I recently had an interesting conversation with a few homeschool parents of middle school age children who are in the process of making plans for high school. In the process, they raised quite a few questions that I think many other parents also wonder about.
Since these parents know me as their children’s science teacher, our conversation naturally centered on science education. Fundamentally, we were discussing two things. First, what does a good, high school science education consist of? And second, what do colleges want to see?
Science is such a broad topic that it isn’t at all obvious what subjects high school students should study. Of course, a year each of biology, chemistry, and physics is traditional, but why? Why isn’t Earth science, which deals with some of the most important issues of our day, such as climate, part of that core curriculum? Is it OK to substitute more specialized classes such as astronomy, botany, or forensics for the more traditional classes? Should students study only the branches of science that they most enjoy?
There is no clear answer to these questions; the conclusions that people come to will have as much to do with opinions and preferences as they will with facts. Personally, I think that while biology, chemistry, and physics are all great, Earth science is just as good and ought to be in the spotlight more than it is. I suspect it gets short shrift because of the far-reaching influence of medical schools, which all require applicants to take biology, chemistry, and physics, but not Earth science. In my opinion, relatively broad survey courses should make up the greater portion of high school science, but adding in one or two specialized classes can be wonderful, particularly if they are in addition to the more general classes. If specialized classes replace too many broad survey classes, my concern is that students will not get enough background information to formulate an accurate picture of the way the world works.