Shopping around

By Austin Block

I wish I could have taken Psychology. And the Self and the Spirit. And AP Comparative Government. And Video Art II. But it’s my senior year, and I’ve already cavorted through the shiny blue Harvard-Westlake Curriculum Guide for the last time. I will never again scribble all over a crisp green scheduling sheet. I will never delight in the first day of a new class. There are simply too many amazing options at our school for any one person to take advantage of. Too often, students sign up for classes that they think they will enjoy and then find the classes aren’t what they envisioned. By the time they realize the class isn’t the right fit, however, it is often too late to switch out. We only have three years to enjoy the upper school curriculum, so every period is precious. The administration and the deans should take action to help students pick the classes they will enjoy most and find most fulfilling.

As Head Prefect Melanie Bornstein ’11 suggested last year, we should emulate several major universities and set up an informal “shopping period.” At colleges like Brown, students can attend as many classes as they would like during the first few days of school and then select only the ones they are most interested in. Rather than make the first few days of school a free-for-all, we could establish a more structured system. Just as seniors are allowed to miss class for college meetings, underclassmen should get the chance to miss one period to visit another class. The school could designate a certain stretch of days as a shopping period for juniors and another time as a shopping period for sophomores to avoid having sophomores sit in on empty junior classes.

The classroom benefits would be tangible as well, both for teachers and for students. If my observations are any indication, engaged students pay more attention during class, work harder, contribute constructively, and perform better on graded assignments. The more I enjoy a class, the less I view its homework as a chore and the more willing I am to put in the extra effort.

Exciting, rewarding classes make my life so much richer. There is little I find more fulfilling than a jaw-dropping, brain-spinning, in-class discussion. My favorite classes at Harvard-Westlake have swayed my world view, shaped the way I think, and influenced my aspirations. I’ve chosen the classes that fit me best, but my experience seems to be the exception. There is no reason for it to stay that way.