacking in students I see who take an aggressive course load.”
The lean towards science courses is evident, because most non-science elective courses have few students. Classes such as Journalism and Publications must be combined to run. Additionally, Creative Writing, taught by Mrs. Smith, was cancelled this year due to the lack of student sign-ups.
“I was disappointed,” Smith said. “I very much enjoyed the class since it was a rest from high academic classes for me and the students.”
Senior Chad Harada, who had the opportunity to take the course last year, found that writing freely helped harness his creativity.
“We had writing time everyday for around 10-15 minutes and were given a prompt, although we didn’t have to use the prompt if we didn’t want to,” Harada said. “I enjoy writing and I am decently creative so I decided to take [the class] and in the end, it was the best decision I made last year.”
In the school graduation requirements, four years of science is recommended, whereas students only have to take one year of a visual/performing arts course. Since liberal arts is not as emphasized, not many students take these kinds of courses all four years. However, an online poll revealed that only 68% of students would take a liberal arts class even if the school did not require it.
Part of the 32% who said no is junior Aneha Singh, who is currently taking 3 AP science courses (AP Physics 1, AP Biology, AP Environmental Science).
“[I took these courses] for the extra GPA points,” Singh said. “Second, I tend to do better in science and I enjoy the process. Third, I want to go into the science field later in my life so I decided to immerse myself in these classes to see if I really do want to do something similar as a career for the rest of my life.”
Even though Singh is taking these classes as a way to see whether or not science is her calling, competition is part of what motivates her to follow the science pathway.
“The area where I go to school does push me a little,” Singh said. “All the competition makes me want to do something [in science] so that I feel competitive.”
However, Maxwell, part of FUSD, believes that liberal arts and STEM courses can increase creativity and productiveness when taken together.
“There is research that shows that the arts help students tap into the ‘right’ side of the brain and possibly improve creativity in other areas,” Maxwell said. “Also, being involved with music helps your math performance.”