It’s Time to Rethink How We Pick Our Classes

This article was originally published in The Piedmont Highlander, the student newspaper of Piedmont High School in Piedmont, CA. After reading this, you may be interested in exploring the Challenge Success Time Scheduling Worksheet as you think about choosing courses and activities for a new school year.

Calculus: the pinnacle of a student’s career in high school mathematics. In first grade, students don’t even know what it is. By the time they get to fifth grade, one kid’s brother is taking it. By sixth they have heard stories about how calculus will make them tear their hair out. Then, in eighth grade, they learn about how their math teachers even struggled learning calculus. Finally, in their junior or senior year, they get to face the daunting class themselves.

My high school currently offers two different calculus classes, AP Calculus AB and BC. Currently, AB covers what is typically taught in the first semester of college calculus, and BC covers the second semester. The two classes have a little bit of content overlap, with AB ending with integration and BC beginning with it.

However, next year, the math department is switching its AP Calculus BC course from a class that covers one semester of college calculus to a class that covers one entire year of college material taught in one year of high school. Along with BC, AB will still be an option for those in Math Analysis right now.

This change is astronomical. Calculus is already a class that people struggle with, whether it be the topics in AB or BC. The classes always feel like they are moving at a high tempo. Yes, these classes are hard, but they are manageable over the course of a year. When those two curriculums are joined together to create next year’s version of BC, the already steady pace will inevitably double. The time allotted for students to struggle through problems and ask questions will be halved.

We as a community do not know if this change to a much more difficult course is going to be feasible for a lot of students. Doubling the workload of a course has never been tried at our school. We do not know how students will perform.

What we do know is that Calculus BC will be a challenge for even the most savvy math students, and people should know what they are getting into if they choose to take it.

However, since the stigma at my school is that we always need to achieve what is at the top, people will inevitably get drawn towards taking BC. This is a problem, because the rigor of BC is not for everyone coming out of math analysis. BC is for the people who love math and who are willing to go the extra mile to explore it, said math teacher Amy Dunn-Ruiz.

“I hope that anybody who signs up for calculus is signing up because they are excited about learning more math, love problem solving, and have a passion for learning the material,” Dunn-Ruiz said. “It is disheartening when people sign up for the class just to get it on their transcript, and you can see how that reflects in their grades.”

There should not be any pressure from anybody besides yourself when it comes to choosing your class. If math is your calling, challenge yourself and take BC. However, if you know that math is not your favorite, do not get sucked into taking it just because it is the hardest class available. If you are not truly interested in the relationships between math concepts, you will get left behind.

This same principle should be applied to the rest of the classes at our school. If you are someone who loves reading and writing, Honors English is the perfect class to push that passion even further. On the other hand, if you are someone who dreads reading your class copy of Things Fall Apart every night, Honors English is probably not the best choice.

What still holds true is the fact that you will do yourself no favors by blindly choosing the hardest course possible. The harder a class gets, the more important it is that you enjoy that challenge. Otherwise, you burn out.

We as a community need to rethink the stigma that the hardest is the best when it comes to choosing classes. What we need to push is the idea that you can do whatever you want to.

So, whether it be in Calculus BC, Honors English, or any other class, I hope that you are inspired by the challenges you face.

Hunter Disco is a Junior at Piedmont High School in Piedmont, CA where he serves a staff writer for the newspaper.