Art vs. Science

There is a story I tell my children about self-advocacy. It is a story from my own high school experience, and though the story is antiquated due to my advancing age (at least in their minds), the story still resonates with them. As it is time to register for classes for the coming academic year, the story has come up once again.

Within the education system, there is a path that each student is expected to follow—the “cookie-cutter” path that allows guidance counselors and teachers to quickly check boxes and sign forms, moving kids through the system with the confidence that they are getting what they need. A student’s expected path depends upon post high school plans. (Because in high school, you know the direction your life will go.) If a student is planning to go to college, s/he is expected to take the “college prep” path. Those with more rigorous college aspirations demand an “honors” or “AP” path while those who are planning to go to trade school or get a job might choose either a standard or vocational path.

Each path comes with expectations for the courses that students should take along the way. And therein lies the problem. It has been my experience that this cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work for all students. It didn’t work for me when I was in high school. But back in my day, it was more difficult to stray.

Before my freshman year of high school, I sat down with my guidance counselor. Back in the day, guidance counselors knew each of their assigned students and did both course planning and college counseling. (What they do now, I have no idea and even less evidence, but that’s a story for another post….) My counselor listed the courses I would take my freshman year.

“What is this? ‘Earth Science’?” I questioned. “And why do I have to take it?”

“You’re college prep,” he informed me, as if I didn’t know. “That’s what college prep students take.”

“Why, exactly, do I have to take this class?” I tried again.

“Because you are college prep, and colleges like to see science courses,” he informed me.

“How many science courses?” I asked.

“At lease two, but definitely biology and chemistry. Physics is good, too.”

“So… where does Earth Science fit into that?” I pressed. “It almost seems that ‘Earth Science’ is not a required course. I’d like to take art instead.”

He stared at me, as if I had just slapped him. “I’m sorry. Did you say ‘art’?”

“Yes. Art. This one right here,” I pointed to Studio Art on the course offerings list.

He began to shuffle the papers on his desk dismissively, as if ignoring me would make me go away. “That’s not the usual course of studies,” he informed me without looking up.

I’m not the usual college prep kid, I wanted to say, but instead, I merely said, “That’s okay. I’ll take biology as a sophomore.”

He studied me intently for another 20 seconds before he signed off on my unusual course of study.

Sophomore year, I took biology, and junior year, I took chemistry. But at the end of junior year, I was back in his office. By now (three years later), he knew who I was and what mattered. To me. “Suzanne,” he greeted me. “What brings you in?”

“Physics,” I stated bluntly, shoving my course selection sheet across his desk. He sighed deeply, his shoulders slouching in defeat.

“Art?” he questioned.

“You got it!” I smiled. He signed off on my senior year course choice without further discussion.

Funny… I got into college without those extra two science credits. I continued my art path through college. To this day, I have no regrets. I seldom use science in the strict, “science” sense, but I have used art all my life.

This week, my daughter texted me a picture from her course of studies booklet. She is contemplating an interdisciplinary course, “Art of Science.” Now that’s a science course I could delve into!

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