A young friend of mine - not Ms Whirlwind - is at the point where she has to make subject choices for her last two years at school. The choices she makes will indelibly influence her choice of career. She is a good all rounder who does extremely well but she doesn't want to do the subjects her school and her parents believe she should do.
"They want me to do 'the suicidal five' and then do something in the sciences," she told me yesterday. The "five" she referred to are Mathematics 1 & 2, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. You can get an excellent university entrance score with those if you are intelligent and work hard. She is intelligent and she works hard. Good results would lead her to a career in medicine or dentistry or engineering or.... just about anything in the sciences.
The problem is that she's not terribly interested in those subjects.
"They're okay," she told me without enthusiasm, "And Dad says I'm not looking at the future. Ms T.... (at her school) told me I need to be sensible and realise I can't do just what I like and... well I feel like everyone is getting at me."
I feel for her.
I didn't get a choice of subjects at school. There was no choice for anyone in the "area" schools I attended. The curriculum in the public examination stream (think O and A level if you live in the UK) was aimed at boys and the sciences. You did English, Maths 1 & 2, Physics, Chemistry, Modern History, Geography, Sewing (girls) and Woodwork (boys). I couldn't sew so I did Art (mostly Art History) by correspondence. I did Latin and both Ancient and Economic History on my own. (I taught myself from the text books with a bit of help from the Senior Cat for the Latin.) That was it. There were no modern languages or any other science or arts subjects.
I explained all this and my young friend promptly said, "I'm glad I didn't go to those schools."
But it doesn't solve her problem. I asked her what other subjects she might be able to do.
"Japanese. We had to do that until now. French. I like that. History and I like that. Then there's stuff like Geography and Sociology and Psychology and Computing Studies and Legal Studies.... I sort of really like the idea of doing Auslan and Psychology though."
She has been learning Auslan (the sign language of the deaf) in another location and by communicating with her hearing impaired neighbours. She could do it as a SACE subject but it would have to be done outside of school. There is a unit for the hearing impaired at her school and she has, because of her neighbours, mixed with them from the start.
We discussed some career choices if she did those subjects. There are some good possibilities in areas where there are skills shortages.
I wonder though whether she will be allowed to pursue that path. Her parents and her school have other views. I know her parents well enough to know there will be pressure placed on her to "do the right thing".
I agree with them that science is important and that the career opportunities are greater. I agree that girls should be encouraged to believe they can do science and do it extremely well.
But if you aren't passionate about science and you do have other realistic ideas shouldn't you be encouraged?