This is a response to an article about the recent Option ii changes.
I told them I’d retired. I told them I wouldn’t do it again. I got out of the Option ii opinion game, I told them. I’d given that up for less dangerous and controversial subjects—the Ferguson shooting, for example. But I was naive to think I wouldn’t be called on yet again to knock some sense into the senseless debate over our district’s most notorious policy. That’s right, baby: I’m back.
Many claim that the district’s changes to Option ii will prevent students from taking high-level classes; that they will disrupt the painstakingly planned schedules designed to maximize credits and prestige; that they aim to destroy the very heart of our district’s reputation as a place where students can achieve as much success as possible. These people are right. But I would argue that this is a good thing. We’ve become dependent on a system that teaches us to take AP classes sophomore year, even if we aren’t ready for them. To start studying for the SATs at age 12. To spend our summers studying so we can scrape by with a B in an honors class that we really don’t belong in. Option ii is an enabling device, and the recent changes are the first step in weaning us off our ambition addiction.
But ultimately, the changes don’t even do enough to that end. We need to hit the reset button on this policy. I’ll give you a quick history lesson. Let’s go back to a time near forgotten, when Option ii was a humble tool for sick students who missed out on months of school but didn’t want to be held back because of it. That’s all it was ever really meant to be—sparsely used, and only in case of emergency. I think Option ii may have gotten too big for its britches, and it’s time only five percent of students used it, rather than 75 percent.
Sure, there may be some exceptions, like elective requirements that don’t allow students to pursue their passions, but this is entirely different from a situation in which a student wants to take multivariable calculus before high school’s over to get a one-up in the college admissions process. District scheduling can be a pain, and Option ii sometimes provides a quick remedy , but usually that’s not even the problem students turn to the program to address. They’ve become dependent on it to pad their resumes–and in only very few cases, to pursue real passions. For those who use Option ii to do the latter and are nervous about the changes’ impact on their ability to learn what they love, I have a suggestion: Why not try doing it on your own? Why do we need credits and recognition to be inspired to reach higher? Please, take a college course on metaphysics, read advanced German literature, learn about intricate mathematical theories, but do it on your own time if you love it so much. Sign up for an online course or buy a couple of books, but don’t throw a fit if you can’t get credits for your learning. It shouldn’t be about that. This way, the academic pressures of overachieving, which get exponentially worse every year, can be subdued by taking the system out of the loop. Restricting Option ii will not kill passion—just frustrate phonies.
Many suggest that the district final taken upon completion of an Option ii class should be more difficult, and that the program itself should be left untouched. This would weed out those who don’t truly belong in advanced classes while letting the gifted take advantage of as much higher-level learning as they can. First of all, judging by the district’s disappointing pass/fail ratio, the finals are already pretty hard. And anyway, students who fail often end up taking a class they’ve already taken, albeit in a not particularly rigorous form, which leads to a number of harmful side-effects, the most insidious of which is that teachers sometimes speed ahead when half the class already has experience in the subject.
But that’s beside the point, because revamping the district finals would ignores the heart of the problem: We care too much about getting credit for what we learn. I saw a father at a recent board meeting sputter and rage about voting off every member of that board until the old Option ii are restored. Parents desperately cling to this dying system because they don’t know how good life can be without it. They’re scared. Don’t be, children. Go outside, meet new people, assign yourself a book to read, learn about biology by exploring the woods with your friends. Embrace it. Come on.
Goodbye, Option ii. And good riddance.