By Marie A. Christensen Karr

What's Your Major?

Imagine, if you will, having had to choose an academic major by the time you were fourteen.  Would you have chosen your current field, or the same major as you did in college?  The answer could be: Probably; maybe; or definitely not.  But could it have made a difference in helping you see the relevance of your high school classes, or improved the focus of your studies?  Or would it have felt constrictive or stifling?

Next fall, every high school student in the state of Florida will be required to declare a major, just like a college student.  In West Virginia, a major has been required in high school for the last ten years.  Most successful magnet and specialty high schools have a 'theme,' or major, that binds together what, and how, students learn.  British high schools have required majors, quite successfully, for a very long time.  So, what's the fuss over this concept?

Critics of the plan (mostly school counselors, by the way) claim that, "Students would have seven careers before they graduate;" or, "They'll be reduced to a quick look at a series of different majors;" or, "They should aim for the most rigorous courses,"* rather than be hemmed in by a particular specialized course of study.  Guess what - counselors would have to shoulder much of the implementation of the programs.

Proponents, on the other hand, believe it would help students to focus on needed skills in the 'real world' and that would give them a sense of purpose.  They believe it could help dropout rates, raise test scores, and, eventually, help industry and graduates meet mutual goals.

Given the abysmal performance of public high schools today, we think the idea is worth a try. Sure, there are a few great high schools that send a large percentage of their graduates on to college (think La Jolla, or Beverly Hills), but the vast majority of schools aren't doing students any favor by ignoring the benefits of early career planning while focusing solely on college track.  Wouldn't it be better to introduce kids to the many career and professional options simultaneously while we teach them to read and write, function in the 'real' world, and master the technology necessary to survive in the 21st Century?

Instead of frustrated dreamers convinced of their own stardom (e.g., those wishing to make it big in sports, music, or the movies), maybe - just maybe - we could produce healthy, well-balanced workers and professionals who, because of early planning, will be ready to take on the job of keeping this country running. 

"Make Up Your Mind," Star Lawrence, Edutopia, March 2007.

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