are now the preferred subjects of students doing Year 12, or the Matriculation year in South Australian secondary schools. Please note - preferred. That is what the latest report from the Board in charge of Matriculation examinations would have us believe. They say that a majority of students no longer want to study the humanities or languages and that arts subjects are out the window. Even biology is seen as a 'soft' option.
It seems that the push to get students to study science has worked at last. We need scientists! We need mathematicians to support scientists! We need people to develop the new wonder drugs! We need people to spend their days in laboratories or building infrastructure. We don't need people who know about poetry, literature, music, history or even geography. (A certain amount of cartography might be useful to make sure the maps are accurate but that can be a science.)
I know science is important. I am only too glad that some people want to do it. We do need the people who do it.
I did science at school. I had no choice. The Area Schools I attended catered for boys who were presumed to want to do science. We girls were merely tolerated in the class. I had no interest in science. It was badly taught by people who were not trained to teach it. That just made it worse.
I never had the opportunity to do a modern language. Those things were not taught in the schools I attended. Everyone did Maths 1 Maths 2, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography and then the two 'arts' subjects, English and History. I did some Latin as an 'extra' subject - my father gave me the book and told me to learn it. He occasionally tested me - and the other girl who was doing it with me. History (Australian of course) was not taken seriously. Everyone was bored with it by then. We had done nothing but Australian history, unlike our city counterparts who could at least learn about the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, Roman Britain and then the Tudors etc. It was just the way things worked. I read history out of school hours but it was not Australian history.
Now it seems that, despite the push for a national curriculum in history, many students are not even going to be doing history. "You can't do anything with an arts degree" and "There are no jobs in humanities" students are being told. It is as if that is reason enough not to study these things. What is the point? You need a really good mark to get into your chosen course at university. You may not want to be an engineer or a physicist or a computer programmer let alone a doctor or a dentist. The point is that, if your marks are good enough, you can be one of these people and society needs these people so you will get a good, well paying job in an industry where people will respect you. That you may never really enjoy your working life is beside the point. That is life. Put up with the boredom or the constant anxiety about the responsibility in an area where you never feel fully confident because it was not your first choice.
It also means that students have not been confronted with the big ideas about life. Including a compulsory unit on 'ethics' in some courses is of course seen as a way of overcoming the failure to provide students with the cultural, social and moral underpinnings of our society. Can ethics taught in isolation from literature and language give students the same understanding of society? I think not.
But apparently none of this matters. Science is being studied. We will have scientists in order to research, invent, provide services and keep the economy running and GDP rising etc etc. Or will we? To me there is a small problem. Research takes creativity. Without imagination there can be no creativity. Imagination comes not from strict observation it comes from asking, "What if...?" and that comes from reading "What if...?" as well.