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Required senior credits limit seniors’ lives, must be restructured
April 21, 2023
I recently missed two periods of AP Government in the same week. My grade dropped as I scrambled to finish my assignments on time without class periods to work on them.
I was absent because I was in Lincoln, actively participating in my democracy by testifying against bills in the state legislature. “I should’ve gotten EXTRA government credit for that,” I remarked to my parents once I got home. Two required senior credits—Government and Personal Finance—claim to be preparing seniors to enter adulthood. Unlike other required credits, government and personal finance specifically purport to be building practical skills in seniors. But all too often, these graduation requirements limit seniors from applying their learning in the real world. Students should be able to receive Government and Personal Finance credits by showing proof of their applied learning in these subject areas.
The required government credit limits seniors—particularly seniors with full schedules, like those in the International Baccalaureate program—from having the time and energy to get involved in their local and state government. If it were not for my required Government/Personal Finance period, I could have had an early out this year. Maybe I could’ve gone to city council meetings, which are held at 2 p.m. every Tuesday, mere blocks away from Central. Maybe I could’ve made the trip down to the Capitol more often, where bill hearings often start at 1:30 p.m. and continue into the late afternoon. Instead of this active involvement in my government, I spend my afternoons sitting at a desk and doing a worksheet about the Whigs.
Which would you rather have students understand: 18th-century political parties, or how to write and deliver a testimony to their elected representatives about an issue they care about?
Of course, civic education is essential, and students need to understand the history and makeup of their government. The required Government credit seeks to ensure that students graduate with knowledge of their role as constituents, voters, and citizens. It’s a noble goal, which is why I am not advocating for dropping the required credit entirely. I am advocating for students to be able to get an exemption from the Government credit by demonstrating proof of their active involvement in democracy.
Active involvement can look different for different students because there is no “correct” way to be a citizen. Students can serve as poll workers, ensuring elections are efficient and fair. Others may get involved in advocacy on the city or state level. They could go to City Council meetings or bill hearings to share their thoughts or join local advocacy groups and nonprofits for issues important to them. Demonstrating proof of this involvement should be more than enough to prove a student’s growth as an informed citizen.
The other required senior class, Personal Finance, demonstrates this same problem of taking up time that seniors could use to apply their learning. Without needing to use a full block for Personal Finance, seniors could have more time to schedule shifts at part-time jobs to save money for their futures, developing budgeting skills that work for them and their unique paths.
The skills learned in Personal Finance are clearly important, but it would be more practical to allow seniors to apply their learning while earning and spending money. Perhaps, with proof of part-time employment, students could attend Personal Finance for half of the block and use their extra time to allow for a part-time job in their schedule. The remaining time in Personal Finance could be spent on a shortened version of the curriculum that focuses on students’ current financial goals. I know that if I had even a few more hours free each week, I could take on a regular job, and apply the saving and spending strategies I learned in Personal Finance class to my everyday life.
Government and Personal Finance are required as senior credits because they provide valuable skills for students’ lives. But, when these classes get in the way of seniors applying their learning and engaging in civics and personal finance in their own lives, we must reconsider their structure as required, full-time senior courses.