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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Choice

From 2009-2013 I took drama for five years. That adds up to a great many performances as characters who aren't me. Four of these were multi-night performances in front of dozens of people. It has also meant a lot of group work, creative and analytical thinking and a fair few school trips. But it didn't have to be this way. Just choosing to do drama in year eight and taking it for half a year in year nine as a consequence didn't lock me in some dramatic path. For instance, I have been 100% uninvolved with drama for over a year now... it was never something that I intended to be involved with as a career. So, why, then, did I choose to take drama for five years in a row?

I'm finished with school now but I know the feeling of choosing subjects quite well. I can remember it acutely because I didn't always make those choices easily. I also remember them because, naturally, choosing courses is much the same (although the difference there is that stress lies more in a) determining what one likes, b) considering when you'll wrap up a degree and what needs to be done for said degree and c) making the damn picks fit together in a timetable). The point I am trying to make is that things aren't necessarily straightforward and every pupil needs to have some way of deciding things. And, while it may not seem that way at all times, that metric is what my big point is about. Just remember that as I wander through memoir lane.

At my secondary school we always had decisions to make. This has had a strong influence on my opinions about specialisation and education, but it was also something that sometimes made me do a lot of thinking. At first things were pretty easy. Choosing, as a year eight, a language was simplicity in itself. I was going to do German because Dutch wasn't an option (my back up was Japanese because Digimon). One of the two arts options was even easier. I would do art (because I like drawing). I don't know why I chose to do drama for that first year. Maybe I eliminated all other options. I like music but I have about as much talent for music as, well, frankly I'm not sure there's anything quite as untalented as me. I also never really felt much desire to learn, either. Dance I've never liked. I'm pretty sure this left me with drama, and I am fairly certain this is how I ended up taking it in year nine. So, when I hit college it was with a timetable that was constructed based on interests, skills and elimination.

When it came time to choose year ten's subjects I imagine I thought it'd be just as simple. I was wrong. I'd really liked drama so that was in. Technologies of any sort required closed toe shoes so they were out. Dance and music, again, were never in the running. Enterprise sounded interesting and this other random subject that I've since forgotten the name of had a really bad reputation (it was apparently about problem solving; update it was called TAPS: thinking and problem solving). This was mostly irrelevant though because I wanted to keep going with German and art. The problem was that we had to pick subjects from lists. The exact nature of the system I've forgotten but what it meant in practice was that art, drama and German were all in the same list and, consequently, the rules said I couldn't do them together. Thus, I was forced to compromise and ended up putting myself down for Design instead of Art (similar subject, design was more project oriented). Apparently, though, this was impossible and I ended up being put down for Spanish instead of German. This introduced me to the fascinating world of administration and by the time school started I was doing what I was apparently not allowed to do: German, art and drama.

Naturally, we had other subjects. The idea was to introduce us to a broad range of options as well as provide the grounding we'd need in our core subjects: maths, English, social studies and science. In year nine, we also had tech (split into hard materials and food tech, which we did for two terms each) and PE, although these were done with a different set of class members than with the core subjects (for which we had the same class). In year ten, obviously, technologies became optional but all the other classes remained in place (although PE now functioned as a core subject). The frequency also varied. Science was featured three times in the timetable for year nine compared to PE's four and the four of the other cores. In year ten, all cores were in there four times, except for PE and social studies which became three-timers. The up shot is, though, that we had contact with a wide variety of subjects in the first year and half... the time period from which we'd draw experiences that'd help us choose our three optional subjects for year eleven.

In New Zealand, year eleven isn't some meaningless mid-way point. It is, in fact, the first year in which NCEA levels are generally sat. Choosing the subjects for year eleven, then, is serious business with more intrusive consequences. There were, also, fewer subjects (now we'd only have six) altogether, which really made the longer term ramifications even more obvious to the 14/15 year old having to make decisions which, for some, could feel like the decisions in which one's life path is made. Sure, English, maths and science are all compulsory but what about these other ones? Social studies still exists but it's joined by history and geography. Enterprise became accounting and economics. There are yet more tech subjects around. Fewer subjects, more options. It's an interesting place to be, no? For me, it was a difficult place to be. PE was gone... my thinking was that I was too unfit to do well (the absence of sports in my life would be missed)... as were my previously dismissed subjects and areas. History was in. I had always wanted to do history so it was going to go no-where. I decided that I need a fun subject because year eleven was serious. This was drama. The trouble was whether or not I should do German or art for that sixth subject. This was somewhat agonising. I was good at both, enjoyed both enough (although art was better) and I couldn't even look at my long term plan because whichever one I chose wasn't going to be carried forward in year twelve. Tricky.

Let's think about that long term plan. How was it decided? Well, it was based purely on what I liked. In year twelve I would do English, maths, biology, classical studies, drama and history. The first two were compulsory. The third was because evolution would eventually be a topic (human, in year thirteen). Classical studies was ancient Greece and Rome but, especially, their myths. How could I not do it? (Maybe I'd have been less keen if I'd known how little mythology there'd be, but then I'd never have taken a subject which is right up there with my favourite subjects ever.) History was a shoe in. In year nine I just liked history. By year ten I was craving to do it because we did very little that was historically minded in social studies. Drama was my fun subject. At this stage I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, beyond uni. Right now I still don't know what career area I see myself in. This sort of interest-derived long term plan was, therefore, created in the same way as my short term plans. It could never help me solve a problem that arose from conflicting interests and practical space... even if one of German and Art was in it.

Faced with this situation I talked to my art teacher. I remember doing this and she was pretty cool. However, whether I did this before or after I'd decided I'm not sure. Did I seek advice or reassurance that I'd made the right call? I don't remember doing anything of the sort with my German teacher and I doubt I'd have considered it. But, hey, maybe I did. 2015 me is not 2010 me, after all. What really clinched the decision was talking about it with my mother. What I took away from that conversation was that I already had a "less academic" subject... but my mother was mostly trying to say that I should do what I wanted to, as I discovered when I told her why I went with German in the end. And that's how my form looked when I handed it in. German, Drama and History. Other subjects never really got a look in. I did briefly consider them (especially economics because a close friend of mine asked my social studies teacher about what it really meant), but they just didn't matter. Naturally, once I made the choice I just continued with life.

So, it's year eleven and I'm putting my long term plan's subject array down on my list of subjects for year twelve, right? Well, actually, no. Once again administration intervened. This time to tell me that seven people was three people too few for a year eleven German class. Damn. I mean, a "friend" (we were very antagonistic in 2010) had told me that this would happen but I hadn't really believed her. Still, I wasn't, as a result, entirely surprised to be up in front of my dean listening to the words that meant "I'm afraid you're going to have to make another choice". Still, after all that trouble choosing between German and Art I wasn't going to have trouble choosing this time, right? Well, yeah but I had to shake things up a bit. After a brief flirtation with the ideas of PE and correspondence German (actually went quite far down that path before pulling out), I went with economics. The moment I got that slip telling me to see my dean is increasingly looking like it's going to mean I'm one of those people who can literally pinpoint the moments when things changed completely. Why? I had a long term plan. Eco wasn't on it. Why would that slip mean anything in the long run? The answer lies in how I made the long term plan in the first place.

The problem with choosing things based on how much you like them is simple: what happens when you start to like something new? This was me and economics. But, I didn't just like it. I was good at it. It was interesting in all sorts of ways. And this was before we even started macro stuff, which was the year twelve course and it sounded even more interesting. This is a huge thing with me because I hate being bored. In year eleven I even said things like, "Life is the space between laughs". Sounds like laughter = death but that's not the point. What that really means is that the tricky stuff happens when you're not amused, which is married to boredom, when you think about it. I am also, as it happens, bored a lot. So... where did this leave me? Maths wasn't going anywhere even though it was no longer compulsory. Why? Well, probably because I hated English in year eleven and possibly because I saw it at very necessary. I'm not sure, I just never considered not doing it (the unthinkable). English was compulsory so it survived by default. History hadn't quite been what I thought it would be but it was there. Classics was definitely in. This meant that drama, economics and biology were all competing for two slots. Great.

This was, if anything, more troublesome than the previous year's decision. Why? Well, not taking biology in year twelve would mean that I shut myself off from science when I was 16. Hmm, doesn't sound too great, does it? Drama was being pretty awesome. Economics was just too awesome to drop, but I was meant to, right? But, then, it had no similarity with the other things I did: I would have essentially wasted an entire year on a subject I'd take no-where. Sounds pointless, yeah? Yes, undoubtedly and that's why the question soon became biology versus drama. Sure, I may have asked a friend if I was a physics person and he said I should do bio over physics. Sure I may have considered just classics and no history. Sure I probably entertained other options. The point is true: drama or bio? There could only be one. Academically I was doing about as well in both. But, drama was my fun subject, was it time for fun to step aside? (If I'd known about how year twelve classics would go, I think biology would have been the easy choice.) Was it worth making a subject with a truly epic school trip (to watch a play for our end of year exams) step aside for something I only wanted to do in year thirteen? Did I really like human evolution that much? My year eleven self, I feel, decided, "No, I didn't". Although, honestly, it was probably more the practical experiment side that decided it (closed toes again). Drama made it and I haven't done science since 2011 (excluding maths and stats).

So, despite a whole lot of problems, following what interested me was a pretty practical system. Year Twelve's choices for year thirteen, though? Could a pony that had mostly worked, mostly work again? Yes. It was kind of easy really. Swap English for study and be done with it. Except, was it really worth doing drama again? It wasn't as fun as I expected when I was choosing my subjects. But, not doing drama would mean, what? Statistics? Good Lord no, I was getting in all sorts of knots with probability (which, by the way, is piss easy in NCEA Level 2) and that featured heavily in Level 3 stats. I could keep doing English? No thanks. Science was closed off... although maybe the head of faculty would let me do it on account of my being up there with my cohort's bright sparks. I don't know, I never bothered finding out. I just went with the swap. A large part of the reason for this was finding out that English was not necessary for a degree in economics. If it had been required I think I would've said, with some reluctance despite year twelve's disappointments, goodbye to drama.

Year Thirteen, despite the absence of a year fourteen, would prove to follow in much the same vein as the previous years. Choosing a uni wasn't an issue. The odds of my not being accepted into Auckland were very slim. You could, in all honesty, describe it with the phrase "A Snowball's Chance in Hell". For this reason and the lesser distance between home and Auckland, I never bothered applying to anywhere else. I did, however, face considerably greater problems in deciding what programme I wanted to pursue. A BCom in Economics? A BA in History? A BA/BCom in history and economics? A double major BA in the two? But BCom sounds cool? Auckland's courses and careers day didn't help much either. Why? Because the talk they gave on maths in 2013 sounded really awesome. I mean it. It was inspiring and enthralling. Suddenly, given that talk and the enjoyment factor that calculus had with my teacher I had some more options. That is, BA/BCom in maths & history and economics and BA/BSc in history & economics and maths. Luckily, I could apply for all of these... and I did. When I did have to choose at the start of 2014, I think the BCom bit just seemed more appealing... possibly because a lot of my friends were doing BComs. Maybe the building is just shinier.

OGGB vs. HSB; no contest, really
What am I actually saying? I've spent all that time outlining my personal story with subject choice and I've said a lot. I've also made a point. Whatever anyone says, picking subjects because you like them works. It doesn't work for everyone, of course. I mean, even with me you can see complications with the system. But, for some people, such as some of my friends who haven't yet/recently decided what they want to major in, choosing what is interesting is a really valuable option. It's better, I feel, than using career options. Why? Because those are invariably derived from what one is interested in. If you're in year nine and you're trying to choose year ten's subjects because you want to be a cop, stop. Absolutely stop and just choose the more interesting things. This is early enough that there is a lot of room for you, as an individual, to change and start valuing other things but also so that it doesn't really matter. In year eleven, you'll be closer to yourself but, at the same time, if I'd chosen things because I wanted to, say, be an English teacher (I liked English a lot before year eleven; that my Y11 English teacher had done classics at school actually made me rethink for at least a few minutes)) I think that I'd have made a big mistake. But some people will say you need to think about the job applicability despite this obvious flaw. Even in year eleven it's really important to choose what is interesting because this is where a lot of new areas open up. You could end up like me or, more accurately, maybe everyone is like me but the difference is that not everyone gets that note saying "See the dean".

Now, I'm not saying always follow your interests rigidly. I didn't do this. Sure, a lot of those times it was because I either couldn't decide based on interests or because I had no choice but you do need to be flexible. This is, of course, another issue with having the sort of rigid plan that is likely to come from being overly focussed on the job at the end. But it is my honest and heartfelt belief that you will do less harm by following the interests path than any other. This is also coupled with the chance of generating the most reward. The difference, they say, between a job and a career is that the latter appeals to you. Never underestimate the potential reward that comes from being fulfilled. You're also less likely to end up bored stiff.

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