Written by: Ben Atlas
While Gunn remains one of the world’s premier public high schools in academics, it provides a curriculum highly slanted toward fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This emphasis on STEM has created a disproportionate lack of opportunity in the equally important academic areas of humanities. The disparity in difficulty and diversity of courses for students who favor STEM and those who favor humanities detracts certain students’ opportunities to excel.
A cursory review of our school’s quality of education seems to leave little to be desired. The average senior scored a 1942 on the SAT in 2010, whereas the average American senior scored only 1509.
Despite its appearance of general excellence, Gunn’s most challenging courses exist almost solely in STEM classes. In mathematics, five lane are offered all four years of high school. Furthermore, a multitude of electives are available, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses. A clear emphasis is thus placed on each of four STEM fields.
Biology, chemistry and physics all offer three to four different levels of difficulty, including one to two honors or AP classes each. An “accelerated” biology course is offered during freshman year, and honors classes are offered by sophomore year. Multiple science electives are offered, including AP and advanced courses. Such a large spectrum of difficulty inevitably leads to great opportunity for students who favor science.
Lastly, Gunn’s engineering program has been an emphasis of the curriculum. In computer science alone, there are four separate electives for students to choose from, including AP Computer Science. The administration also offers classes and sufficient funding for a highly successful robotics team.
There is no inherent problem to having an excellent STEM program. However, in its rush to promote such subjects, Gunn’s curriculum has neglected its equally important humanities. During freshman and sophomore year, literally every level of student is lumped into the same lane of history classes. In English, sophomores and freshmen share a split class for two years, a testament to the lack of diversity of advancement when compared with the many-laned math and science classes for underclassmen. Conceived as an effort to keep class sizes small, the split class allows for students to choose if they enter upper or lower English regardless of qualifications. The only available AP classes in humanities are AP English, which is reserved for seniors, AP U.S. History, and AP Economics, which is a combination of math and humanities. The only available weighted English classes are Honors American and British Literature and AP Literature, offered for seniors only. That leaves a total of three AP’s and two honors class across humanities, compared to the seven weighted classes in science alone.
The disparity in difficulty and curricular emphasis fosters an atmosphere in which it is often unnecessarily difficult for a student interested in humanities to excel. In order to distinguish himself, any high-achieving student has to take the hardest classes to keep up with the tough competition. Humanities students who wish to prove their academic excellence are thus forced to work at subjects they don’t find intriguing. all because of the apparent curricular disregard for advancement in their chosen interests. They can only force themselves to swallow the unwanted pills of advanced STEM classes and hope to find a balance of subjects after they graduate.