Some US high-schools are forcing students to choose “majors” in the ninth grade. This sounds similar to the UK system, where teens take O- and A-levels and seal their post-secondary education choices at the age of 15 or 16. Maybe this works for some kids, but it would have been a disaster for me. I’ve changed “careers” every 2-3 years since graduating from an alternative school where I spent seven years inventing courses that reflected whatever I was interested in that year. Every professional thing I’ve done since then wasn’t invented when I started the previous one — if this had been around in 1988, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have offered a major in “blogging” or “writing science fiction novels” or “working on Internet standards.” In fact, the one computerized aptitude test I took in high-school recommended a career in “geriatric nutrition” — cooking meals at old folks’ homes.
For Dwight Morrow, a school that has struggled with low test scores and racial tensions for years, establishing majors is a way to make their students stay interested until graduation and stand out in the hypercompetitive college admissions process.
Some parents have welcomed the requirement, noting that a magnet school in the district already allowed some students to specialize. But other parents and some educators have criticized it as preprofessionalism run amok or a marketing gimmick.
â€œI thought high school was about finding what you liked to do,â€ said Kendall Eatman, an Englewood mother of six who was president of the Dwight Morrow student body before graduating in 1978. â€œI think itâ€™s too early to be so rigid.â€
Update: Zhan sez, “As a product of the UK secondary education system, I have to say that Cory’s description of the UK A-level/GCSE (the O-level was phased out in the mid-1980s) is not really accurate. Students typically take a wide range of topics at GCSE (formerly O) level to be taken at around age 16 – the above-average state school and average private school will expect its students to take a selection of sciences, foreign languages, maths, humanities. For the A-levels (about age 17-18), students can become much more specialized, OR they can take a diverse selection from both sciences/maths and the humanities. While being more specialized gives an advantage when applying to a related specialized UK university program, there are many interdisciplinary UK university degrees which would fit a student with mixed-up/broad interests (I was one of these kids)”