By Sarah Swenson, editor-in-chief
If you are a student at Nantucket High School looking to take the most challenging, rigorous coursework you can… you’d better hope you’re a STEM kid. While NHS has 5, sometimes 6 STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) AP classes offered, for humanities, there are only 4 courses available.
The four humanities courses offered are AP Language and Composition (AP Lang), AP Literature and Composition (AP Lit), AP United States History (APUSH), and AP Government. AP Lang is offered only to juniors only, and AP Lit is offered only to seniors. No AP STEM class is offered only to one grade, meaning after freshman year, you can pursue whichever one you wish to first.
If you are interested in STEM, on the other hand, you have five, maybe six options. For math, you have AP Statistics (AP Stats) and AP Calculus (AP Calc). For the sciences, you have AP Biology (AP Bio), AP Chemistry (AP Chem), AP Environmental Science, and AP Physics. AP Biology is the sole advanced placement course offered to sophomores. AP Physics, arguably a math course but categorized as a science, has not been offered this year due to lack of interest.
There is no issue of lack of interest in the humanities courses. This year, APUSH is split into two sections, with a total of 32 kids. AP Lang, also split into two sections, has 28 kids. AP Bio, with only one section, has 13 students. AP Chem—11 students. The uneven offering is not because there is more interest in the STEM classes. Students are grabbing at the opportunity to take the more advanced courses in history and English, there just aren’t as many options.
The lack of English classes is not just a Nantucket problem. College Board, the site that hosts all 38 AP classes and exams, only offers a scanty two English APs. Two.
Our lack of social studies classes, on the other hand? A Nantucket problem. College Board offers nine history classes. Ten, if you count art history. I, personally, think AP art history would be a fascinating class. An exploration of art that I could justify because it would be an AP. AP Psychology is also offered by College Board, listed as a social study (even though it is a science), but not by NHS. I am taking AP Psychology on VHS and finding every week fascinating.
However, for many students, taking classes online is difficult, even more so than taking classes online last year. On VHS, students will likely never see their teacher, even in a video. They will never hear their teacher’s voice. They will never have topics explained to them individually, or be able to ask questions in real-time. All assignments are posted at 12 am on Wednesdays, and, generally, due at the end of the next Tuesday. If NHS offered AP Psych, this class would open up as an option for so many more students. Other humanities classes offered by College Board include European History, United States Government and Politics (which I hope to take next year!… through VHS), and Micro and Macroeconomics.
I don’t mean to diminish the importance of STEM classes. They are certainly vital to the development of strong and agile brains, and I am very glad that some people are passionate about science and math. We need doctors, and we need engineers—and we need smart economists to realize that capitalism is a scam. However, it is not my passion. And, it will never be my job. So, in these formative years, where I am preparing myself for college, for a career, for life beyond the walls of the high school, shouldn’t the information I am collecting be about things that I will actually use?
In a math class, my teacher, pacing up and down the aisles of desks, told us what he thinks: In college, you’re gonna see all the classes before noon are STEM classes. That’s because the science kids, and the math kids, are willing to get up in the morning to take the early classes, because they are dedicated, and they’ll put in the effort. They are at college to work hard and to learn. The humanities kids, they’ll wake up sometime after noon. Might go to their classes. They’re just there because they think they might as well get a degree, and English is easy.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the class seething. There is tremendous value in books. Politics. Law. The keeping of history.
Maybe analyzing literature holds no appeal for you. Maybe there is no future where you find yourself composing an editorial for a newspaper. But English teaches you skills that you need regardless of your path forward in the world.
Many colleges require essays of their students, which they weigh along with grades and extracurriculars and other factors to determine whether they will admit that student. Even if it is just to get into college to start your journey towards a STEM degree, every college-bound student will need to be at least proficient enough in writing to not blow their chances in a shoddy essay. If you are writing a job application, you don’t want your potential employer’s first impression of you to be spelling errors and incorrect grammar. Beyond writing skills, you need to be able to be a good reader.
An understanding of propaganda, persuasive techniques, and other tools used by politicians is essential to your ability to vote for the candidate who truly matches your ideals. I think that political literacy should be a bigger focus of high school in general, but at the very least, you should be able to listen to speeches by politicians, or read through proposed laws for your home town, and not just get frustrated and skim for buzzwords you agree with. That is a surefire way to support someone who does not actually represent your ideals.
Information taught in history classes is also useful throughout your entire life. The point of learning about history, as my seventh and eighth grade history teacher, Forest Bell, was fond of saying, is not to memorize a string of useless dates and names, but to understand the mistakes of the past so we do not repeat them in the future. This is a paraphrase of a Geoge Santayana quote, which he had on a magnet stuck to his radiator.
If you pay attention in history class, this lesson teaches itself. It seems that every revolution stems from the same underlying causes. Every time some political mind proposes the idea that everything wrong with his suffering nation is the fault of the ‘other’, and really, it is the right of him and those like him, to rule the world and eliminate those ‘other’, imagine the great historians sighing with terrible weariness. It is the same story, cycled over and over. And people fall for it, flocking to that bigoted politician and spitting hate at anyone unlike them. I don’t think they would do so if they understood how these things inevitably go. I truly believe that we would be much better off as a country, and a world, if every citizen was educated, in math, and science, but especially in literacy and history.
It’s worth repeating now that I don’t think focus should be turned unfairly towards the humanities. I just think that they should be given equal attention to the more quantitative subjects. I believe that there is an unfair weight towards STEM classes, and thus people with STEM interests, at NHS. AP STEM classes outnumber the AP Humanities courses, nearly 2:1. This emphasis on STEM classes is a value that seems to be consistent with the nation as a whole.
Every year the value of being good at working with computers increases. But every year, so too does the value of connecting to people, to writing with eloquence and emotion. In 50 years, the jobs of most sciences may be automated, replaced by robots, designed by dutiful STEM majors. But in that same time span, the value of a kind teacher who can connect with students, a patient and caring therapist who can meet patients on their level, or an author who can capture imagination on a page, will not have decreased a bit. I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies:
“We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” (Dead Poets Society)