Graduation Requirements and the Arts

Michigan high school graduation requirements include several areas of coursework beyond the core curriculum of science, social studies, English, foreign language, and mathematics. I thought I’d take a look at two of these and how they are implemented.
The two major requirements beyond those are:
Physical Education – 1 credit (i.e. two semesters)
Visual, Performing, or Applied Arts – 1 credit
It seems appropriate that both arts and health are important parts of our students’ high school lives. Let’s examine the implementation I found in one outstanding Michigan school district. [I want to make clear that I am not criticizing this school district, which is doing its best to abide by the state’s requirements and current social mores.]
Physical Education
The one credit is freshman health & fitness. This is a class for all freshmen to take.
This school requires an additional 1/2 credit (semester) of phys. ed which can be completed via a number of PE classes including weight training, advanced conditioning, etc. You can also waive this extra semester via two school sports or marching band.
Visual, Performing, or Applied Arts
The one credit for this area can be selected from among the following:
  • Art
  • Music
  • Communications
  • Several English Classes
  • Parenting Psychology
  • Clothing
  • Business – Advertising
  • Business – Marketing
  • Business – Multimedia
  • Graphic Design
  • CAD & Site Design Management
  • Hospitality
  • Baking/Culinary
  • Sustainable Agriculture
I don’t know the intent of the legislature in designing the graduation requirements is to expose Michigan students to the arts, but I do know that as currently implemented, a student can pass through four years of high school without ever seeing a great painting, hearing a note of music, being moved by a well-spoken monologue, or transported by a dance routine. The choices for the “arts requirement” is wide enough that it could almost as easily be defined as “any elective.”
More and more we view college – and even high school – as a trade school designed to simply give you the skills you need to achieve in a career. It is imperative that we cease this thinking and realize that our job as citizens is to see our children to adulthood with an appreciation of the greatest achievements of mankind. Just as no high school student should graduate without having experienced a little of Mark Twain, none should leave without hearing Shakespeare or Beethoven, without at least a little Monet and Pollack.

This is a profound failure of our collective imagination as to what school education should be.

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