Editorial companion: questions posed on honors curriculum

Our conversation for this month’s staff editorial, “Honors courses should be offered in the humanities,” went far beyond what ended up in the final cut. In our discussion of honors courses and amendments to the program, we touched on possible changes to the honors placement system and the divisive nature of honors programs. For the sake of brevity, focus, and cogency, the group decided to focus on the lack of 4-year honors programs in certain subjects. Still, the other issues mentioned deserve to be brought to wider discussion.

How should students be placed in honors classes?

One of the first changes proposed was to the selection process for students in honors programs. Currently, students are chosen to be in honors courses based on grades and teacher recommendations, but the suggestion was made that honors courses, like electives, ought to be the student’s choice. Not everyone agreed with this: certainly, honors courses are constructed to be more challenging, and without teacher recommendations and consideration of grades, how could it be known if a student will be able to handle the work? Changing the placement system could mean an entire overhaul of the honors program, basing it less on academic prowess and more on personal interest.

Do honors courses cause division?

SPA has no class rankings or no valedictorians. However, honors courses often seem like a startling division between  students perceived to be better or smarter and the less so. Of course, this isn’t really how it works–students not in honors courses may be very talented in others areas, or just don’t have the time to dedicate to the extra work of an honors course. But without honors courses in other areas, there are few ways for these students to demonstrate their abilities. The split between the honors and regular students can often feel alienating, but adding honors courses in the humanities would certainly lessen the sensation.

How should curriculum expand?

As a college preparatory school, it makes sense that SPA should offer more courses in pure academic areas of study than in others, and as a small school, adding many new course options may be difficult. But SPA should still prepare students for the existing job market. No courses are offered for some areas with the highest job demand, such as computer science and programming and many facets of engineering. Speaking a second language fluently is an invaluable skill, yet SPA doesn’t offer honors courses in languages, or teach many critical languages (languages with the most demand for speakers or translators, like Arabic, Hindi, and Korean).  In order to accommodate the wide range of talents and abilities of its student body and better prepare students for professional life, SPA needs to offer a wider variety of honors courses and electives in new areas.

What do you think?

The topic of honors courses brings up more issues and questions than could be discussed in the editorial or here, but what does the larger SPA community feel about honors courses? Do their benefits outweigh the negatives? What changes would you like to see? Leave a comment or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter.