The freedom of choice afforded to students in grades 11 and 12 with respect to course selection is vast. With only 2 compulsory courses in grade 11 and 1 in grade 12 (for Ontario students) plus the substantial variety of disciplines to choose from, high school seniors have complete control over their academic experience. Such freedom is one of our education system’s biggest assets as it allows students to pursue whichever disciplines which they find intellectually fulfilling. However, there are disciplines with such powerful utility that all highschoolers should be encouraged to study them.
I’m talking about the sciences.
I would argue that we live in an age of necessary scientific literacy. The sheer explanatory power of science will create citizens who are aware of the mechanisms which govern the world around them and will thus help eliminate societal ignorance. Understanding the processes which underpin various phenomena makes life considerably easier.
In an age where renewable energy, space exploration, healthcare strategies, automotive efficiency and climate change are at the forefront of societal discussion, we need to build a populace which appreciates and (to some degree) understands the intricate patchwork of physics, chemistry and biology which fuel such discussions.
We need to produce worldly, knowledgeable, and well-rounded graduates. Likewise, I encourage STEM bound students to take courses in the humanities and social sciences, or at least spend some time reading about their subject matter.
I understand that the sciences do not resonate with everybody. Some students outright detest studying technically demanding subjects. However, the knowledge conferred to students by scientific disciplines is of great utility.
Take biology, for example. An understanding of biology makes one far better equipped to understand health concerns they may encounter. In times such as this, biological knowledge will help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. People who understand and appreciate biology will have a greater understanding of issues surrounding environmental stewardship and sustainability. The anti-vaccination and anti-GMO movements would be harder pressed to find members if society were more informed about biological facts.
We are surrounded by physics and chemistry. Various physical phenomena would cease to be mysterious if the mechanics behind them are understood. Understanding why certain things happen the way they do is bound to make life easier and the world less elusive. Why does my head jerk forward when a bus stops? Why are cars built to crumple upon impact? Why do metals rust? What even is a solar panel?
Films and television would have a harder time getting away with blatant scientific inaccuracies if the general population was more scientifically literate. As a connoisseur of science fiction, I appreciate the fact that artistic license needs to be taken in many situations.
However, there are certain pieces of media which will give people the wrong impression about natural phenomena. A ThoughtCo article discussed some of the worst scientific inaccuracies in film, including but not limited to the idea that people can be rescued when falling from buildings to the notion of the entire earth being flooded due to melting ice caps.
An early episode of CW’s The Flash presented hydrogen cyanide as a complex organic molecule when it only consists of two ions. The word ‘quantum’ is thrown around like a punchline without look to its actual meaning. Scientific inaccuracies in media fuel societal ignorance.
Additionally, the sciences are able to foster problem solving and analytical thinking skills in ways that other disciplines cannot. Students who are bound for the liberal arts, fine arts humanities and social sciences shouldn’t allow themselves to lose such skills.
Even if science isn’t your primary interest and isn’t a university prerequisite, the knowledge and thinking skills it provides belong in every student's arsenal. You don't even need to take it as seriously as your primary subject areas, but stick with it for knowledge's sake. Pick the subject of greatest interest to you, and I guarantee that the learning process will be rewarding (if at times challenging).
Though I’m not asserting that the big three should be made compulsory to all high school students, I implore younger students to consider the importance of scientific literacy while making their decisions.