No Honors in the Humanities Puts Some Students at a Disadvantage
By ELIZA BARRET-COTTER ‘20
I can’t count the number of times that my family members, classmates, teammates, and college coaches have asked me how many honors, advanced, or AP classes I plan to take the following year. My sole advanced course so far was in the arts; next year, I will be taking my first honors-level high school math course. In a perfect world, taking courses one feels most comfortable with would be the highest priority. Unfortunately, colleges do not share this perspective. During the college application process, Milton’s lack of advanced courses in the humanities departments disadvantages students who excel mainly in these subjects when compared to students who excel in STEM fields.
I generalize here that students usually specialize in one subject area over the other, and there is some science behind this claim. Brian Butterworth, professor emeritus of cognitive neuropsychology at University College London, says “the brain systems for maths and language are quite different” (Live Science). In addition, a study conducted by researchers at Université Paris-Sud and at Université Paris-Saclay found that “the neural networks...used to process mathematics are different from those … used to process language” (Medical Xpress). Because the two disciplines require different brain function, most people feel more comfortable with one discipline than the other.
Milton’s efforts to equip all of its students with uniform reading and writing abilities is well-meaning, but it places certain students at a deficit in the college process. Whether the school provides honors courses or not, the truth is some students are more proficient in English or History than others, and they deserve to challenge themselves more in honors courses. Sadly, Milton currently prevents these students from showcasing their ability to colleges. Even though Milton’s school profile explains that there are no honors or AP courses in English or History, if an admissions officer looks at two Milton transcripts side by side, both with straight A’s but one with honors in math and science and another with no honors, that admissions officer is going to look more closely at the first transcript because they have no way to tell what type of student the second one is without any indication of where that student excels or challenges themself.
That scenario brings me to another issue. Not only are honors courses ideal when applying to college, but they also keep students sufficiently challenged — enough that they remain interested, but not so much that they cannot keep up. I am taking an honors math course next year mainly for the reason that I want an honors course on my transcript and furthermore because I want to be challenged more than I currently am. This choice is a luxury that I wish I could consider making with regards to the English department as well. That’s not to say that I do not feel challenged at all in English — who isn’t? But I do think it would be advantageous to all students — those who struggle in English and those who excel — for Milton to leave behind its holier-than-thou “liberal arts philosophy” and teach students to their abilities. In addition to making students more engaged in the classroom, this change would also eliminate the advantage held by math- and science- leaning students in the college process. Providing students with honors courses in English and History would bridge this discrepancy and allow students of all interests to gladly challenge themselves.