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School electives are like oxygen to drowning soul

My daughter's teachers each tackle vastly different subjects, but there's one refrain that resounds throughout her classes at the junior high: If the students don't do well in the annual tests, they will start losing electives schoolwide.

I understand the fact that if the kids don't master the basic material like algebra and science, they're going to find more of those subjects on their schedules in time periods formerly occupied by art and music.

But it appears even those students who do master them could lose electives. And that one-size-fits-all approach to education makes me queasy. I also dislike the devaluing of elective subjects as if they're the equivalent of television time, with no academic value.

Yes, my daughter needs science and math and core topics as her education's foundation. But she also needs to be more rounded. Her brain is fed — and stretched — by the equivalent of a breather in her day, between those heavier subjects, where she can do something that she's picked. A class that celebrates her own aptitudes and interests. And classes like Spanish and art have wide implications for her future success, as well.

I know from experience that if you want to enrage people, you should say something critical about an aspect of our education system. And I also know that people are wildly divided on the bits and pieces of education they think are important and which ones they'd give up in hard times. I'm glad my kid's school's not part of the Jordan-Canyon money battle.

A legislator recently suggested Utah could make up a significant piece of its financial shortfall by eliminating 12th grade. Some members of the public were appalled by that and suggested instead that kindergarten be eliminated. That, in turn, was an outrage to still other members of the public.

I would be very unhappy to see either kindergarten or 12th grade dismantled. Students need both.

Should her school lose all electives, I will shop around for a school that offers them. I think electives are as essential to education as algebra and science. And I'm curious what incentives a student has to study hard, test well and get good grades if she loses the classes she loves along with the kids who don't do well, for whatever reason.

Some parents have suggested that the school could perhaps take away the electives of the children who are struggling and substitute additional core courses. That makes more sense than taking electives from everyone. But it does not serve well the child who struggles and still hangs in because his elective is like oxygen to his drowning soul.

I am not a teacher, so I have stayed mostly quiet, resisting the temptation to tell those educating my children how to do their jobs.

I even bit my tongue — hard — when one of my daughter's teachers at parent teacher conference not only did not know either her first or last name, but asked, six months into the year, "Are you in one of my classes?" No, she was in TWO of your classes the first semester and remains under your tutelage this term. Thanks for noticing.

I've resisted the temptation to tell the math teacher my child spends more time copying down paragraphs-long passages of story problems by hand so the teacher can tell which problem she worked on than she does on actual math. That busy work bothers me.

Take away electives, bump up classroom size, mess with fundamentals of a good education, though, and I will find voice. I doubt I will be alone. Like the vast majority of parents, I am not a professional educator, but I bristle when someone implies I'm not heavily invested in what the school system does.

I've invested what I value most: my children.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.