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Students: Giving Yourself the Gift of a Broad Education

Authored By: 
Michelle Koza, English Teacher

As an educator with several years of experience working with a wide array of students in various educational contexts, I am concerned about the specialization trend that is taking place in schools at increasingly lower grade levels. While it is important that students identify their intellectual interests, they may miss opportunities to discover unexpected interests and to develop fully as a thinker. As a greater percentage of high school graduates begin to pursue college education, competition for professional employment increases. This is driving college students to be as pragmatic as possible when selecting their majors, so as to be optimally competitive in the workplace when they graduate. This trend is understandable, although perhaps unfortunate for many whose interior lives could be enriched by supplementing their studies of business practices and economics with the study of world literatures, for example.

The tracking of high school students into career-focused curricula takes this trend to a new level. Career-oriented tracking at the secondary level cheats both the students and society. Many students enrolled in such programs (such as high schools from which students graduate as certified nursing assistants) will not be able to discover their love of arts or literature or Classical languages because these classes may not be available to them or the instruction in humanities is provided at a bare-minimum level.

Who knows what great artists and writers have never had the chance to develop due to career-oriented tracking too early in their academic lives? It is time for students, parents, and educators alike to recognize the value in a well-rounded education. Indeed, the great Catholic thinker Cardinal Newman said that a liberal arts education is essential in preventing the “man of one idea,” someone who is so secure in his narrow knowledge that he elevates it to the exclusion of everything else. As Carlo Rotella said in an op-ed for the Boston Globe, “Prospective employers frequently don’t really care what you majored in. [...] What matters is that you pursued training in the craft of mastering complexity.” All of us must cultivate our perspectives and circumspection, and it is likewise important that students try to think in lots of different ways, even in ways that may have nothing to do with their place in the workforce.