Earlier this month, Utah Sen. Chris Buttars put many up in arms by proposing to nix the senior year of high school for Utah teens in an effort to minimize the state’s massive $700 million deficit.
Understandably, educators argued that doing so would deprive students of a formative year before college or the working world. In addition, the education system would have to be revamped, incurring high costs. In response, Buttars changed his proposal, offering to make 12th grade optional instead.
To many, his original proposal was outlandish. Critics champion the final year of high school as important, memorable and worthwhile. It triggers fond memories for many students, from the quintessential prom to the tears at graduation; that final year is the ideal culmination of 12 years of schooling, the final threshold to cross before achieving a new level of freedom in the real world.
Utah Rep. Marie Poulson said senior year is the time that students mature and excel in academics and extracurricular activities — a time for students to glean as much information from their mentors as possible, unwind and spend time with their friends and ruminate over the fact that they and their classmates’ paths might never cross again. The strongest argument against the proposal states that senior year serves as the transition phase from adolescence to adulthood, a crucial step that should not be overlooked, let alone removed altogether.
Many argue that a junior in high school, typically a 17 year-old, is not remotely ready for the pressures of college or the working world. But what makes an 18-year-old any more ready for the pressures that await after graduation? Being one year older does not make a person one year wiser. It’s not time that makes the difference; it’s the experiences and lessons that elicit change in maturity. It appears the current model of a “crucial” senior year is lacking in, well, the crucial caveat of helping one transition to adulthood.
As fun as it is to use senioritis as a crutch for laziness, senior year is also somewhat a waste of time and money. Buttars said, “If you talk to a hundred [seniors], you’ll hear over and over that, ‘I took four PE classes and two art classes.’ That’s not the way to spend the public’s money.”
In a way, he is right. His proposal, which is currently being debated in the Utah state Senate, would save the state $60 million a year in expenses.
Needless to say, there are countless motivated high school students who take a slew of AP classes up until graduation. But then again, they sometimes pass over senior year as a mere roadblock to the life they are so eager to begin living — the independence of a college student or working adult. And for the other camp of students — the elective-takers described by Buttars — senior year only prolongs the time they spend learning things of no interest to them. In either case, Buttars could be onto something with his proposal, since that final year might not contribute as much to one’s education as educators had hoped.
Maybe Buttars’ plan is not completely far-fetched or novel after all. In fact, some high-performing countries have public education systems that are very different from the one we are used to. Schools in Singapore end their high school-equivalent education after 10th grade, when students can opt to attend a junior college for two years before entering a university or attend a vocation-oriented polytechnic. France also offers students a similar option to pursue higher education, while Italian upper secondary schools have a greater focus on the humanities, something most public American schools don’t emphasize.
The proposal is difficult for us to swallow because we are so steeped in the American public education system that we can’t see room for reform. There is still much to learn from other education systems around the world, and given the deficits faced by the state of Utah and the country, it might be wise to rethink the education system.
Buttars’ bill might be able to kill two birds with one stone. Instead of funneling precious state funds to keep seniors in school — many of them are afflicted by senioritis anyway and don’t take full advantage of the education — the funds could be somehow used to rectify the debt and Utah would become a valuable laboritory for alternative modes of education in the United States. As renowned American educational reformer, psychologist and philosopher John Dewey once proposed, a student’s experience of actively learning should be the focus of an education. And if during the senior year of high school most students are doing anything but actively learning, what is the point of that education?
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration. Her column “World Rapport” runs Fridays.