Opinion: Northside Makes Room For Civics, Removes Honors Social Science
by Alex Barnes
Last summer, Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill mandating that all Illinois high school students must attain a Civics credit to graduate. This can be completed through the single semester Civics class that will most likely take place during your junior year, the Civics Summer Intensive Course, or AP Government. Illinois is now one of 39 states to have this requirement.
Frankly, Northsiders are not excited about taking Civics. Most have a minimal understanding of what the class will be, generally guessing that it is “some kind of government class?” which, compared to Anthropology, Global Issues, or Sociology, would be a severe disappointment. Daniel Newgarden, Adv. 108, who will be taking the summer course, is equally unimpressed, saying, ‟I am expecting that civics will probably be pretty boring, and just a lot of stock content. I am taking summer Civics this year because I do not feel like it will really be a good use of my time in school.”
Hopefully, this will not be the case. Ms. Anna Searcy, Social Science department, who will be one of the teachers of the course, said, ‟I think students have this idea that Civics is memorizing how a bill becomes a law, but it's not.” When asking other teachers about the class, the phrase most commonly used was “Power Literacy,” which translates to being versed in your own influence. As Ms. Searcy explained, ‟Basically, we are going to investigate who has power in our democracy and figure out how young people can be part of that power.” Similarly, Ms. Veronica Hetler, Social Science department, said that she feels it will ‟help students recognize the power that they have and how it can translate to being change agents in their community.” This class is designed around educating students of their place within government and teaching them about how to make change. It was heavily stressed that this class is designed around students, made to be flexible and directly related to issues that those taking the class care about and can be involved in. ‟We're going to discuss controversial public issues, participate in simulations of democratic processes, and have opportunities to interact with policy makers and other community resources.” said Ms. Searcy. Civics is nothing to be scared of, and possibly even something to be excited about.
Unfortunately, this rose comes with a particularly sharp set of thorns: all Honors Social Science classes are either being shortened or removed. This means that students will no longer be able to take Honors Social Science electives, and that without taking a summer course or AP Gov., Social Science course selections will be set for every year except senior year. The administration has tried as best as they can to lessen the effects of this, shortening Global Issues and Sociology to semester long courses and allowing students to choose one or the other to take after their semester of Civics.
These halved classes will try their best to present the same topics and have the same effect, but it is completely unrealistic to expect teachers to cram all of the same learning and exploration into half of the time. By doing this, students lose out on one of the best things about Honors classes: the flexibility. With drastically cut times, students lack free time to move units around based on interest, explore passions in extended projects, generally meander in the class, and gain the deeper understanding only made available by the pliability of Honors classes. Those instructing feel this too. Mr. Michael Myers, Social Science department said, ‟Honors classes are liberated by not having to do a large amount of content. You can expand, you can delve into things” and on AP, ‟Mandated curriculum in AP itself can be a little bit of a straitjacket, you can do a great class within it and there are a lot of great students, but most teachers would just as soon teach Honors courses.” These classes are also often dismissed because of reasons completely unrelated to class content. Sarah Loos, Adv. 807, said, ‟There were lots of Honors classes I would have been very interested in taking, but to keep my GPA up, I needed to take as many APs as possible.” Accordingly, Mr. Myers said, ‟There are colleges, there are students, there are their families, there is competitiveness, there is traditional thinking, there is the College Board… and students are told to take AP.” Honors classes encourage passion and interest, and allow students to go to class for reasons other than to show colleges that you got a 5 on a test or have a 6.0 GPA. For these reasons, a lack of Honors Social Science at Northside will be an extreme loss.
Considering these classes specifically, this is even more saddening. Sociology is loved by many students, consistently taking up multiple blocks and often being discussed outside of class. This is the kind of class which deeply influences people, even after graduation. Ariel Basora, Class of 2011 said, ‟Sociology gave me a lot of perspective on how we all frame our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. The class also provided introspection into how I identified and how I wanted to change that in the future as I prepared to go into the world.” Global Issues is just as important of a class, taking a holistic and intersectional look at history. This exposed students to interactions and impacts of historical and modern events which they may never have considered otherwise, and brought students together. Arly Escamilla, Adv. 801, who wrote about the class in her college applications, said, ‟Global issues helped me develop a more comprehensive and critical lens to view the world around me. By learning about various experiences and the history of our interconnectedness, I was also able to better understand my own identity.”
Anthropology will possibly be missed most of all though. This cherished class, being removed all together, focused on multiculturalism. More than that, it focused on understanding one another and looking at the world in an open-minded way. Of all the classes I have taken in my four years at Northside, I can honestly say that Anthropology, was the most valuable. Nothing taught me as much or moved me as far as this class did. I found myself considering choices I made on a daily basis and I have retained the vast majority of what we learned in that class because it was undeniably precious and applicable knowledge. I remember more from this class than I do from tests I took last week, both because of the quality of the information and because I felt like I was learning for the sake of doing so, rather than to be able to pass a test at the end of the year. This is the kind of class that sticks with students, and I am beyond disappointed to find out that we are no longer able to offer it. On what she hopes students will take away from her class, Ms. Hetler, who taught Anthropology, said, ‟I hope that it has made students more open-minded, interested, and appreciative of societies that on the surface may seem very different from our own. I also hope that they may dig deeper to question our own culture and society and also recognize that fundamentally all human beings are very similar.”
This is no soulless swipe by CPS or unconsidered move, it was simply the placement of a mandate shared by many other states and an introduction of what will likely be a wonderful class, which comes with unfortunate, but unavoidable, side effects. There are simply not enough teachers for the school to make all the classes available, and state-wide rulings do not come with much wiggle room. Ms. Catherine Irving, Social Sciences Department Chair, said, ‟In order to meet that requirement, [and] still address student demand and account for how many teachers we have in our department available to teach all of our courses, we felt that the best we could do to hold on to as many courses as possible would be to pair our Honors courses with Civics.”
So, Northsiders, be excited for Civics, use it well and understand that it was designed to help you navigate and effect all of the political atmospheres which you have access to. Appreciate your social sciences, as you will take them with you wherever you go. Lastly, take Honors classes; knowledge is worth more than a higher GPA.