The Hierarchy of School Subjects

I’m sure many people remember back to their high school days and remember how there always seemed to be certain courses that were trumpeted as the “best” courses to take if you wanted to go to university and be successful. Having just finished teacher’s college last year, there’s still that huge hierarchy of subjects with teachers. Obviously every teacher thinks they’re subject is the best, but some are downright arrogant about it.

Now I happen to be a teacher who is more focused on the Arts and Humanities – so Drama, English, History, Social Sciences, etc. I wish I could do Dance, Music and Art, but I don’t have the skill set for it. I took piano and did choir as a kid, but didn’t pursue it in high school. The way the school system is set up in the province I live in, you are only required to take one credit in the Arts in high school. ONE. Generally speaking, the break down ends up being something to the following effect.

Art – Generally students will take art if they can draw. It can also depend on the teacher. If your school has an art teacher known for being a real stickler for making sure technique is just so, those who may find art fun in terms of they like to doodle, won’t bother. You may get some who take it in grade 9, not knowing how technical it can be, but beyond that a lot comes down to do you think you can draw. Hugely dependent on the strengths of the teacher, as the curriculum is often pretty wide open.

Dance – Often students who take dance in school are those students who take dance outside of school. They already have the basics. You may have some students who don’t – in which case the class will have a very wide range of skill levels. It is also mostly made up of girls. Hugely dependent on the strengths of the teacher, as the curriculum is often pretty wide open.

Drama – The “catch all” arts class. If you can’t draw, dance or play an instrument, you’ll end up in Drama. It’s often seen as the “easy” class and if a student does well in gr.9 or 10 Drama, they may take it as a bird class the rest of the way through as a way to boost their average. Hugely dependent on the strengths of the teacher, as the curriculum is often pretty wide open. In my experience – some teachers do a lot more full class presentations and will do things like musical theatre and really push the Drama aspect of it. Other teachers take it very seriously and do theatre – which means a lot of technical work, a lot of theory and theatre history. Often the guidance department will send all sorts of students to Drama to get their arts credit because it’s that or the door by that point. Drama is a course where you can find something for everyone – onstage or backstage depending. It lends itself well to learning life skills like teamwork and collaboration – as well as the obvious being able to speak in public.

Music (Vocal/Instrumental) – Students will often consider this another sort of “catch all” class like Drama. Those students who are too scared to get up on stage will take gr.9 instrumental and hide in the back with a random instrument. They typically won’t actually practice, but they’ll show up and pretend. There will also be super serious students who have perhaps taken piano for 10 years already. Programs will also vary depending on the teacher – some schools will have a marching band, others strictly a concert band. Some will have jazz programs or guitar programs. Still others will have string ensembles. Canadian schools don’t push marching bands the same way that American schools do – you won’t see too many drumlines at football games, which is a shame in my opinion. Had we had a marching band at my school, I might have taken music so I could play drums. Vocal tends to be a real grab bag at times too – often having students who take vocal outside of school and others who figure they did choir in elementary school or at church so why not do it in school.

Doesn’t seem all that inspiring does it? Often school boards will have certain schools known for their arts programs in one of the areas and they’ll concentrate their efforts that way. But why the hierarchy to begin with? Part of the argument with the Arts could be the lack of teachers in that area. Many teachers in the Arts fall into teaching after a few years in the professional world as a musician, artist, actor, director, etc. They get that professional experience first so they have more to bring to the table.

But why is it that math and science continue to be the courses that are pushed upon students? How wonderful you did so well in math – but you can’t write a proper essay because you failed your English class or just barely scraped by. How are you going to be able to write lab reports when you can’t even tell the difference between their, there and they’re? Computers also seems to be another big push which is great – but how many of you are actually going to have to write coding? If it’s something you’re interested in by all means, pursue it, but why do people dump on people for pursuing English and History?

English – for all it’s faults in how often classes will completely over-analyze a text – does teach you skills you will need in the real world. It teaches you how to write. That is something so essential, but taken for granted in this day and age. People don’t read enough anymore either – in fact I think they largely don’t have the attention span for it.

Then there’s History, Law, Politics, Social Sciences – they’re looked down upon as being boring and useless. These classes teach you about the world around you and how we came to be what we are today. History tells you where you came from and how the world as we know it today has been forged out of the past. After all, those who forget History are doomed to repeat it. Law and Politics tells you how your country is being run.

Then there are the Tech courses – those courses so often maligned as being for the kids “who won’t make it into post-secondary.” There’s auto, communication, construction, etc – the list is huge! These are jobs we need! Do you know how much a trained carpenter can make in today’s world? It’s an essential job that we just don’t have enough people to fill.

Yes – there are many people who go into university and get degrees that will be useless in the real world. As Princeton in Avenue Q signs – “What do you do with a BA in English?” The real problem isn’t that people are getting these degrees, the problem is that everyone in the western world is pushed towards university now. We’re at the point where if you want a career, you will need to have not only a Bachelor’s Degree, but a Masters or some kind of specialization on top of that BA. However, since university has always been viewed as a the be all and end all, as originally it showed prestige to get in as it was meant for the elite – and not only that, but the elite males. Now though any monkey with a B average can get into a half decent university, pay them thousands and thousands of dollars, and leave with a nice piece of paper saying they accomplished something.

So what do we need to do as teachers? We need to steer our students into their areas of interest that will make them happy and show them all their choices – be it workplace, apprenticeships, college or university. We need to give them the freedom to find what will fit for them. Gone are the days where you would join the company at 20 and stay with them until you retired at 55. People change careers like they change their underwear. We need to get away from this idea that some areas are “better” than others, otherwise pretty soon where going to have an even bigger problem than we do now.


About Miss Substitute Teacher

Working as a substitute teacher. Kids really do say the darnedest things!
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