In this issue of our ‘Portrait of a Student’ series, The Editorial Board is focusing on seniors and the stresses they manage. We spoke at length with Ella Zaslow about her experiences as a senior, finding that in having to create an English major for herself, she exemplified the challenging dynamics of balancing required courses against those she wants to take. Her comments prompted us to further examine the options available in humanities subjects’ curricula in order to allow seniors to find both balance and pursue challenging and interesting courses.
Considering the anecdotal evidence offered by Zaslow, we urge the administration to consider greater curricula flexibility beyond the addition of new minor courses. The Dial urges the Hackley English department to offer major courses similar to those in other subjects, where students can take more than one major course.
Ella exemplifies a student managing such challenging courses with stress and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The Editorial Board believes that certain school reforms could aid this pursuit. Despite her love for the humanities, Zaslow was unable to take English minors, or an additional English major, as taking the two senior courses offered simultaneously is not allowed by the English Department.
Thus Zaslow opted to create an independent study and work as a teaching assistant to Mr. Flanigan’s junior English class. Ella not only attends every meeting of the class, adding the equivalent of a major course to her schedule, must juggle the project with 5 other majors, including AP Biology, AP Statistics, and Post-AP Spanish.
“English has been my favorite subject since 10th grade and I wanted a way to add more English into my schedule because the science department and the STEM side of the curriculum gives a lot more opportunities to add a course on to the senior schedule than the humanities, especially English,” said Zaslow.
While Zaslow did choose to take on such a time-consuming project, the stresses that afflict her are not solely her fault. Zaslow elected to be a TA to further pursue the subjects that inspired her; education ought to encourage students to follow their passions, rather than abandon them because of the stress of a plethora of obligations.
Despite the stress of taking all on a heavy course load alongside college applications, Zaslow said she would not give up the extra work she took on.
College admissions and the need to appear competitive in the eyes of colleges influence students like Zaslow to take optional challenging courses in subjects that do not interest them. While this pressure is deeper rooted than Hackley’s curriculum, the lack of advanced classes in the humanities such as English minors and AP English and History courses creates a disproportionate burden for humanities lovers like Zaslow.
Adding to the pressure to perform well in school, seniors must write important Common Application personal statements and supplemental college-specific essays or take standardized tests for college applications
“I found it pretty challenging to work on applications during the week because I felt like my brain just could not be in both of those places,” said Zaslow concerning balancing college applications and school work. While applying to colleges, Zaslow had to separate her workloads, creating an environment when she was working on one or the other at any given time.
Despite these inherent challenges seniors must face, Hackley can and ought to make reforms to alleviate some pressure and allow students to explore their passions. The administration has begun to implement some systems to these ends.
The English department has removed the year-long theory paper that twelfth graders worked on throughout the course of their senior year in addition to their normal English coursework.
“I believe we can and should do better. We like children and helping them. We care deeply about the students and want them to minimize stress,” King said concerning seniors’ balance.
Mr. King also stressed his desire to implement a system that will better inform teachers of what the workloads students are facing in other classes. The goal of this system would be to avoid assigning multiple assessments or intense projects at the same time.
The only English courses that ran this year were Creative Writing, the Vision, and Psychology, none of which appealed to Ella’s specific interests since they all tend to focus on creative writing as opposed to literary analysis.
“We could offer all the cool course descriptions in the world. Students actually have to sign up for them,” said Upper School Director Andy King. King claimed that there are not enough students actually willing to minor in English
The Editorial Board believes that a lack of interest in minors is likely owing to the fact that people truly interested in English, such as Zaslow, want more content and analysis-focused classes like those offered in the sciences rather than the more niche offshoot classes currently offered.
English Department Chair Dr. Richard Robinson hinted at the reworking of the curriculum structure in future years. The department is excited to implement a new minor to the student next body next year, which will focus on furthering students’ writing and analysis skills and implementing other humanities disciplines such as history.
“[This course] will not be like any other course offered before. I’m hoping that it will be the gateway to more interdisciplinary classes. It is the first of the series of steps for courses to break out of being silos. Education has to go there, or else all the wonderful cross-fertilization gets lost,” said Robinson.
“[The English department] is exploring the possibility of implementing trimester-long courses,” Robinson added. Under this setup, new classes offered would allow more flexibility to students who are not interested in fully committing themselves to the subject. Rather, students will now be given the opportunity to commit smaller amounts of time to more focused minor courses.
Such courses would allow the department to offer more than just two courses to the seniors and provide the opportunity for students to select majors that will fit better with their own wishes.
While the Dial applauds the added flexibility and range in focus these changes would give student’s with clashing interests, we hope that more major classes will also be offered in the future to students who are looking for a more intense course. However this does not necessarily entail reimplementing AP courses to match those offered in the maths and sciences; in fact, according to a 2012 Atlantic article, the AP curriculum squelches creativity and free inquiry. Rather we hope the curriculum will allow for more major and minor opportunities for students passionate about the humanities.
Many Hackley seniors face similar stresses to those expressed by Zaslow, often arising from a desire to appear well rounded and academically capable for colleges, that compete with a natural and admirable desire to explore one’s own interests and make use of the resources the school offers. It is time for senior year to change.