Opinion | The value of enriching and unique non-AP classes

For decades education has been flooded with primarily eurocentric curriculum and views of success, leaving BIPOC students lacking the stories that represent them. Although ETHS is not exempt from this, hidden amongst this are various alternative courses that are often not adequately acknowledged and promoted. English, history, and social science courses like African American Studies, Sociology of Class Gender and Race, The Chicano Movement and World and Ethnic Literature are only a few examples. 

Vocalizing and promoting these courses for students to explore their options is critical in ensuring students access broader experience from around the world while also recognizing their personal experiences within curriculum and courses. 

“I do believe that there is a greater commitment [at ETHS] to recognizing what individual experiences students bring into classes than there might be in a more traditional sequence of classes. And yet, we know that there are still students here whose experiences feel very invisible during the day,” explains history and social sciences teacher Makota Ogura. 

To note is who makes up these alternative courses. Majority of the time the seats of these classes are the people of color who identify and relate to the subjects, showing the pull seeing yourself represented in class can have.

The Chicano Movement, a course that covers the history, experiences and contributions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the United States, is taught by Estfenai Their, who describes the influence having your identity not only represented but taught properly can have.

“Our present does not exist in a vacuum, our past informs our present. Things that have happened in our country’s history have influenced how we live our lives in the present. For Latinos who currently live in this country, to know how they’ve influenced that history, and to know what their legacy is, is empowering. It’s empowering to me, and I think it’s empowering to students.” 

Often not present in other history courses, it becomes incredibly validating to see yourself in classes. This helps students to contextualize their present experiences and the positive contributions and impacts their people have on this country. 

“We have a unit where we discuss education, and a common theme that comes up in those discussions is, ‘We’ve never learned any of this, we felt invisible in our other classes, and we didn’t really feel like teachers addressed this,” continues Ithier. 

The Chicano Movement is amongst other elective courses that only become available your senior year. Consequently, this is also the year where college becomes a confounding factor in the course selection process. The added pressure of filling your schedule with more rigorous classes like AP plays into the lack of vocalization of alternative classes.

“There’s a lot of institutional language around school to prepare you for college as opposed to school is here to give you some opportunities to understand yourself better,” says Ogura.  

The way in which we elevate and centralize classes like Advanced Placement (AP ) courses through events like the annual AP fair easily leverages AP classes and allows them to be presented to a wide range of students. But there is not a consistent way in which the rest of the alternative classes are promoted. 

When one envisions “success” it is common to imagine the AP classes full of white people, completely brushing over the valuable education one receives in other classes. The role and presence of tying whiteness to success is what makes it hard to imagine a world where these courses are truly appreciated, and why this is such a prominent issue.

The education system says you need AP classes to make yourself look good to make yourself marketable to colleges, which erases even the consideration of taking other courses. This can make it feel like what a student is doing in highschool is simply a preparation to post high school. Having high schools set up primarily to prepare for the future as early as freshman year seems to have made courses that aren’t directly creating these future opportunities to be seen as not a necessary part of crafting a student’s education. 

The day we shift the way in which we idolize filling your classes with AP classes and encourage students to explore their options is the day the misconceptions about the purpose of these alternative courses are eased. 

This is not to say AP classes are not needed or help to a high school schedule, but the inadequate promotion of other classes is where the problem arises. Funneling students into AP classes takes away from the possibility of taking other courses. Creating a similar experience as the AP fair for students wanting to take these courses, in particular juniors who have the potential of filling their schedules with these engaging courses. 

Another factor in the lack of vocalization of these courses are the teacher recommendations given to students during the course selection process. Although this process seems to vary from teacher to teacher, a teacher’s perspective can have a significant influence in what class a student ultimately chooses to take. 

“What we’ve been asked to do is use our professional judgment to determine what class we think we ought to recommend students to take. I try to make sure that I reflect on what that means and reflect on implicit biases that I might have, or that the system might have enacted upon students so that when I make that decision, I’m not pretending that their racial identity isn’t impacting the decision somehow,” explains AP U.S History and World and Ethnic Literature teacher Joshua Brown.

When we only encourage students to take the next vigorous AP class, we are directly gearing them away from exploring other options. For instance, had I not known I was interested in Sociology, I likely would’ve never known ETHS provides a semester long Sociology of Class, Gender and Race class. My genuines interest in the subject made me seek out courses geared towards what I liked. 

This causes finding these classes a students full responsibility. Although this inherently makes sense, this complete pressure continues to prompt the way in which we push certain courses on students. The course selection process should be central to letting the students explore their opportunities and gaining adequate knowledge on these alternative classes.

“I think the number one thing is like to hear what a student feels that they’re capable of, and want to take, and then affirm them in that because it will impact them more then it will impact me” voices Brown.

An implication of this course selection process is also the fact that many of these sources are not offered until senior year. At this point, college becomes another confounding variable in the equation of choosing courses, as students are trying to make their schedule more impressive. Still, the lack of outreach of these classes could gear students more towards the more vigorous classes opposed to those they are interested in. 

Ogura explains her course selection process as recommending students for classes they’re interested in then marking those the student is interested in. This focus on student interest in the teacher recommendation process centralizes students voice and lets them have control over the courses they want. 

“Something that is important to me is that we move away from a vision of these courses as levels and more as a vision of these courses as what sorts of things do you want to learn?” concludes Brown. 

In reflection of its diverse student body, ETHS must make a clear effort to advocate for these courses and reimagine the ways in which we are playing into the institutional idea of what success looks like. Students would greatly benefit from knowing the ways in which they can get a more vast education if we promote these classes and get students enrolled in them. ETHS is the institution that has the resources to thrive this for students, and we must take advantage of this.